Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Politics in Patagonia - the Mapuche

8 March 2016

We often don't talk about the sadness and unfairness we find while travelling - the poverty, the sickness, the discrimination.

We tend to stick with the interesting, exciting, and fun things we find and get involved with when we're in new places.

But on Monday, while walking around Viedma, we met some people in the central park who are staging a protest, a demonstration, what is called a "manifestation" in Argentina.  Sort of an "Occupy Viedma" event.

There was also a flag, the black-blue-red-green flag with a yellow circle in the center.  I was curious about the flag, we saw this carried in Buenos Aires during the huge demonstration - the people carrying the flag had the features of the indigenous people of this area, rather than appearing to be of European descent, so I wondered if this was their flag.  Similar to the flag of the indigenous people of New Caledonia.

I spent some time talking to a youngish man who was with a group of people in the park, with a series of flags and signs.  We were curious about what was going on, what they were protesting. 

Turns out our understanding of the signs was pretty accurate.  (The blue banner says "Return our lands.")

First, he explained that the people are Mapuche - I looked this up, it's the general term used for a wide range of indigenous people in Chile and Argentina.  There are different tribes or nations within the Mapuche people, but there are so many similarities that the groups have adopted the name Mapuche to refer to the larger family of native southern South Americans.

Our new friend explained that they, the Mapuche people, had their land taken away by the Spanish conquistadors, and never returned.  They are the people who are discriminated against by the people of European descent.  The people who have less opportunity for education, or jobs, or moving out of the towns assigned to them, of improving their lives or living conditions, of participating in the government, in politics, in modern life.  At the same time, they can't maintain their traditional way of life without access to the land they lost centuries ago.

These are the marginalized people.  

Richard and I have talked about this between ourselves, because in all the countries we've visited in South America, it seems that the indigenous people are living in separate and not equal conditions.  We saw towns in Ecuador that are 100% indigenous people, and the homes are mud-brick huts without electricity.  The same in Peru.  Maybe not as poor in Chile and Argentina, but the absence of indigenous people in the cities, with jobs in banks or the hospitality industry, is glaring.  We've talked about the possibility of prejudices, or lack of education, the economics of living in poverty and the difficulty of moving out of that - but before now, all we could do is speculate.

So we talked with this youngish man, and asked questions in our not very good Spanish.  Did our best to understand what he was saying about the fact that yes, they are forced to live in barrios, poor neighborhoods.  They do not have good schools, and are not hired for certain jobs.  And mostly, they want their land back.

I explained that we have a blog, and that we'd write about this, the discrimination against the native peoples of South America, especially in this region.  Because we're old protesters - the best I could do was explain (in present tense because I don't know how to say anything in past tense) that "When we are young we march against war, we march against the Vietnam war, we march for peace.  We are for people.  Many people are not for people because of their color or their church or for money.  But we are for people."  And he seemingly understood what we were saying, that we are against discrimination and segregation.

Turns out this group was in the park because the regional government office is across the street.  They are protesting right in the sight of the local government, who continues to ignore the plight of these marginalized people.

And yes, this is the flag of the Mapuche.  The circle in the center represents the drum used in various ceremonies, and the emblems represent the elements or maybe the four cardinal points of the universe - my Spanish didn't quite understand the full explanation, but there was something about four cardinal points.  Stars, sun, moon, and I think the wind or maybe it was rain.

All we could do was be encouraging, let them know we believe in their cause, wish them good luck, and promise to write something about the discrimination against the native peoples of South America.  

About the situation of the Mapuche.

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