The Mapuche Uprising in Chile

The Mapuche Uprising in Chile
Mapuche protesting at Plaza de la Dignidad. Photo by Juan Trujillo Limones

By Juan Trujillo Limones

SANTIAGO, CHILE—The sun was plummeting in the heart of this popular rebellion that continued burning with flares, sweat, paint or extinguisher gas the already corroded statue of General Baquedano and his horse. The demand was clear: the resignation of the central government and the founding of a Constituent Assembly.

In a message, the Mapuche leader Aucán Huilcamán of the Council of All Lands announced that a “parallel government” would be installed in the Araucanía. There is a strong distrust of the political agreement between the political class and the deadlines for the possible new Constitution.

In the renamed Plaza de la Dignidad (formerly Italy), a giant eight-pointed white blanket star representing the Venus planet and the Mapuche indigenous people was raised between the four directions that connect to those emblematic streets of the main field of the battlefields among the young people of the “first row” and the police carabinera.

“The Mapuche people have always been there, but there was something missing that would give us more nehuen, the strength to go out screaming with everything,” explains René Choikepan, a Mapuche Lafkenche indigenous from the southern lowlands.

Nov. 14 was the first anniversary of the cold-blooded murder of the young Mapuche Camilo Catrillanca at the hands of the Special Forces and the Jungle command of the military police in his Temocuicui community in Araucanía. Mapuche families and people mobilized at the national level gathered in public squares to demand justice and clarification of the crime.

“He was allegedly involved in a bank attack. There was a kind of montage, then they say that he was stopped and tried to fool the police; they tried to put us into a lie,” says Choikepan, without letting his hand stop waving the flag of his people.

From the morning, a group of Mapuche danced in their rogativa (traditional dance) to manifest what they consider a state crime. Hours later, as information surfaced about the mobilization of 12,000 people in southern Temuco, the statue of the conqueror Pedro de Valdivia, a famous Spanish military man who waged the Arauco War against the Mapuche people in the 16th century, was destroyed.

Choikepan, a salaried worker who lives in a suburb of the capital, went out with his daughter to demonstrate on this special day. In a dozen Chilean cities, different Mapuche associations, groups and coordinators, such as the Mapuche parliament of Koz Koz, the community of San Miguel Coatricura and the Calaucán indigenous association, mobilized from the moment the social revolt broke out.

“It can help to be present, but there are those who are in social networks and do not wet the potito (the butt). I have come several times. I feel this strongly; the fight has to bear fruit,” Choikepan said.

On Nov. 14, the rebel Mapuche became more visible. That was the short but powerful legacy of the young Catrillanca, who was the leader of the student movement and a member of the Pailahueque school where he participated in acts of land recovery in the community of Ercilla.

Mapuches at Plaza de la Dignidad before destroying the statue of one conquistador. Photo by Juan Trujillo Limones

As the sun was setting, information arrived that another statue of Valdivia from southern Concepcion had been overturned in the Plaza Independencia. The indigenous movement continued to tear down the metal heads of conquistadores and military leaders of the past.

This national popular rebellion, with at least 3.3 million people officially mobilized, challenged the power of the government, its policies and abuses, and allowed the visibility of an indigenous movement that has existed for 527 years.

Choikepan’s historical memory returns to the 16th century to commemorate the indigenous insurgency of its origin in the south: “I hope that (with this struggle) all the Mapuche have their land that was usurped when Columbus arrived in America. Hence, we are being usurped, (but) we are recovering.”

The popular mobilizations that started on Oct. 18 led to a group of Aymara Indians from the border town of Arica shattering a statue of Christopher Columbus a couple of days later.

Conqueror statues abound in many Chilean cities. But this is changing: On Oct. 20, in the northern region of La Serena, a statue of Francisco de Aguirre, another Spanish soldier who invaded northeastern Argentina and was governor of Chile in 1554, was destroyed by a group of protesters who threw it onto a burning barricade. In these acts, you can take the pulse of the uprising.

Even in the Patagonian territories of Punta Arenas, the bust of the Spanish landowner and exploiter of Selk’nam Indians, José Menéndez, was destroyed. In its place was placed the bust of an indigenous from that town that had been on the verge of genocide.

And on Nov. 1, about 500 members of Mapuche communities in the province of Arauco arrived in Cañete where they held a march called for that day. There they demolished the statues of Valdivia and García Hurtado de Mendoza. Mendoza was a governor of Chile (1556–1561) who repressed the movement of the indigenous leader Caupolicán in 1557.

The murder of Catrillanca is undoubtedly one of the main triggers of the Mapuche indigenous movement. The point of confluence that condenses the other claims, as a mirror, reflects the mobilizations that break the old and archaic colonial symbols.

Thus, from the heart of that Plaza de la Dignidad, Choikepan concludes, “When I commemorate him I also protest because my blood is the same, Mapuche.”

The Mapuche community has demolished some colonial symbols. With that, they have rebelled against the current authoritarian power that represses the peaceful movement. They have risen and burst into the government’s time with the old symbolism of a conquering military. They were those colonial symbols that wanted to perpetuate themselves in the collective consciousness from public spaces, but they ceased to exist.

All those overthrows were condensed in the Mapuche uprising of Oct. 18–Nov. 14. The next day, even from the community of Panguipulli, the Mapuche parliament Koz Koz ignored the validity of the agreement reached by the Chilean political class in the early morning. The Mapuche people stand up again, renewed alongside the Chilean sectors of that national community.


Juan Trujillo Limones is an anthropologist and a freelance journalist. Contact him at


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