education

Colonialism, neoliberal violence and the dynamics of resistance in Mapuche poetry

(First published in Instituto Manquehue)

Mapuche poetry has been a consistent trajectory expressing resistance against the oblivion and discrimination enforced upon the indigenous population through colonisation and subsequent governments targeting the community with oppressive laws. The literary realm attempts to connect the historical struggle against colonisation to the social problems constituting the enforced oblivion faced by the Mapuche people.

It is difficult to speak of ‘vestiges’ of oppression in the allegedly democratic era following the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, as subsequent governments have embarked upon a more refined replication of the ethnocide and displacement characterising Mapuche history.

The Mapuche resistance against Spanish colonisation creates a backdrop against which the population has been able to reconstruct the dynamics of resilience against governments who have marginalised the indigenous population. Following the declared independence of the Chilean State, the colonisation of Mapuche territory through land purchase and expropriation led to the alleged pacification, which in reality accelerated defeat through military conquest. Restricting Mapuche communities was a step towards attempting assimilation of the indigenous population within the state, thus eliminating any references to territorial reclamation. In 1979 during Pinochet’s dictatorship, laws decreed that “the divided lands will no longer be considered indigenous lands, and the people living on those lands will no longer be considered indigenous.” The Mapuche people remain incarcerated within practices of oblivion, including the repression of history and culture in education and other forms of social exclusion leading to poverty and restriction of basic services including health and education, to prevent any possible reclamation of rights.

Oblivion, therefore, has been managed by the Chilean state through repressive laws capitulating to the proven violence of neoliberalism – a relic of Pinochet’s dictatorship which has been endorsed by the Concertación governments. This is particularly evident in the manipulation of anti-terror laws enacted during the dictatorship – now utilised to target Mapuche communities in order to annihilate resistance. The official divestment of identity required the rethinking of Mapuche resistance with regard to territory – the preservation of the indigenous subaltern memory of a community whose ancestral ties to land have been severed by colonialism, the emergence of the Chilean state and the application of Pinochet’s anti-terror laws. Despite the tenacious collective memory, the Mapuche struggle is marginalised through the dominant narrative which continuously strives to obscure the dynamics of resistance embedded within a community which has not relinquished its definition of nationhood.

It is pertinent, therefore, to assert that Chilean governments are committed to obliterating indigenous identity in order to deconstruct the struggle for recognition into terrorism which is erroneously justified by the application of the anti-terror legislation, upholding historical injustice while displacing the atrocities and violence committed by the state upon Mapuche activists. As is evidenced in past struggles, the state attempts to foment further division by differentiating between Mapuche activists and the rest of the community in political rhetoric; a tactic to dissolve unity which, authorities hope, will ultimately lead to a permanent dissolution of identity.

Recognition of the Mapuche demands remains fragmented, with post-dictatorship governments embarking upon deliberate compromises to enforce oblivion. Political participation remained marginalised and the New Indigenous Peoples Act (1993) did not recognise ancestral claims to land, thus the Mapuche remained estranged from the geophysical dimensions of their struggle. The ambiguity enforced by colonisation and subjugation is entrenched with legislation that seeks to create alienation from the ramifications of historical and contemporary memory. Thus, political autonomy, the recognition of the Mapuche as a nation, land reclamation and control over natural resources remain confined to a struggle which governments have sought to oppress, through eradication of the socioeconomic framework. This led to a rise in Mapuche social and political activism that has been criminalised under the anti-terror legislation. In pledging allegiance to the neoliberal framework endorsed by Pinochet, subsequent governments have modified discourse to depict the plunder of natural resources and destruction of landscape as progress and improving infrastructure. Governments, therefore, have opted for neutralisation policies that would further oppress the struggle for recognition and rights – a strategy that backfired in a renewed struggle for autonomous indigenous identity.

Mapuche poetry encompasses the collective struggle in a manner which displays the connection between language and land. For the Mapuche, language serves as a medium of expression in which historical memory is amalgamated with the ongoing social struggle, always in relation to land. Hence, through language and metaphor, the recuperation of culture occurs through countering the marginalisation enforced upon the population; a marginalisation occurring through the authorities’ tenacity to adhere to and manipulate the oppression inflicted by colonisation and legislation pertaining to the dictatorship.

Mapuche poet Jaime Luis Huenún describes literature as “creating a more visible culture” and marked by the anti-colonial struggle. Since the anti-colonial struggle is part of the Mapuche collective memory framework, Huenún insists that the idea of individuality that is cherished in the West with regard to creative work does not apply to Mapuche literature. Literature becomes the medium of articulating the community’s struggle. The same collective expression was expressed by Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf: “More than a representative of my culture, I come from it. I am an expression of it.” Collective memory, therefore, transcends the confines of individual expression to encompass a unified struggle against the neoliberal economic reforms that attempt to instigate assimilation in order to neutralise the reclamation of land, cultural and historical expression.

