Chile Protests Columbus Day

A Protester in Traditional Mapuche Dress- Many were dressed in traditional costumes and carried Mapuche flags. Courtesy of BBC Online
‘How do I define history? It’s just one fuckin’ thing after another.’ Rudge said famously in one of my favourite movies, the classic History Boys in 2006.

People don’t always realise how important history can be in certain parts of the world and how, even over 500 years later, the wounds of the past can still affect the people of today.

Take the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus in 1492. For millions his discovery is the start of what would eventually be their home countries but for many its the start of when their homeland got destroyed.

Yesterday marked the 519th anniversary of when Columbus made landfall on 12th October 1492 and to mark this there have been celebrations all over the Americas. The day has been celebrated under various different names across the landmass for centuries despite only becoming a national holiday in the 20th century. However, for the Mapuche people of Chile it is seen as a day of mourning.

We often think of the injustices of exploration as a thing of the past. The Arawaks were wiped out in the Caribbean by Columbus and his successors’, the Native Americans were pushed off the land and into reserves by the pioneers in America. However, all of this is part of the distant past which politicians can occasionally apologise for to get positive press for their regimes because everyone affected is so long dead it doesn’t matter to most people anymore.

However the conflict between the descendents of the Spanish and Catholic settlers and the indigenous people of Chile especially the Mapuches who are Chile’s largest indigenous group.

On Tuesday, around 10,000 people marched on the Chilean capital Santiago in support of Mapuche rights. The march, which was also to celebrate Mapuche culture, was a peaceful protest to campaign for the return of their native lands in southern Chile which have become part of a land dispute between them and land developers and farmers in recent years.

They also want the release of those imprisoned for protesting against the land occupation who they call ‘political prisoners’. Some protesters against the development of their land clash with police and set fire to crops, trucks and forestry machinery.

Although there were some minor clashes with riot police towards the end of the protest, Chilean police say this was not directly to do with the march. Chile has been awash with protesters since the start of students protests against the price of education back in May.

It is a very difficult situation for Latin America and indeed for an outside observer. To both these people, Chile is their home. Regardless of when they got there, the Latin Chileans know no other life and no other home. Humankind has been migrating since we started walking upright so
people can’t actually say they don’t have a right to be there. Similarly the Mapuches have a right to protect their home and their culture which will always come into conflict with Chile’s attempts to become a developed economy which (in theory) should benefit everyone in the long run.

So what can be done?

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has promised more funds to help Mapuche reclaim their homeland in Araucania in the south but as the country is being face with more crippling protests by students and their supporters (trade union strikes are planned for later this month) it is hard to see how Chile can really hope to facilitate all the historic needs of all its people.

Unfortunately it seems, for now at least, Chile will overlook its indigenous people once more.

(Blog still officially on hiatus, just found this interesting, come down with a head cold so will be in bed for the rest of the day at least.)

Published by

Caroline Mortimer @CJMortimer

Freelance journalist.

3 thoughts on “Chile Protests Columbus Day”

  1. I am researching the Mapuches and their modern day struggle. I found your writing very interesting but it would be nice to know where you got your information from for further reading.

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