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Mario Mila Millalén, a senior Mapuche political leader in Loncoche, Araucanía region. 

Mario Mila Millalén, a senior Mapuche political leader in Loncoche, Araucanía region. 

Photographer: Cristóbal Olivares/Bloomberg

Businessweek
Economics

Setback in Quest for Indigenous Rights Roils Chile, Creating Challenges for Its New President

Extremist Mapuche groups in the south of the country are increasing the intensity of their attacks.

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Deep in southern Chile’s Araucanía region, where eucalyptus plantations bring in billions of dollars a year, Carolina Soto has become the law. Not officially, but along the dirt roads around the dilapidated former schoolhouse she calls home, she often determines who comes and goes, which trees can be cut down, and where new ones can be planted.

Soto is a werken or spokesperson for the Mapuche, an Indigenous group that’s waged a centuries-long struggle against Spanish and later Chilean domination. The Mapuche were forced onto reservations and their lands seized at the end of the 19th century. Their demands for reparations and autonomy have grown louder in recent years, with some members of the community resorting to violence, sabotage, and more recently theft.