Mapuche poetry is a fluid expression of the contradiction between the restrictions placed upon the indigenous population through colonialism and the dynamics which have enabled a constant struggle against the dominating neoliberal political framework prevailing in Chile. While colonialism and neoliberalism have desecrated the Mapuche conservation of land, the indigenous struggle and its portrayal through literature has promulgated both the ancestral legacy and the affirmation of history – elements that override the external and hostile definition of what constitutes the indigenous. The political and socio-cultural aspects remain central to land reclamation and Mapuche identity, challenging continuous policies which elaborate upon allegedly inclusive rhetoric while increasing marginalisation through the criminalisation of Mapuche resistance.

The challenge within collective memory is best portrayed in the incisive poetry of David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche whose work challenges the imposed obliteration of history. In an interview which I carried out with Aniñir, it is explained that the poetic concept of identity incorporated within the book harbours “revenge against everything”. Aniñir explains, “My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents … Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge against everything.” Fragmentation and retention of identity are exacerbated through the dynamics of nostalgia, experiences which accumulate and remain in constant conflict between fluidity due to the evolution of culture within the urban landscape and the imagined nostalgia which, nonetheless, retains significance within the collective experience of forced eviction.

Poetry exists as a collective expression despite the individual artistic articulation. For Aniñir, poetic expression is synonymous with experiences of the indigenous population and the importance of identity reconstruction within the urban framework. Expressing the collective identity is also important in the rewriting of history; the necessity to challenge official historical discourses which fabricate the memory of the oppressed in order to retain the hegemonic narrative. The trend is not solely confined to academia; it infiltrates official policy in order to discover the means of diminishing atrocities committed against the Mapuche people by distorting the dynamics of force to portray a conflict as opposed to systematic oppression.

The fragmentation expressed in Mapuche poetry incorporates a passion incumbent upon reflection wrought by distance and a lack of documented memory which is indicative of the turbulence associated with a permanent homecoming. In the absence of inscribed history, Mapuche poetry reveals the magnitude of nostalgia as a political testimony of forced displacement, a documentation of silence as collective memory in its various dimensions continues to assert its relevance within the wider context of the social and political struggle.

 


[1] http://www.cairn.info/revue-etudes-rurales-2002-3-page-283.htm

[2] http://tas.sagepub.com/content/21/1/55.full.pdf+html

[3] http://santiagotimes.cl/qa-award-winning-indigenous-poet-jaime-luis-huenun/

[4] https://www.academia.edu/3268117/Two_Mapuche_Poets_translation_and_introduction_

[5] http://upsidedownworld.org/main/chile-archives-34/3260-a-poetic-concept-of-identity-an-interview-with-mapuche-poet-david-aninir-guilitraro-

Destroying the Ability to Think Historically in Chile. An interview with historian Alberto Harambour.

(First published in Upside Down World)

The decision to remove the term ‘military dictatorship’ from Chilean primary school textbooks has been revoked. However, this remains a superficial change. Historian Alberto Harambour from Diego Portales University explains the dynamics of Chilean politics and relics of Pinochet’s dictatorship which threaten to separate a new generation of Chileans from historical memory.

The decision to remove the term ‘military dictatorship’ from Chilean primary  school textbooks has been revoked, following the resignation of Alejandro Goic, a member of the National Council of Education (CNED). In his resignation letter to Minister of Education Harald Beyer, Goic cites discomfort at having to work with former Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) member Alfredo Ewing Pinochet, stating “there were people who have a vision of historical events that I do not share… I am surprised that there are people who, after 40 years, still believe that there was no military dictatorship in Chile.” 

However, reinstalling the term “military dictatorship” remains a superficial change without reference to the military coup or human rights violations. Historian Alberto Harambour from Diego Portales University explains the dynamics of Chilean politics and relics of Pinochet’s dictatorship which threaten to separate a new generation of Chileans from historical memory.

Ramona Wadi: Can you explain how Pinochet’s laws regarding education continue to enforce discrimination on Chilean society?

Alberto Harambour: The combination of State terrorism and neoliberal reform radically transformed Chilean social life. From property regimes to sociability, from schools to pensions, municipalizing primary and secondary education, as well as the shift in tertiary education funding meant the increase of segregation. It was accompanied by housing policies that displaced poor communities to the periphery, dislocating networks of solidarity. As those policies have not been transformed by the transitional democracy, they have resulted in a direct relation between social class and quality of the education. As counties (municipios) fund their own schools, wealthy counties have relatively better schools. Besides, wealthy people pay extremely high prices for relatively good primary and secondary education in private schools, while the rest of society gets, generally, a public education that does not allow them to get into good, selective universities.

