UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political ecology of indigenous movements and tree plantations in Chile : the role of political strategies of Mapuche communities in shaping their social and natural livelihoods. du Monceau de Bergendal Labarca, Maria Isabel


In Chile’s neoliberal economy, large-scale timber plantations controlled by national and multinational forest corporations have expanded significantly on traditional indigenous territories. Chile’s forestry sector began to expand rapidly in 1974, the year following the military coup, owing to the privatization of forest lands and the passing of Decree 701. That law continues to provide large subsidies for afforestation, as well as tax exemptions for plantations established after 1974. As a consequence, conflicts have developed between indigenous communities and forestry companies, with the latter actively supported by government policies. The Mapuche people, the largest indigenous group in Chile, have been demanding the right to control their own resources. Meanwhile, they have been bearing the physical and social costs of the forestry sector’s growth. Since democracy returned to Chile in 1990, governments have done little to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples. Government policy in this area is ill-defined; it consists mainly of occasional land restitution and monetary compensation when conflicts with the Mapuche threaten to overheat. This, however, is coupled with heavy-handed actions by the police and the legal system against Mapuche individuals and groups. From a political ecology perspective, this thesis examines how indigenous communities resort to various political strategies to accommodate, resist, and/or negotiate as political-economic processes change, and how these responses in turn shape natural resource management and, it follows, the local environment. My findings are that the environmental and social impacts associated with landscape transformation are shaped not only by structural changes brought about by economic and political forces but also, simultaneously, by smaller acts of political, cultural, and symbolic protest. Emerging forms of political agency are having expected and unexpected consequences that are giving rise to new processes of environmental change. Evidence for my argument is provided by a case study that focuses on the political strategies followed by the Mapuche movement. I analyze the obstacles that are preventing the Chilean government from addressing more effectively the social, economic, and cultural needs of indigenous peoples through resource management policies. Government policies toward the Mapuche have not encompassed various approaches that might facilitate conflict resolution, such as effective participation in land use plans, natural resource management, the protection of the cultural rights of indigenous communities, and the Mapuche people’s right to their own approaches to development. Employing Foucault’s notion of governmentality, I argue that, while the Mapuche have widely contested the state’s neoliberal policies, they have nevertheless been drawn into governing strategies that are fundamentally neoliberal in character. These strategies have reconfigured their relationship with the state, NGOs, and foreign aid donors. Operating at both formal and informal levels of social and political interaction, this new mentality of government employs coercive and co-optive measures to cultivate Mapuche participation in the neoliberal modernization project, while continuing to neglect long-standing relations of inequality and injustice that underpin conflicts over land and resources.

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