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Analysing the Mapuche Conflict in Chile

The recent rise in riots and escalating violence from the indigenous community

The Mapuche community is the largest indigenous group in Chile. Approximately, 1.5 million Mapuches live in the country with an additional 200,000 living in Argentina.

Until the 19th century the Mapuche community managed to remain autonomous, controlling a significant part of the Southern Cone. But since the Pacification of Araucanía, a series of military campaigns that eventually led to the incorporation of the Mapuche region of Araucanía into Chilean national territory, the Mapuche have been regarded as citizens of the state.

The Mapuche people no longer had their own sovereignty, economy or identity. The occupation was the beginning of a volatile, and often violent, relationship between the country and the indigenous group.

More recently, when democracy made a return to Chile in the 1990s, conflict resurfaced with increased hostility as large national and international forestry corporations began purchasing vast amounts of land across the Araucanía Region. This, in turn, caused the Mapuche’s traditional economy to collapse.

Today, many groups within the Mapuche community are still actively fighting for the return of their ancestral lands as well as jurisdictional independance and cultural recognition.

Militarisation of the Mapuche Region

Since the late 90s, there have been continuous clashes between the group and Chilean authorities. However the latest government tactic of militarising the Mapuche region in an attempt to bring peace has seen a significant spike in protests and casualties.

2019 has seen a continuation of that trend, with demonstrations regularly escalating into violence.

Overview of the protests across Chile conducted by the Mapuche community between November 2018 and April 2019

Figure 1: Overview of the protests across Chile conducted by the Mapuche community between November 2018 and April 2019

On 3rd April 2019, five police officers were wounded and 11 people arrested in Temuco, Araucania. The clashes between riot police and members of the Mapuche community began after 500 people took part in an unauthorised march. The demonstration, which started at Plaza Dagoberto Godoy, was held to denounce the militarisation of the region, affirming the right to restitution of lands, and the right to self-determination for the Mapuche people.

On the same day, there were reports of a clash between riot police and Mapuche protesters in Santiago. The protesters were also marching to demand self-determination for the Mapuche people.

A group of protesters began moving from Plaza de Armas to Paseo Ahumada when the police blocked their route. This sparked an aggressive response from demonstrators who began throwing rocks, bottles, and firecrackers. The forces went on to use a water cannon to disperse the crowd.

The Killing of Camila Catrillanca

The Mapuche people reportedly ‘felt like targets’ with the strong armed police presence and fleets of armoured vehicles patrolling their community. A feeling that would only intensify after the 14th of November 2018 when a Chilean police officer shot and killed 24-year-old unarmed Mapuche activist, Camilo Catrillanca.

The police team were pursuing car thieves in the municipality of Ercilla in the south of Chile when the incident occurred.

The death of Camilo prompted another uprising from the indigenous group and their supporters. The very next day, the first of the protests broke out on the streets of Santiago. During which, two minibuses and a number of barricades were burnt by protesters.

A map showing the protests sparked by the murder of Mapuche leader and activist, Camilo Cantrillanca, in Santiago

Figure 2: Protests sparked by the murder of Mapuche leader and activist, Camilo Catrillanca, in Santiago

Demonstrations and riots continued across Chile for the rest of 2018 with numbers reaching the thousands. Multiple clashes and casualties amongst protesters and police were registered.

A map showing the locations of protests denouncing Cantrillanca’s death across wider Chile since November 2018

Figure 3: Protests denouncing Catrillanca’s death across wider Chile since November 2018

After the response to the murder, Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera, forced the resignation of the national police chief and ten other police commanders.

However, the fight continues. The new year brought new protests including a takeover of an office building belonging to the Municipality of Collipulli. Employees were forced out of the building to show show support for the protesters occupying the offices of the Municipality of Ercilla. The protesters also demanded the resignation of Mayor of Ercilla for his responsibility in the death of Camilo Catrillanca.

A more peaceful protest took place on 16th January 2019 near the La Moneda government palace in Santiago. The Humanist Party, who organised the demonstration, floated balloons in the air holding a sign asking for the resignation of the Interior Minister, Andres Chadwick, following him being summoned to testify before the congressional human rights commission and the state attorney general. Chadwick was questioned about the murder itself and about police obstruction in the investigation.

Attacks on the Forestry Industry

Perhaps the most extreme and aggressive scheme to regain their indigenous rights is the Machupe’s attempt to reclaim their land from the forestry industries that now occupy it.

n example of the attacks on the construction and forestry industry across Chile that occupies previous Mapuche land

Figure 4: An example of the attacks on the construction and forestry industry across Chile that occupies previous Mapuche land. 

On 25th January 2019, two men with Molotov cocktails set fire to a backhoe at a real estate project of the Socovesa company in the town of Labranza, Temuco. Socovesa operates as a real estate and construction company in Chile.

The fire was quickly put out by individuals at the scene. It is suspected that the Mapuche group were responsible for the incident due to flyers demanding the release of Mapuche prisoners were found left behind at the scene.

The next day, unidentified individuals set fire to six boats, four jet skis, two cars, and a warehouse in the area of Panguipulli, in the Region of Los Rios. The authorities again found leaflets left at the scene of the attack which alluded to the Mapuche territorial conflict. The attack took place in the vicinity of a logging complex which has previously been attacked.

Attacks continued into March when five trucks and two pieces of heavy machinery were intercepted on property owned by La Forestal Mininco. The drivers were threatened and exited the vehicles; the trucks were then set on fire. The suspects fled the scene but a pamphlet referring to the Mapuche cause was discovered at the site upon investigation.

The targeting of La Forestal Mininco follows a string of incidents between the corporation and the Mapuche people. On 29th January 2019 the indigenous group members blocked access to vehicles of the Forestal Mininco company, due to what they say are unfulfilled commitments by the company to the Mapuche community.

Riot police also clashed with Mapuche members during a forced eviction in Pailahueque, commune of Ercilla on 28th February 2019. The eviction was conducted after a court order was obtained to clear Mapuche members from land owned by the Forestal Mininco company.

La Forestal Mininco is a Chilean company dedicated to the production of wood, plants and seeds with presence in five of the 15 regions of Chile. La Forestal Mininco has made use of the water of the surrounding Mapuche communities for over 14 years by diverting the channel for irrigation of their eucalyptus and pine plantations. The Mapuche people blame this for their continuous severe droughts and consequent loss of their crops.

Not only are they targeting various organisation’s machinery, equipment and vehicles but they are setting fire to the forest land that they claim to be theirs. Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to such measures in a bid to make the businesses unprofitable and force them to move on. The community then hopes to be able to recover their devastated ancestral lands and rebuild their economy.


2019 will continue to see demonstrations, with large numbers in Temuco and Santiago likely, but with smaller demonstrations also held in smaller towns in the La Araucania Region and neighbouring regions. Based on past and current responses by the government, these demonstrations, especially in the larger cities, will likely lead to clashes between protesters and riot police, leading to arrests and injuries on both sides. Forestry companies will also continue to face attacks to their lands and equipment.

While the attacks will continue, it is not likely that employees will be directly harmed themselves, based on the modus operandi seen in the first quarter of this year. Continued attacks on these companies will affect their profits. The continued actions of the government, of repressing protests and deploying additional security forces to the region, will hamper any efforts to end the conflict. Until the government broaden their strategy in dealing with the conflict, and address the ethnic dimensions of the conflict, there will likely be no progress in any solution.

Intelligence Fusion are monitoring the ongoing Mapuche conflict and can provide real-time alerts on the developing threat. If you’d like a more detailed and complete analysis of the situation to help protect your assets, contact a member of the team today for your free demonstration.


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