By Cristobal Madero
With support from CLAS and the Tinker Foundation, I spent two weeks in May implementing an education project in Chile with Daniel Cano of Georgetown University. The idea behind the project was relatively simple: to take history teachers educating the wealthiest 1% of Chileans into schools throughout the country’s south, a region that has historically been prone to conflict between the Chilean state and the indigenous Mapuche people. The goal was to educate teachers about the conflict and have them reflect, alongside local teachers in the southern town of Tirua, about the way in which the history of indigenous populations in Chile is taught.
Today, the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy can be found in the Araucania region where there is an ongoing conflict between the Mapuche, the government and the private sector. At the heart of these problems are the political instability and economic distrust created as a result of violent confrontations between indigenous peasants, Chilean settlers, and the national armed forces. Mass media has contributed to the tense climate by labeling Mapuche social protests as terrorism — a description that is not only inaccurate but also misinforms society and perpetuates a cycle of violence and tension in the region. Business consortiums that control the forest industry also control the country’s major media channels. Needless to say, the cozy relationship among these disparate businesses fuels the conflict by actively seeking to promote particular economic interests while legitimizing the intervention of the state apparatus against those Mapuche communities that resist territorial occupation.
During our stay, we were witnesses to just how unfair the historical treatment of the Mapuche has been. Even the exaggerated stereotype of a violent and aggressive Mapuche nature they are purported to have does not compare to the degree of force the state police units routinely deploy against them. It was a common sight to see police, armed as if in a war zone, patrolling the streets of small towns and stopping civilians on roadways to check their documentation. We also saw how the vast majority of the Mapuche are peaceful people dedicated to working their land. At the project’s conclusion, teachers and principals at the four schools we visited during our stay came to believe in our project and our intentions, despite initial reservations. This gives us reason to be optimistic that this project has the potential to generate a change in the mindset among the elite class in Chile in regards to the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, our faith in the power of education to mitigate conflicts has been strengthened by our experience in Araucania.
Cristobal Madero is a student in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley.