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The fight for water in Mapuche territory

The fight for water in Mapuche territory


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By Alfredo Seguel

Already in 1996, the Mapuche historian Víctor Toledo Llancaqueo, saw this situation in his work "All the Waters" (the subsoil, the banks, the lands / December 1996), warning about the lack of protection of Mapuche rights in their resources as a very serious question, analyzed from a perspective of territoriality principles.

The concept of Mapuche territoriality comprehensively encompasses all natural resources: soil, water, riverbanks, subsoil, forests, etc. On the other hand, the Chilean legal concept separates these elements in different property regimes and concessions to individuals. In relation to the case of Mapuche natural resources, only the soil is protected and considered by indigenous law, (Article 13), but in the face of investment policies this has simply not been fulfilled (Ralco Dam case, by pass, coastal road, among many others).


Likewise, the rest of the natural resources are regulated indistinctly: Water Code, Mining Code, Fishing Law, Political Constitution, etc.

Already in 1996, the Mapuche historian Víctor Toledo Llancaqueo, saw this situation in his work "All the Waters" (the subsoil, the banks, the lands / December 1996), warning about the lack of protection of Mapuche rights in their resources as a very serious issue, analyzed from a perspective of territoriality principles. But it is also true, as he himself affirms, if its repercussions are considered in a pragmatic approach to viability and sustainability in development programs in Mapuche communities. Until now, the subsoil, waters and banks of the Mapuche territories are still regulated by the same rules that govern the rest of the Chilean territory. Indigenous rights over these resources are not expressly protected. In relation to waters, Law 19,253 tacitly assumes that rights over them must be governed by the respective laws in force (Water Code and Fisheries Law), without establishing a different treatment.

The Law makes it possible to allocate resources from the Development Funds to establish and acquire water rights (Art.20.a, indigenous law), and finance the obtaining of aquaculture concessions (Art.23c., Indigenous law), however, they have They have been insufficient and inoperative measures, since there is no express recognition, dissociating themselves from the natural unity of Resources for the Mapuche. At present, most of the Rights over the water resources that are adjacent to the communities are registered mainly in the name of companies and landowners.

Indeed, the situation of unprotected water is one of those that has the greatest negative consequences for Mapuche development, it is enough to mention the limitations to access projects or programs aimed at soil recovery, irrigation programs or micro-irrigation.

One case, in the Niagara sector, back in 1999, when Mapuche communities from the places of Danquilco, Curaco, Cuzaco and Hualpín in the commune of Padre las Casas, mobilized hundreds of people in the defense of their estuary, with the support of the Konapewman group, who pointed out through a public statement of August 9 of that year, the following: "Faced with the imminent dangers of a water conflict, due to the catchments, interventions and diversions of the flow of the estuary by Part of non-Mapuche individuals, is that we have organized in order to demand an immediate solution to this critical situation, to regularize the inscriptions of water use on behalf of our Communities, otherwise, the damages will be irreversible due to the low value of use that the lands will have, plus the contamination to which they will be exposed and the impossibility of making use of them for our daily lives ". Eduardo Llanquinao, one of the leaders who led the mobilizations, whose massive act of protest that was concentrated in the area took place on October 12 (1999), gathering more than 300 people, at which time he pointed out: ... "Today, we We find a serious and unfortunate reality, because the waters, mainly from the estuary that is in our Communities, where more than a hundred Mapuche families live, are in absolute lack of legal protection, since the use of these waters is not found registered in our name, an issue that is highly dangerous because they are probably owned by large landowners in the area or strangers, without us knowing "….

The aforementioned situation occurred at a time when a landowner in that area, kept all the water rights of this important estuary registered, who was not adjacent to it and who, with the intention of raising an irrigation project on their land, intended to divert it via easements. The Mapuche reaction at the time did not wait, who not only managed to stop this project, but also aimed their darts at the public apparatus such as CONADI, managing to minimally protect their water rights and, incidentally, forcing the creation of a fund of water that to date did not exist.

However, this would be one of the few happy endings in this type of struggle and mobilization for water, in most cases the private property regime has prevailed, moreover, with a recent modification of the water code, it only worsened this conflict even more to the detriment of the communities.

Not only lack of protection and violation, but also contamination

One of the serious cases is a consequence of the primary wastewater plants of the company "Aguas Araucanía", which are not only installed in the territories of more than 42 Mapuche communities, but will also generate serious dangerous pollutants by organochlorines and highly toxic compounds that will be discharged into adjacent waters. Communities and ecosystems at vital risk.

In the Araucanía Region, through a tender, the company Aguas Araucanía of the economic group SOLARI (Falabella), has projected the construction of 17 sewage treatment plants (some finished and others in the process of completion), mostly for treatment primary.

These plants will treat the waters in the territories of these communities and their discharges, several with chemical use and pollutants, will go to the water resources adjacent to Mapuche communities of the so-called ninth region.

Another case is what happens with the garbage dumps in the same region, mostly with a crisis and lack of sanitary and environmental control, located in the interior or adjacent to communities, with 12 enclosures that compromise the water resources that are adjacent to communities, be they rivers , estuaries or slopes.

The march for water: The impacts of the forest model on water resources

On March 21, 22 and 23, 2006, Mapuche organizations and communities held a massive demonstration in the face of the environmental destruction generated by forestry companies, including the loss of water due to the expansion of exotic species such as pine and eucalyptus. .


This 3-day march, which left from the Nagche territory (Lumaco, Traiguén, Los Sauces), towards the regional capital, (Temuco), gathered about 500 people through the streets of this city, which was led by the Ñankuchew Association and supported by the Coordination of Mapuche Territorial Identities (CITEM), where they complained about the various impacts attributable to the industrial plantations of pine and eucalyptus in Chile, being in both places the loss of water resources or implications to these, such as water courses affected by sedimentation, flow changes, decrease in dissolved oxygen and contamination with agrochemicals, among others. Drought is one of the main complaint situations in rural areas.

