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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.106 Santiago dic. 2020 


Coexistence between Chileans and the Mapuche. The Telluric and the State: An Approach to the Mapuche Question

Hugo Herrera1 

1 Profesor titular de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile.


The result of the plebiscite of October 25, 2020, in which the ‘apruebo’ option prevailed by a surprisingly wide margin, has led Chile into a democratic process that will lead to a new political constitution for the country.

In the demonstrations that led to this plebiscite, one of the most repeated demands was related to the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples. It is no coincidence that the Mapuche flag or the Wünyelfe - the Mapuche star - were among the most characteristic symbols of the unrest.

From that perspective, and at this historical juncture, in this debate we ask if it is possible for two nations to coexist, or if this can lead to a conflict like the one developed between Jewish people and Palestinians. Well, although we are aware that the relationship between the Mapuche people and the state of Chile has been complex - to the point of being an unresolved conflict of over 500 years - perhaps the new constitution is the ideal instance to legally acknowledge a problem that, after all, is a coexistence conflict.

Keywords: coexistence; State; Mapuche; plurinationality; debate

The territorial installation has been assumed as an inherent task of the modern state. In this sense, the struggle between the Mapuche and the state of Chile is inserted in a broader context, which is repeated elsewhere with the same logic: a state that understands itself as the center for an exclusive driving force (monopolistic, Weber would say) on a territory and its inhabitants.

The abuses and brutal rationalism of the 19th-century Chilean state are open to criticism. On the other hand, it is not possible to express the absence of telluric consciousness about the meaning of the territory in national life. That awareness lies in the expansion to the north, the occupation of the south, the construction of the railroad network, and the support of the colonizing efforts; also, in the centralist design of an organization that fought for survival on the margins of the ‘civilized’ world.

However, the oligarchy path, which over the decades abandoned its estates and contact with the land to assume a courtly existence in Santiago or Paris, was piercing the lucidity of a primitive, feudal caste, but with strong telluric ties. Then, the passing of time would coincide with the abandonment of the provinces, which were progressively emptied of their most egregious heads. The 19th-century centralism was a political decision. The current centralism is negligence. It is the lack of understanding of an oligarchy locked up in the capital’s segregated neighborhoods (and aseptic summer resorts), which, in general, looks at the people in their land as a heterogeneous group. It gets to the point of imagining as if civilization were ruling barbarism. The pretended provinces are its correlative, devoid - with few exceptions - of vigor.

There is a type of problem in Chile that accumulates without a solution: telluric problems. The north is an advancing desert. Mining operations are enclaves that do not radiate human and cultural vitality. Something like the 19th-century Copiapó and its social and political exuberance does not surface. The central valley dries up. The ‘sacrifice zones’ pile up. The far south remains disconnected from the rest of the country and acquires the shape of an immense national park whose resources and splendor are forbidden to Chilean colonization.

A major problem, linked to the territory, is that of the Mapuche.

Uprooted elites and centralist political rationalism lack the capacities to tackle severe territorial problems. The figure of the ‘presidential delegate,’ a politician who is removed from Santiago affairs and goes as a ‘commission on duty’ to the territory to learn about the problems that he will not be able to solve, is the clear expression of a tellurian pernicious political system.

The territory is not an eminently natural resource, nor raw material, nor province. With various emphases, Hölderlin, Hegel, Turner - or more locally, like Lacunza, Mistral, Subercaseaux, Serrano, Oyarzún, Iommi, Teillier - have noticed its meaning. It is an all-encompassing whole of meaning in which we can find a seat, a meeting space, a nurturing ground, and splendor; an aesthetic and vital context on which its fulfillment or frustration also - and fundamentally - depends on human fulfillment or frustration.

Eons separate the Mapuche people from Spain and Chile. Even after centuries of reciprocal interactions, the heterogeneity persists. There is a fundamental asymmetry: on the one hand, the negligent centralist rationalism with the landscape; on the other, the

‘primitive’ territorial consciousness of the ‘people of the Earth,’ powerless.

Centralist rationalism is not, however, the only mode of understanding. An understanding of the Earth closer to the lucidity of writers, poets, geographers, and architects would be a basis for starting a dialogue that departs from the most striking forms of disagreement. Rather than with thoughtful modern intellectual formulas, one must start from the civilian relationship with the land. Then we could expect a possible shared harmony in which the understanding with those who feel and think like this becomes possible: from the land. The modern unitary State is not the only form of political organization either. America and even Europe are full of examples of Indian, barbarian, Roman, feudal, regional roots of different ways of relating to the land.

This constitutional moment opens an opportunity. Isn’t it worth thinking about a political regionalism that gives recognition to the territories’ identities through a vigorous spatial institutional framework, with few regions endowed with robust political competencies and equitable economic resources? Such a step requires a special effort from elites that have separated from the territory. It is an essential way, however, to open spaces of effective recognition for groups that, like the Mapuche, are constitutive of our popular multiplicity.

Hugo Herrera

Lawyer, Universidad de Valparaíso. Dr. Phil. Universität Würzburg. He has published articles and books on political philosophy, law and epistemology, including Sein und Staat. Die politische Philosophie von Helmut Kuhn (2005), Carl Schmitt between Technological Rationality and Theology (2020), and Octubre en Chile (2020). He is currently a tenured professor at the UDP School of Law.

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