RW: The decision to change terminology from “military dictatorship” to “military regime” is reported to have originated during Michelle Bachelet’s presidency. Can you elaborate further about the 2009 General Education Laws and how this change in Chilean memory was approved during a left-wing presidency?

AH: It does not seem to me that the change was officially defined by then. However, there were severe contradictions in the Ministry of Education throughout the Concertación governments. I did experience an attempt of censorship while working on a textbook by year 2000. There was an oral instruction about avoiding the use of the word dictatorship for any period of Chilean history. Same about State terrorism. We had a tough time discussing it. Same happened to other historians, working for other publishing houses. At the same time, though, there was a wide transformation in programs and contents starting in the mid 1990s. Its results, though, are relatively small in terms of producing a culture of human rights respect, or true democratic generations.

RW: Is having people implicated in Pinochet’s dictatorship serving in prominent positions in Chilean politics creating a culture of impunity to enhance oblivion? What, in your opinion, is strengthening oblivion in Chile?

AH: Oblivion has been resisted by decades, from below and from the margins. Official politics of memory did have a strong impact, since the early 1990s with the publication of the Truth Commissions Informs. It was the capture of Pinochet in London (by then, a designed senator) which prompted a radical shift in terms of public opinion and human rights violation. The Concertación government did everything to temperate right-wing discontent, and bring back the former dictator. A banner in Universidad Católica by that time read “The shame of the Government is the happiness of people”. There was a clear sense that Concertación was operating so as to keep the pace of the pacted transition. And it did divorce many people who had been up to then acquiescent with the limitations of Concertación. Later on, Lagos and Bachelet played conflicting roles. On the one hand, they had been victims of the dictatorship. On the other, they kept criminals as high ranking officers in the Armed Forces, and strengthened the neoliberal policies, despite their own promises about moving leftward from the post-dictatorship political scene. They did not though. Again, on the one hand, that reinforced popular allegiances to Concertación. On the other, though, they became similar to right-wing politicians. In fact, it was a right-wing entrepreneur who, for the first time, won a presidential election since 1958. Under Pinera an unexpected result, it seems to me, there has been a growth in the opening of themes that were silenced for 20 years.

RW: Following Alejandro Goic’s resignation, it seems there has been a decision to review and possibly re-introduce the mention of military dictatorship in textbooks without referring to the coup or human rights abuses. What implications does this decision entail?

AH: The decision is a minor one. The transformation of the plans and programs for primary and secondary schools continues, and its reach is really troublesome. It is destroying the recognition of complex processes and the ability to think historically which was expanded in the last 20 years, in favor of an old-style concept of history. In 2012 we will see a permanent discussion on this, basically because the several objections raised by specialists have not been considered by the Ministry and the National Council of Education. In what can be defined as heritage of the Dictatorship, even an officer who has been accused of crimes against humanity participated in this controversial decision.

RW: How do you think a mention of dictatorship without discussion of torture and violations will affect children whose only narrative of such abuses would be through verbal recollection of those who suffered?

AH: It has demonstrated to be ineffective to produce a people conscious of its rights, respectful of the memory of the victims and the dignity of the survivors. It seems that the term “human rights” in the early 1990s opened a certain path that is, by now, exhausted. It does not express, under the rubric “human rights violations”, anything but an abstraction, necessary as it is. But in a country where dozens of thousands of citizens were subjected to the experience of terror it is necessary to replace abstractions with concrete narratives – something those who grew up under the dictatorship were saturated with. As a history professor, I am critical of my own way of referring to those processes. Politically it may be constructing to identify the dictatorship as a terrorist regime – at a certain level. But in terms of political consciousness, as incarnating a non-negotiable commitment with human dignity, it seems that we must be more explicit in letting the students know what they have not been taught.

RW: In which manner will memory narrative and language be altered through this practice of oblivion in a new generation?

AH: Besides what I just said, it is social mobilization which provides the main vehicle for social, language, political and intellectual transformation. Many of the assumptions which today appear as obvious were unthinkable a year ago, such as the demand for free public education. That was part of the leftist practice for decades, but it is only now that it appears as possible, a manifestation of a wish. Even in terms of academic formation, it seems that the students learned in a year of permanent strikes what they could not grasp during lectures. Considering this achievement, in contrast with the conformity of the Concertación decades, it does explains to a certain extent why some leaders of the students movement consider that the movement was born with them. There has been, out of reduced circles, a small transference of political experiences and memories.