Posted by: r.m. | November 7, 2013

An inspiring movement — indigenous, holistic, and grounded in environmental truths

John Severino has written a beautiful, powerful, holistic essay – that merits distribution: Another Kind of Revolution – The Mapuche’s Struggle for the Land

True revolutions do not happen overnight, and they are not delivered by politicians. The kind of transformation that ends exploitation, misery, and the destruction of the environment, and that allows people to organize their own lives and fulfill their needs in freedom and dignity comes about in an altogether different kind of way.

Outside of the media spotlight and the halls of power, the Mapuche are creating just such a transformation.

John Severino presents a critical issue. First, he removes the socialist governments of south american – be they in Bolivia or Brazil – from their pedestal, then he powerfully discusses an important movement for equality — an indigenous struggle that has a different view of the environment than one espoused by the dominant systems…

Note this particular statement, and the myriad of issues it contains:

“In the 1970s, the progressive Allende government had consolidated a great quantity of public land and was preparing to dole it out as individual plots to poor Chileans. This would have eased the poverty of the urban poor, but it might also have spelled the end of the Mapuche and their collective system, in which land is not a commodity but the inheritance of the entire community.

When the rightwing Pinochet took over in a US-backed coup in 1973, he gave all those lands to international forestry companies, and Wallmapu was covered in a monoculture desert of identical pines and eucalyptus, exotic trees that depleted the water table, damaged the soil, and replaced the native species that were the basis for Mapuche medicine, silvaculture, and religion.”

This indigenous movement struggles to maintain their holistic, sustainable philosophy of the Earth.

“Land, in the Mapuche struggle, is a transcendent concept. It is not simply a plot of terra firma demarcated by a set of boundaries, as it is in the liberal Enlightenment thinking that constitutes the earth-hating religion of the West. Land is a living, inalienable thing that serves as the basis for the community’s existence.

“Accordingly, their struggle for the land is not a campaign to win property titles so they can farm it, sell it, or build a hotel on it, however they please. It is a war between two different worldviews, a battle to restore their traditional relationship with the land in opposition to all the invisible structures of Western society that in the name of liberty make free life impossible.

“Within this struggle, there is no alienation between means and ends, and no separation between political, economic, and cultural solutions. How could we possibly expect a system based on political hierarchy to bring economic equality? Or a system based on commodification to allow cultural self-determination?

Note the critique of the often-lauded Bolivian constitution:

Most Mapuche I know are highly critical of the much acclaimed Constitutional process in Bolivia that has taken unprecedented steps to guarantee the rights of indigenous people. Those rights, in the end, are just words on paper. The same government programs exist to ensure that people think of themselves as Bolivian first and indigenous (Quechua, Aymara, etc.) second, because a government without loyalty is nothing. And the same market structures exist to force everyone to sell their land, their culture and their time to tourists, mining companies, agribusiness, just to be able to eat and have a roof over their heads. No political party, no matter how progressive, will block those structures, because a government without investors is a coup waiting to happen.

And note the steadfastness of the movement:

… the Mapuche in struggle are not demanding anything, they are taking it.

And resisting police brutality and trumped-up charges and ongoing repression.

But note the critical – and devastating – role of NGOs!

Chile, desperate to project the image of a country governed by due process, can repress the Mapuche with a combination of old-fashioned brutality out of the public eye, and a constant barrage of charges designed to exhaust and impoverish any community that takes a stand. Even with a relative absence of convictions on false charges, the effect is to discourage other communities from rising up. Such a tactic can only work if the state can also offer a positive incentive. This is where NGOs and charities come in, imposing the logic of progress and development to “help” those who agree not to help themselves. Communities that do not take back their lands get charity projects. Communities that are in the process of taking their lands back do not.

And how do we define poverty? development? progress?

For Mapuche communities in resistance, bettering their circumstances means implementing their own solutions at a local level, it means being able to feed themselves directly, independent of the price of bread or whatever cash crop they are supposed to grow, it means healthy land, clean air and water, traditional medicine and nature-based religion.

But according to the logic of development, someone who works eighty hours a week to be able to afford half the things they need is technically richer than someone who meets all their own needs outside of a money economy. Poverty statistics focus single-mindedly on income in dollars. According to the economists, someone who doubles their income but has to buy four times as many things that they used to get for free, is less impoverished. The development that economists boast of has been the destruction of subsistence and the imposition of precarity and dependence. With this kind of development in mind, the Chilean government is demolishing “informal” housing and building huge subsidized apartment blocks. What greater joy can there be than building your own house and living in it without having to pay anyone, and what greater misery than having to move into a tiny apartment that you have to work a job to maintain? This is considered progress in the war on poverty.

I rarely, very rarely, take so many excerpts from an article, but this article is such a gem that I have difficulty resisting.

The Mapuche struggle reveals a way of looking at land and freedom that totally upsets the dominant worldview. In their conception of land and their practice of direct action, means and ends find harmony, problems of political exclusion, economic alienation, and cultural commodification meet with a unified solution, and questions of health, spirituality, education, housing, food security, and environment blend and become indistinguishable.

The severe consequences and obstacles faced by the Mapuche reveal another truth about revolution. It does not happen overnight, and it does not fall from the sky (or other high places). Revolution is never easy. This awareness has been painfully lacking among the glowing spectators of the popular movements in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, or the so-called Color Revolutions of the former Soviet Bloc, among participants and critics alike of the Occupy movement, and commentators to the Arab Spring who thought that everything was over once the dictators fell.

The Mapuche struggle arises out of its own particular history and landscape. The rest of us can neither join it nor imitate it. But we can undermine the impunity with which governments, businesses, and charities attempt to bulldoze it beneath the joint discourses of Progress and Terrorism. We can question our relationship to the structures and worldviews that continue to try to erase or colonize the Mapuche and other indigenous peoples closer to home. And we might reexamine the very place we consider to be home, the political structures and narratives that have been imposed on it, and the histories of peoples who once had a different kind of relationship with it. We might think about our relationship with the land, with anyone who might have been dispossessed of that land, and what a real revolution, in those circumstances, might look like.

Thank you, John. For more from John Severino, go to his blog: http://chileboliviawalmapu.wordpress.com

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Responses

  1. (autant habituer la petiote tout de suite :): – Elle est complète ? Je veux dire est pleine, Lune ? – Le soir tombe et elle n’est pas là. Ca va encore être une nuit sans Lune…- heu… Lune tu m’as l’air diir.aste..t. Tu es dans la Lune ?- tu as apporté le paquet ? Non, j’ai demandé à la Lune de l’apporter- Elle est très douce Lune, une vraie Lune de miel- mais Lune je demande pas l’impossible, je demande pas la Lune quand même !(y en a d’autre ?)


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