23 November 2005
A chief of the largest indigenous group in Chile just finished a lobbying and speaker’s tour in Holland, Spain and Ireland; where she told government and UN officials and NGO members of the human rights abuses her community faces.
Chief Juana Calfunao Paillalef (47) is the lonko (chief) of the Juan Paillalef Mapuche community in the Cunco District in Chile and has been leading a campaign and legal battle since 1998 to recover land belonging to her people from neighbouring landowners and to remove electricity pylons that were constructed on her community’s land without its consent. Chief Paillalef has faced repeated personal persecution for her work defending the human rights of her community.
The purpose of her tour was to draw attention to the discrimination and poverty that the Mapuche people in Chile face. Many Mapuche people live without electricity or running water, and attempts to regain their ancestral land and assert their rights are often met with indifference by the courts and violence by the Chilean police and the paramilitary groups formed by wealthy landowners.