Presidential apology for ‘people of the land’
President Michelle Bachelet has asked for forgiveness from Chile’s largest indigenous group for what she said were ‘‘errors and horrors’’ committed by the Chilean state over the years.
Bachelet also announced plans to provide more resources to the Mapuche community, including financing for infrastructure projects.
She also said she would send a bill to Congress calling for the creation of a Cabinet ministry for Chile’s indigenous peoples.
‘‘I want to ask for forgiveness of the Mapuche people for the errors and horrors that have been committed or tolerated by the state in our relationship with them,’’ Bachelet said in announcing her plans at the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago, yesterday.
‘‘Since the beginning of our republic, the identity, culture, territory and livelihood of the Mapuche were not safeguarded as they should have,’’ Bachelet said.
She said that for more than 150 years, Chile’s indigenous peoples had been scorned and discriminated against.
Mapuche means ‘‘people of the land’’ in their native Mapudungun tongue. They resisted the Spanish conquest of Chile for 300 years.
Military defeats in the late 19th century forced the Mapuche into Araucania, south of the Bio Bio river, about 800 kilometres south of the capital. The government then encouraged European immigrants to colonise the area.
Most of the 700,000 Mapuche are poor and often have no access to education. Many of them live on the fringes of timber company land or ranches owned by the Europeans’ descendants. But their desire for autonomy remains strong.
A radical faction of the Mapuche have occupied and burned forestry sites, farms, churches and timber trucks to demand the return of ancestral territories.
Chilean police have also been accused of violent abuses against the Mapuche, including storming into their homes during raids and shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at women and children.
A Mapuche Indian activist blows a traditional trumpet during a demonstration to demand justice, indigenous rights and land for their communities, in Santiago.