The wildfires in Chile that killed at least 11 people have been fueled by plantations of non-indigenous forests, such as eucalyptus and pine, according to biologists.
“About 42% of the forest fires are in plantation forests, which are like matchboxes,” Mary Kalin Arroyo of the University of Chile told The Guardian. “They spread fire to native forests.”
“According to the National Forestry Corporation, 238,000 hectares of forests in central and southern Chile have been burned”.“The government has pledged to investigate the cause of the fires (…). As well as climate change, tourist negligence and poor park management, the country’s timber and wood pulp industry may come under the spotlight.”
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says the wildfires that caused more than $300 million in damage are mostly under control.
“We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” Bachelet said. “The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires.”
The story of Chile’s forests is a painful one for the Mapuche communities. The encroachment on Mapuche ancestral lands began with the passing of the Forest Ordinance 701 (Decreto Ley 701) in 1974, during the reign of General Augusto Pinochet, which subsidized the expansion of tree plantations, giving away Mapuche lands to the National Forestry Corporation.
This initiated the quick expansion of monoculture plantations of pines and eucalyptus trees for paper manufacturing and timber. Since then, many corporations have bought land, destroyed the once abundant forests, evicted and marginalized indigenous inhabitants. During Pinochet’s regime, the area of 10 million hectares allocated to the Mapuche was reduced to only 350,000 hectares.
Since the fall of the regime, one Government administration switched to the next; some Mapuche land has been seized, and some returned, leaving behind a “scattered patchwork” of indigenous lands, which were once part of the “Nación Mapuche”.