Pope Francis’s words will not be enough for the Mapuche people, or at least for their representatives who are active in the struggle. He spoke on the subject during the mass he celebrated Wednesday at the airport of Maquehue, in an ancestral indigenous territory, now owned by the Chilean Air Force and once used during the Pinochet dictatorship as a torture and detention center.
The Pope recalled that it was a place where there have been “grave violations of human rights,” and he turned his thoughts to “all those who suffered and died,” and “all those who each day carry on their shoulders the burden of so much injustice.” But he did not even hint at the claims of the Mapuche regarding that territory or ask for forgiveness for the role played by the Church in the history of violence against indigenous peoples.
Neither will Francis’s appeals to overcome confrontations and divisions, or his invitation to unity as a “reconciled diversity” based on “listening and recognition,” to be distinguished from ”uniformity” or “forced integration,” make much sense to a people whose land was stolen by the Chilean state and whose rights have been denied.
Nor will the Pope’s condemnation of violence be convincing to those who have always been victims of repression and of the rule of the strongest. While he denounced the signing of agreements full of beautiful words but destined to remain a dead letter, and intended to send a clear message to the government, he also reminded the Mapuche, without naming them, that ”you cannot assert yourself by destroying others,” and that violence “eventually makes a most just cause into a lie,” calling for them to “seek the path of active non-violence, as a style of politics for peace.”
It was obvious that a number of Mapuche communities expected very different words from the Pope, and this was made even clearer by their occupation, on the eve of the mass conducted by Francis (followed by a dinner with 11 indigenous representatives), of an ancestral area of 70 hectares in the municipality of Cañete, now owned by the archdiocese of Concepción.
“With this occupation,” several indigenous communities wrote in a joint statement, “we invite the Catholic Church and its highest authorities to unconditionally return the lands stolen from the Mapuche people.” Stressing that the Church has been a protagonist, or at least an accomplice, of the policy of genocide pursued first by the Spanish Empire and later by the Chilean State, they urged the Pope, “before uttering words of courtesy to our people and talking about peace,” to “give an example of how to resolve the territorial conflict in the Wallmapu region politically, by giving back the territory that was unjustly taken.”
In this context, it would have been of the utmost importance for the Pope to make a gesture in favor of Francisca Linconao, a traditional Mapuche leader (machi) who is again on trial along with 10 other comuneros (after the overturning of their acquittal last August), accused of causing the fire at the home of entrepreneur Werner Luchsinger in 2013, who died in the flames together with his wife Vivian. This is a case of political persecution, relying on the old anti-terrorism law passed by Pinochet, which is still being used to target indigenous leaders and figures of authority who are engaged in the fight for the restitution of the stolen lands.
Machi Linconao herself wrote a request to the Pope to intercede on her behalf with the Chilean government, in a heartfelt letter, written from a spiritual authority to another, which she tried to deliver to the Pope as he passed by in his Popemobile. The police, however, took care to prevent any contact between them.
“I would like to explain to him everything that is happening here,” said the machi in an interview a few days ago, hoping for an intervention by the Pope in favor of the Mapuche people. “Otherwise, what is he here for?”
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