Easter Island Rapa Nui clan in clashes with Chilean police

7 Feb

The island known to most as Easter Island, which lies 3,200km off the west coast of Chile, is officially named Rapa Nui along with the Polynesian people that live there and the language they speak. Sixty per cent of Easter Island’s 4,000 population are descended from the indigenous group. Most of their income is gained from tourism as people travel to the Unesco World Heritage Site to see the Moais, giant carved stone figures which date from sometime between 1250 and 1500. The Rapa Nui have lobbied the Chilean government for independence since the island was annexed in 1888. And in recent years the struggle has grown more pronounced.

The Maois

On Sunday the most recent clash saw police evict a group of Rapa Nui, the Hitorangi clan, from a luxury hotel which they had been occupying since August in protest. They claim the hotel was built on land which had been illegally seized from their ancestors. For months they have been protesting against plans to develop the island for further tourism. The Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa where the group were camped out was brought from the Chilean government by the Scheiss family, a powerful investment group, in the 1990s. Hotel owner Jeannette Scheiss was quoted in the Santiago Times saying: “If someone feels they have a claim to our land, they have to prove it through judicial procedures”. Rodrigo Gomez, a lawyer for the group, said up to 50 armed police had broken into the hotel to remove the final five occupiers who were arrested and released pending court hearings. Mr Gomez said the operation, which took place two days before the group were due to appear in court to discuss the land ownership, had been “utterly irregular and illegal”. A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website claimed that another of the group’s lawyers had been prevented from visiting his clients in jail.

A Rapa Nui protestor injured last December

Last December more than 20 Rapa Nui were injured when police used pellet guns in attempts to remove them from another building they were occupying. The ‘Louder campaign’ to save Rapa Nui has accused the Chilean government of ‘repeated human rights violations’ and threatening the indigenous group with extinction. Last month, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People, James Anaya, expressed concern about the Rapa Nui. He urged the Chilean government to “make every effort to conduct a dialogue in good faith with representatives of the Rapa Nui people to solve, as soon as possible the real underlying problems that explain the current situation”.

But the ‘underlying problems’ in this case date back over a century and the clan’s devotion to their ancestors has all but diminished. On this tiny island of 56 square miles the Rapa Nui must cohabit with a burgeoning tourist market. But one thing’s for sure, the problem will not go away any time soon; Marisol Hito, a member of the Hitorangi clan, recently told Radio Cooperativa: “It’s well known that the Scheiss family has ties with Platovsky, who is close friends with both [Chilean President, Sebastián] Piñera and [Interior Minister Rodrigo] Hinzpeter. This is just the beginning, we will go to the very end.”

Image 1: thelogofalibrarian

Image 2: islandbreath

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4 Responses to “Easter Island Rapa Nui clan in clashes with Chilean police”

  1. Frankie February 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Really interesting post Katie. I’m curious, what’s your personal stance in this situation? Who do you feel is in the wrong?

    • katielinsell February 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks Frankie. My gut feeling is that the Chilean government is in the wrong; the Rapa Nui lived peacefully on Easter Island until 1888 and now they are expected to move aside so that Chile can build a tourist industry on land that was not originally theirs. (But how many times have the British committed similar crimes?) The key question is how far has the government attempted to engage the clan in democratic discussion? Pinera must meet with the Rapa Nui leaders, hear their arguments and, perhaps put land aside for them. I tend to always come down on the side of the indigenous groups; in this globalised world they should be protected just like historical relics, reminding us of what came before. What do you think?

      • Bertie in London February 9, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

        I agree with you Katie that we Brits are not “able to cast the first stone”, given our track record in the British Colonial times; but despite their great PR after the mining miracle this is not acceptable from the Chileans. If this happened in Europe human rights laws would be being infringed.

        Great site – keep it up and more about Juan Diego Florez who is a real star!

  2. katielinsell February 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Very good point Bertie. I was slightly frustrated by Sebastian Pinera’s victory tour of Europe after ‘los 33’ were rescued, lapping up the praise of the European press and public who seemed to have forgotten that it was a calamity the miners found themselves trapped in the first place. Sadly the Rapa Nui’s campaign has received little international press coverage; I wonder if that alone drives them to occupy well-known hotels, aiming for as much publicity as possible. How much longer will their story remain under the radar? Thanks for your interest in the site buddy!

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