Monday, December 6, 2010

War on Easter Island

Native Easter Islander injured during this weekend clash with Chile

A dispute over one hundred years in the making is taking a horrific toll on the native Rapa Nui of Easter Island. The island is famous for it's giant head statues called the Moai (Mo-I).

Clashes between the Chilean government and native islanders have escalated into a full out war that has everyone on the tiny piece of land on edge and feeling desperate.

Although the island of Rapa Nui has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was annexed by Chile in 1888 and is owned by Chile to this day. Natives fearing the crush of tourism have taken over certain parts of the island and are according to Chilean officials "squatting in government owned buildings."

The latest round of clashes have left over 25 people injured as police have fired rubber bullets and gas canisters into crowds, shooting one man, a documentary filmmaker, over 14 times in the backside. The woman pictured above was hit in the head by police "at close range."

The natives are both petrified and raging mad over the fact that they think Chile wants to turn the island into a "theme park" for tourists by expanding the runways and clearing land for more resort hotels.

Traditionally, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) has been one of the remotest and cut-off places on the entire planet. It is a tiny dot, thousands of miles off the coast of Chile. Even today, it is a tough place to get to. You have to really want to get there.

Chile wants to change all this and make the island more tourist friendly.

Property disputes are at this point decades old, are stalled in courts and the people are literally just moving back in to buildings that technically belong to the Chilean government, but on lands held by the people themselves for thousands of years.

Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter, travelled to Rapa Nui and declared to the local newspaper, La Tercera, that "the threat that land seizures pose to law and order cannot be allowed to continue. There is a limit to these things and it was reached when there are illegal takeovers that cause damage to the island. The police forces acted in compliance with a court order. That's how institutions function, and we all must follow them."

Mr. Hinzpeter added that the government "has acted with patience and prudence; we've put forth a plan to invest 250 million US dollars in Easter Island - 20 times more than what was invested in the last 20 years".

He then said the (island native) negotiators have refused to meet with them.

We're suspicious of this. $250 million dollars sounds like a lot of runway expansion and new hotels, like the locals are claiming, not new schools, farms or local sustainability. If the Chilean government wanted to help the native population, a few schools, supermarkets, infrastructure and statue conservation, wouldn't cost upwards of $250 million. It stands to reason that the Chilean government does have a lot invested in booming tourism and wants to put that money into more daily flights, cruise ship ports and resort hotels.

Read more:

BBC News article

News article

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