Chile president creates commission to resolve Indigenous land issues

Chile President Gabriel Boric met with Mapuche Indigenous leaders on Friday and announced the creation of a commission to resolve issues of land ownership in the flashpoint southern Araucania region, which has seen a spate of recent arson attacks.

Araucania is home to groups of Mapuche, the country's largest Indigenous group, who are demanding the restitution of their ancestral land, much of which is currently in the hands of private logging companies.

Boric said a Commission for Peace and Understanding, which will start functioning by March 2023, will weigh domestic and international recommendations about how to resolve violence in Araucania and "look for a solution to the conflict."

The Chilean president warned that not everyone would be happy with the verdicts and timelines of the commission.

"It will not be possible to return all the land. There are many cities in southern Chile that were built on land that was once Mapuche and these cities must be preserved," Boric said.

Some non-Mapuche Chileans "settled on these lands and dropped roots generations ago" and their rights must be respected as well, he said.

Radical Mapuche groups have carried out numerous arson attacks, mostly on forestry companies and their equipment, but recently a school and church were also torched.

Boric began a surprise visit to the region on Thursday and branded the arsonists "terrorists" and "cowards."

Hours after he spoke, arsonists torched a house and a truck.

The violence has resulted in the deaths of at least eight people in the rural region so far this year.

The radical Arauco Malleco Coordination (CAM), one of the main Mapuche groups in the region, opposed Boric's visit, saying it "obeys the interests of the oligarchy, the power of economic groups that directly oppose the Mapuche cause."

A previous attempt to visit the area by Boric's then-interior minister Izkia Siches in March was marred by gunfire. Speaking to a local radio station, Boric said that visit had been a mistake.

"We realized that the situation in Araucania must be addressed without shortcuts," he said, adding that a "solid, robust agenda" was needed before visiting.

In the 16th century, the Mapuche resisted Spanish expansion in their territories but they were finally subdued in 1870 by the Chilean army, which subsequently began installing settlements in the region.

The restitution of these ancestral lands is at the heart of the Mapuche struggle.

Boric's predecessor, Sebastian Pinera, deployed the military to Araucania in late 2021. The new president ended that operation, but was forced to backtrack in May following another violent escalation.