SANTIAGO – Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet apologized on Friday to Mapuche Indian communities on behalf of the South American nation, saying she regretted the mistakes and injustices of recent decades and unveiling a development plan for the southern region of Araucania.
“As president, I want to solemnly and humbly ask the forgiveness of the Mapuche people for the errors and horrors the state has committed or tolerated in its relations with them or their communities,” Bachelet said in a speech in Santiago.
She presented a nine-point plan that, among other things, would recognize the rights of the Mapuches of southern Chile – the country’s most impoverished region – in a proposed new constitution, guarantee political representation for that minority group and foster economic development of Araucania.
Bachelet also established June 24 as Indigenous Peoples of Chile Day.
The Mapuche communities of Araucania have long demanded that the government return lands that were expropriated decades ago and given to logging companies.
The long-running dispute has led to clashes among large landowners, Mapuche communities and the Carabineros, Chile’s militarized national police.
Police actions stemming from that conflict have come under criticism, with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein accusing officers of using excessive force against indigenous men, women and children.
Bachelet said her administration was urgently looking to secure approval for a new Indigenous Peoples Ministry and Council of Indigenous Peoples and also announced the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to establish a land registry and ensure access to potable water.
The plan, known as the Araucania Law, must receive congressional approval.
The initiative comes five months after the government received the conclusions of a presidential advisory commission that was made up of representatives of different areas of the Araucania region and had carried out fieldwork since July 2016.