Conflicts & War

Chile’s most dangerous highway reflects burgeoning conflict

By Sebastian Silva and Javier Martin

Temuco, Chile, Jun 15 (EFE).- A journey on Highway P-72, which runs south along the Pacific coast through the regions of Araucania and Bio Bio, offers a X-ray of the conflict among the state, the Mapuches and the forestry giants that now control most of the lands Chile’s largest indigenous group claim as their ancestral homeland.

In 2020-2021, the barely 90 km (56 mi) of well-paved road witnessed 75 attacks.

Some of the causes of the unrest are visible from the windows of the car: the exhaustion of water resources; indiscriminate cutting of autochthonous trees; reforestation with non-native species that suit the needs of the forestry companies; and the territorial struggle.

Other aspects of the strife can be seen in the piles of felled trees dumped in the middle of the road by Mapuche activists in a campaign of sabotage.

Not as evident are other aspects of the conflict, such as the rumored marijuana plantations, the increasing resort of forestry companies to security contractors, and the relentless impoverishment of youth deprived of a future.

“If we compare it with others, we could say that it’s a conflict in an embryonic state. Very basic, with a low level of violence. Without big attacks, indiscriminate bombing, or weapons of war, confined to rural areas,” an international security analyst told Efe, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But it’s true that new variations have appeared in recent years, such as drugs and militarization, that could take it to another level,” he said.

On May 17, amid greater aggressiveness on the part of both the Mapuches and their adversaries, the government of center-left President Gabriel Boric announced a state of emergency in the region, despite having denounced such measures when they were used by rightist predecessor Sebastian Piñera.

Since then, according to the Interior Ministry, the number of attacks has halved on the roads patrolled by the army.

Corma, a group representing the forestry companies, says that roughly 25,000 loads of lumber have been stolen so far this year, on top of losses of $90 million in 2021.

In alliance with other business organizations, Corma is demanding a greatly expanded use of the military.

“We have asked the authorities for effective measures to stop this crisis of violence we are experiencing today and to increase, on an urgent basis, the number of routes that are under military guard,” Corma’s Fernando Illanes told Efe.

The Mapuches, meanwhile, plead for dialogue and for steps to return ancestral lands.

“The growth in acts of violence testifies to the urgency of dialogue,” Mapuche academic Salvador Millaleo told Efe.

“Large sectors” of the Mapuche people reject violence in favor of reaching agreements to address their grievances, the former adviser to the Interior Ministry said. EFE ssb-jm/dr

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