As we posted on August 3, several Rapa Nui clans have peacefully occupied buildings and land that are part of their ancestral territory. The Chilean government responded by sending the regional governor (intendente) of the 5th Region, Raúl Celis, to the island to open a dialogue with the Rapa Nui protestors. Since that posting, many developments have taken place and a dialogue between the Rapa Nui and Chilean government has commenced.According to The Santiago Times, before his departure, Celis met with other government officials, where the idea of forcibly removing the occupiers was discussed, but ultimately rejected in favor of opening a dialogue and seeing what was happening on the ground before taking any action. Celis admitted that ceding control of some buildings to the Rapa Nui was possible, but also made it clear that the occupiers would have to adjust their attitudes if fruitful discussions were to take place.
Celis’ arrival on August 3 was the Chilean government’s chance to see and learn what was happening on Easter Island prior to a more formal meeting set to take place on Thursday, August 5. That meeting will include not only Celis, but also the Undersecretary of Regional Development, Miguel Flores, Planning Undersecretary Soledad Arellano, and National Properties Ministry authorities, and will begin a dialogue with the Rapa Nui protesters.
In addition to Celis’ arrival, the island’s Provincial Governor, Pedro Edmunds, also opened up communication with several groups, including: the Rapa Nui clans responsible for the occupations, members of the municipal council, and the Mayor, Luz Zasso.
Mayor Zasso expressed frustration with the Chilean government always making promises, but never taking action — particularly with respect to migration of Chileans from the continent to the island and land holdings. She called for real autonomy for the Rapa Nui people, instead of empty promises.
This sentiment was echoed elsewhere by the Rapa Nui Parliament who support the occupations. In fact, two members of the Rapa Nui Parliament — Leviante Araki Araki, who is the president of the Parliament, and Mario Tuki, who is also a member of the Commission for Development of Easter Island — both made statements about the possibility of the Rapa Nui declaring independence from Chile if control isn’t given back to the Rapa Nui people soon. These statements were heavily reported on by some Chilean news sources that can be found here, here, or here. Although the original quotations seem to all have originated from Radio Bio-Bio, here. Following his meetings on the island, Celis gave indications that these sentiments are not felt by all, but instead represent only a minority of the Rapa Nui people.
Despite some appearances to the contrary, the Rapa Nui are not united on this issue. For instance, the president of the Rapa Nui Council of Elders, Alberto Otus, has denounced the occupations as illegal and called for a response from the Chilean government. Otus has claimed to have received death threats and mentioned a threat to burn the house of another government servant.
This is likely the topic for a future post, but it is interesting to note how the Chilean media has reacted to this, somewhat sudden, development with the Rapa Nui. Some major new sources clearly focused their attention on the idea that the Rapa Nui were “threatening” independence, while others approached the subject from the point of view emphasized by both the Chilean government and the Rapa Nui institutions thus far — namely that this has been a peaceful demonstration and the government is seeking a peaceful resolution. If resolution does not come quickly, I’m guessing the media will increasingly have a lot to do with how Chilean citizens interpret this situation.