After weeks of peacefully occupying various building on Easter Island to demand the return of their ancestral lands, more than 20 Rapa Nui adults and children were forcefully evicted from the Hotel Hanga Roa by a contingent of more than 50 Chilean Special Forces–acting on an order that apparently originated from the island. Eleven of the individuals were read their rights, arrested, and then ultimately released within fifteen minutes.
According to Marisol Ito, a spokesperson for the Rapa Nui involved, the response by the government was excessive given the Rapa Nui’s peaceful occupation. There has been growing frustration on the island with mid-level government officials, and attempts at opening a dialogue with President Piñera–for instance, by sending him a letter last week–have been fruitless. After the incident yesterday, tensions continued to rise amidst reports of Chilean naval vessels sent to the island on the one hand, as well as threats by certain Rapa Nui clans to take down the Chilean flag and hang their own banner instead.
All of this comes only one day after the Chilean government announced the appointment of a new Governor, Carmen Cardinal. Cardinal is a business-owner on the island, and a lifelong professor who has spent much of her life working to save and spread the Rapa Nui language and culture on the island. In her first day, she met with some of the clans and expressed a desire to understand their claims and demands.
The source of the Rapa Nui conflict is land, and according to the clans on the island, a failure on the part of the Chilean government to hold up its end of various agreements made in the past 150 years. To this end, it was announced on Monday that many of the Rapa Nui clans have now retained the services of a U.S. law firm that will help make their legal claims at both the national and international levels.