Areas with a high concentration of exotic plantations, such as Lumaco, Ercilla, Traiguén, Los Sauces, Purén, Angol, Chol Chol, Galvarino, Nueva Imperial, among other locations, have been considered disasters due to droughts, mainly in the summer season. In which water tables, estuaries, springs and rivers significantly decrease their flow, some have even dried up, which has been related to the suction produced by pine and eucalyptus plantations, since as has been said, they require a huge amount of water for its growth.

For the global movement of Tropical Forests, WRM, in its campaign against plantations and in the face of the impacts that these generate on water, point out that all these exotic, industrial and monoculture plants work as water pumps: the nutrients in the soil are transported to the leaves dissolved in water. The faster the growth, the larger the plant and the larger the area they occupy, the greater the volume of water used. However, in most countries, forestry "experts" deny such a fact, even when local populations denounce the depletion of water resources linked to plantations.

Indeed, according to a study by the FAO (1987), the real evapotranspiration of a eucalyptus plantation approximates 1000mm / year, for a rainfall regime of more than 1200mm / year. For the most humid areas, evapotranspiration increases and can reach 1500mm / year. Comparative studies have shown that the evapotranspiration for a pine plantation is approximately the same as that observed in eucalyptus plantations, which would border around 10 mm of water per day. There have also been some studies in Chile in this regard.

A study carried out by researchers from the Austral University of Chile. Anton Huber and Ramiro Trecaman, in 1999, compared the lands of a forest plantation with those of a natural meadow in the Collipulli area in the Araucanía Region. The plantations reduced by approximately 30% the amount of water that reached the ground due to the interception of the canopy. Evapotranspiration had a direct relationship with the density of the stands and was approximately half of the annual precipitation (1,089 and 1,418 mm). For the prairie, this consumption was somewhat lower. The difference between both types of vegetation cover was accentuated when water losses by interception were added to evapotranspiration.

This study, in its result, assigns the interception the main responsibility for the difference that exists between the water consumption of the forest plantations and the meadow. The temporal variation of the edaphic water content due to the evapotranspiration of the forest plantations exceeded 3 meters in depth, while in the meadow this situation only manifested itself up to 100 cm. The percolation for the prairie was equivalent to 37 and 60% of the total precipitation for years 1 and 2, and had a close relationship with the amount of winter precipitation. In forest plantations this value ranged between 12 and 29%. An inverse relationship was recorded between this parameter and the density of the stands.

The war for water in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Nobody wants war, but the Peoples in Bolivia had to mobilize to defend and conquer their rights. And it was what happened in Cochabamba and in the La Paz highlands in April 2000, in a mobilization never seen before, where thousands of people, mainly indigenous and peasants, took to the streets and roads, not to allow a natural resource such as the water, the "blood of the pachamama", as they pointed out, was sold and stolen by transnational companies, which were going to take over the rivers, wells, and even the same rain collected by the Cochabambinos in tanks. Finally, the transnationals were expelled, although the situation was critical in that country, claiming several victims.

The war for water in Cochabamba was recently known by Chilean socio-environmental organizations and territorial references of the Mapuche People, with the visit of one of the main indigenous leaders in this mobilization, the current senator of Bolivia Omar Fernández, from the Movement to Socialism (MAS), the same as President Evo Morales, who was at the end of July of this year participating in the meeting "Territoriality, natural resources and socio-environmental justice", held in Temuco and which was convened and organized by the Coordination of Territorial Identities Mapuche (CITEM); the Network of Action for Environmental Rights (RADA); the Observatory for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ODPI); and the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA).

Senator Fernández, along with participating in various panels, an opportunity in which he recounted what has been experienced in his country for the defense and recovery of this resource, also visited Mapuche communities in various rural areas, mainly that are victims of the lack of water due to the forestry industry.

Fernández, pointed out during his visit to Temuco, that the original peoples and nations have the right to self-determination and by virtue of the same, there is the right to the free exercise of full authority and control over their natural resources, which includes water . He added that all peoples must assume their responsibility before future generations, to raise their voices in solidarity and proclaim the need to protect water.

Mapuche Territory and Natural Resources.

The Coordination of Mapuche Territorial Identities (CITEM) in its action plan drawn up in 2005 by a work team within the framework of Santiago + 5 (conference against racism and xenophobia), established that indigenous peoples have the right to recognition of their property and of the domain rights with respect to the lands and territories that they historically occupy, as well as the use of the lands to which they have traditionally had access for the performance of their traditional and livelihood activities. These rights, he points out, also include the waters, coastal seas, flora, fauna, subsoil and other resources of that habitat, as well as their environment, preserving them for themselves and future generations.

It also adds that it is essential to establish legal, political and administrative protection mechanisms for indigenous lands and territories that they occupy or use historically, in a permanent, exclusive, inalienable, imprescriptible, inexpropriable and unattachable manner. It also refers to the need for the state to recognize and guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to the natural resources existing in their lands and territories, which must be specially protected. These rights include the use, administration and conservation of said resources.

In short, territorial law as the basis of Mapuche aspirations and claims is likewise the right to protection and access to natural resources. Its current lack of protection is causing a crisis in the face of an economic model based on competitiveness and overexploitation by large companies, the Indigenous Law being an insufficient and inoperative instrument to effectively protect the communities, their lands and resources.

* Alfredo Seguel is a member of the Konapewman Association of Temuco and of the work teams of the Coordination of Territorial Identities (CITEM). August 2006


Video: Protestors demand an end to alleged militarisation of Mapuche territory (July 2022).


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