'We burned the forest': the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson
t is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.
“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.”
This year has already turned out to have been a particularly combustible one in a decade of rising attacks by indigenous Mapuche activists against the Chilean state and big business. Over several few days in April, crops were burned, roads were blocked and 16 forestry vehicles were set ablaze outside of the regional capital, Temuco.
Such actions have become more and more common. According to statistics published by a local business association, there were 43 attacks in the region in 2017, mainly arson attacks against logging firms.
“Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet,” wrote Pablo Neruda, who grew up in the region – and whose verse was inspired by its wild landscapes, and the indomitable spirit of its native people who were only conquered after Chilean military campaigns in the late 19th century.
Today, however, much of the west of the region would be unrecognizable to Chile’s finest poet. In the last 50 years, monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations have replaced the biodiversity of the original forests.
Meanwhile, Mapuche groups have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to reclaim ancestral lands and gain political autonomy. Llaitul is a spokesman for the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), an anti-capitalist organization that uses direct action and sabotage tactics.
The group has also demanded the release of the shaman Celestino Cordova, who was convicted in February 2014 for an arson attack on a farmhouse north of Temuco that resulted in the deaths of an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivianne Mackay.