Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Considering human rights in foreign policy: the Mapuche community in Chile

Considering human rights in foreign policy: the Mapuche community in Chile
March 17, 2009

A challenge that the Obama administration faces in its foreign policymaking is using an approach that considers human rights while securing US interests in places like Chile. The Mapuche community, an indigenous group in Chile who has protested in defense of ancestral land claims, are an endangered culture that is facing the process of assimilation with no less than a fierce shake of the head. In evaluating Chilean society, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in its "2008 Country Report on Human Rights Practices" describes observed human rights violations that include violations against the Mapuche people. The report questions Chilean human rights records.

Advocates for the Mapuche community span the globe. They include international relations professors and international relations experts like acclaimed Judge Juan Guzman, a Chilean human rights lawyer. Judge Guzman is known for his victory landmark case against former Chilean dictator General Pinochet. Currently, the former judge represents Mapuche rights defending them from the repressive policies they have faced. According to him, these policies are due to the economic interests of national and trans-national corporations. Official population statistics say that there are just over 600,000 Mapuche in Chile. In their struggle for freedom and justice, political violence has become the story of the Mapuche people, while advocates for the Mapuche say they are being victimized by their own government.

The history of the Mapuche people is filled with the tensions that arise from being discriminated against for over 500 years. In the 1880s, the Chilean army invaded and occupied the Mapuche territory and forced the Mapuche people onto reservations. Political organizations defending Mapuche rights formed in the 1910s and 1920s. Their interests lie in protecting their communal lands and preserving their culture. Salvador Allende's government recognized the distinctiveness of the Mapuche people and passed an Indigenous Law and restored their land. This policy was reversed under Augusto Pinochet, inciting ethnic tensions whereby lands were reclaimed by murder, imprisonment or exile. In 1993, their collective land rights were restored. That same year, the formation of the National Corporation of Indigenous Development (CONADI) allowed the Mapuche people to become more active in policy decisions that affected them. Currently, they seek constitutional recognition and ratification of the International Labor Organization Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries.

Human rights violations include police abuse against Mapuche individuals and communities including intimidation and threats against NGOs that advocate for indigenous rights. The Observatory on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reported that homes of Mapuche individuals have been searched without a warrant, arrest or provided a detention control hearing. Earlier this year, a Mapuche activist was charged under Anti-Terrorist Law. The Mapuche are accused of being unpatriotic by nationalists, unwilling to assimilate and are denounced by forestry companies, while they face the realities of poverty daily. Companies like Home Depot have revised their purchasing policies to save native forests in Chile, but these efforts are minimal from the perspective of Mapuche leaders who continue to fight against the negative consequences of free trade and repressive social policies. The study of the effect on Chilean-US foreign policies of a climate where a native culture is facing an absence of respect for indigenous ways can become a policy measure for the current administration.

Economically, the US remains the single largest direct investor. According to the Bureau of Energy and Business Affairs, in their 2009 Investment Climate Statement on Chile, foreign direct investment is an essential part of its national development strategy. The US-Chile Free Trade Agreement has been in force since January 1, 2004 with a goal to provide investors in the Chilean economy a stable and secure climate with basic forms of protection. Even with the Mapuche land claim incidents, Chile is considered to be a low threat country economically.

Chile has received policy and legislation review recommendations from international organizations like Amnesty International, UN Office for Partnerships, the Observatory on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur to include the rights of the Mapuche people. With many humanitarian organizations opposing the recent reinstatement of the Anti-Terrorism Law, and a groundswell of continued support for free trade, the real question is how the Mapuche people can prevent experiencing a further crackdown in response to their land struggle and whether US policymakers can include socially responsible policy options that respect the rights of the Mapuche while serving US-Chilean trade balance interests.

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