Autonomy, insubordination and the radical Mapuche movement in Chile

By: Gilberto López y Rivas

César Enrique Pineda’s book, The Wallmapu [1] burns: autonomy, insubordination and the radical Mapuche movement in Chile, UNAM-CIALC-Bajo Tierra editions (2018), [2] is singularly relevant within the ambit of research about social movements, original peoples and autonomic processes. It constitutes a rigorous, founded, committed and achieved theoretical-empirical effort to penetrate one of the continent’s most congruent experiences of indigenous struggle: the Arauco-Malleco Coordinator (CAM, its initials in Spanish), the movement of the Mapuche people that, between 1997 and 2003, promoted a process of disputing ancestral lands and the vindication of self-determination and autonomy, in an intense confrontation with the Chilean State, big landowners and transnational corporations.

The work, Pineda points out, proposes to “recuperate, systematize and narrate the history… [of] an extremely controversial collective actor for the Mapuche movement itself, as well as for the Chilean intelligentsia; a subject demonized in the communications media, categorized as terrorist, a radical or subversive group by the State and Chile’s dominant groups.” It attempts to “understand the complex processes of the production of rebelliousness and insubordination, as well as its subsequent stabilization and discipline,” since the Chilean State, responds to this movement “with an aggressive and sophisticated process of disarticulation, containment, social and repressive counterinsurgency that, between 2003 and 2009, would provoke the contraction and weakening of the Mapuche mobilization and, subsequently, the close of the cycle of struggle for land and autonomy.”

The book begins with a prologue from our colleague Raúl Zibechi, which is, in itself, a recognition of Pineda’s valuable contribution: “a work of years,” he says, “in which direct experience, knowledge of the people, communities and geographies, is one of the more notable aspects of a committed and absolutely neutral investigation.”

Pineda clarifies the testimonial component of his work, “which is explained from a socio-historical approach constructed from long and numerous interviews carried out with Mapuches in prison and with activists interviewed in their communities, which is contrasted and put in dialogue with that expressed by various Chilean historians and specialists.” To that is added extensive research in newspapers and the corresponding theoretical interpretations that provide the analytical basis of what was investigated, “from within, from the social struggle, from the perspective of those below.”

Starting with different autonomic processes in Latin America, we agree in the sense that: “the dispute for land, territory and the natural wealth, as well as for self-determination, social self-regulation and autonomy, are the decisive struggles of our time.” At the same time, in that “the original peoples are the heart of numerous anti-systemic alternatives and that, in the last 20 years, have demonstrated an enormous capacity as subjects for construction of an alternative project and resistance in the face of dispossession, contempt and internal colonialism.” Proof in our country is that which constitutes the political process that the Zapatista National Liberation Army initiated, beginning in 1994, and its permanent proposals for the articulation of anticapitalist struggles.

Likewise, the final reflections are very proper in the sense that: “the frameworks of kinship, relationships, affective, ethno-productive, spiritual, symbolic and material, based on the ‘community’ social form, are being activated and updated with indigenous political projects, like resistance and stoppage of invasive expansive relations of the social form of ‘capital’, but also as emancipatory aspiration and practice.” There is total agreement that, in contemporary autonomic processes, the subjects that champion them suffer “true metamorphoses” in their social relations, which empower them, as subjects of change, like “other” political subjects.

As a parallel, his warning about not idealizing these processes is beneficial. “Many times, the author points out, the organizational fabric of these movements is crossed by ideological colonialism, by numerous subaltern contradictions, by dangerous limits and errors; and on occasions, by sectarianisms, essentialisms and fundamentalist millenarianisms; by a profound fragility of their structures versus war, repression or cooptation.” Regarding the latter, it’s possible to observe, also in our country, organizations and intellectuals that have opted for supporting the neo-indigenist policy of the next government, which will be concretized with the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples.

In an academic environment dominated by pointillist and extractivist production, it’s gratifying that books are published for the struggle below and to the left.

[1] The Wallmapu is the name given to the territory the Mapuches have historically inhabited in parts of Chile and Argentina.

[2] Arde el Wallmapu: autonomía, insubordinación y movimiento radical mapuche en Chile,


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, November 2, 2018

Re-Published with English Interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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