For two weeks now, unarmed indigenous activists in Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – have occupied public (read Chilean) property, claiming ancestral rights to a land that has seen colonization from Peruvian slave traders to French missionaries to the island’s conversion to a sheep farm by a Scottish-owned Chilean company until 1953. As a result, the Rapanui people have been forced to what is now the only inhabitance on the island: Hanga Roa.
When I was in Hanga Roa in May 2010, I spotted a building with a hand-made sign: Rapa Nui Parliament. Outside the physically unassuming building I saw few visibly austere voices for independence for this tiny South Pacific island controlled by Chile. But media reports suggest otherwise:
The Santiago Times reports from Chile:
For nearly two weeks, Rapa Nui clans have occupied close to 30 properties on the island, including museums, government-owned buildings, municipal buildings, the local tourism office and a hotel. The Rapa Nui Parliament is also working to increase the importance of Rapa Nui representatives in the Chilean government.
Two weeks after of Rapa Nui demonstrators began occupying properties on Easter Island, Chile’s government has sent more police [45 officers] to “monitor” the situation.
But this move angered the Commission for the Development of Easter Island (CODEIPA), an organization of representatives from indigenous groups that has been working to resolve the dispute. The arrival of the police prompted half of its members to stop discussions with the government.
“We were told that [the police] special forces can attack. [That] ended the negotiations on our part,” Raul Teao, a CODEIPA member, told La Tercera.
Earlier, the same newspaper reported of indigenous demands:
Among other things, the local Rapa Nui Parliament, which supports the building occupations, is asking for a modification to a special statute under review in Congress, to strengthen the role of ethnic Rapa Nui representatives in the government.
Zasso said the movement was responding to concerns on the island regarding migration and land restitution. She said the government acknowledges the island is special territory, but “we do not have any legislation [saying so],” she said. “We want to have autonomy, to make decisions. We want results, not promises.”
Commenting on the Chilean police presence on the island, Pacific studies specialist Lorenz Gonschor has expressed concerns about the safety of the land activists to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, reminding that “they’re not guerilla fighters.”
Gonschor said he suspects the current protest was spawned by “a general frustration with the slowness of the Chilean legislation … (which) makes it difficult to make any kind of reforms.”
He said there was little concern for violence among local authorities on the island, but the concern escalated once the Chilean government stepped in.
A report in Times-Herald Record also raises human rights concerns:
Sito Hitorangi, an Easter Island native who lives in Goshen [Indiana, USA], learned that Chilean special forces stopped short of forcibly removing some 500 members of his indigenous people from the government buildings, hotels and museums they took over on Easter Island earlier this month.
The Santiago government announced Sunday it might use force to remove the trespassers if they did not voluntarily leave the buildings Monday, raising fears of bloodshed.