Jorge Weke is the “werken”, or spokesperson, of the Mapuche Parliament Koz Koz, an organization that fights for the recovery of ancestral lands and the protection of the natural environments of Wallmapu, the name of the Mapuche land divided by the borders of Chile and Argentina. Established in 2007, when the centenary of the socio-political movement of the Mapuche Koz Koz Parliament is commemorated, this organization promotes assembly participation, self-management and the sustainable development of the Panguipulli region, where it operates, although it supports the struggles legitimate from other Wallmapu Mapuche movements.
Jorge Weke is precisely from Panguipulli, in the Rivers region, famous for its rushing rivers and exuberant nature dominated by the Mocho Choshuenco volcano. Weke was born almost 60 years ago, thanks to a “midwife”, the person who traveled around villages to attend births. At the time, there was no other option in a land without hospitals or infrastructure, as was the case in many other corners of the world and in Chile. In total, Weke had 11 siblings, although five died at an early age: the high infant mortality rate, common at the time, was joined by a wave of plague that affected an entire Mapuche generation. An indelible mark for a humble society that has always been dedicated to livestock and the cultivation of the land. Weke points out that, in the present, in addition, there is a rotary migration between Wallmapu and the big Chilean cities. “Some settle for a long time in Santiago. There they find a job and form families, but they don’t forget their roots”, he says.
In the Weke family, his mother worked at home and his father became a blacksmith. To be able to study, Jorge had to make an effort, at least physically, because he walked and walked until he reached the school centers. “I went to secondary school at a school that was 12 kilometers away, which, if we add up the round trip, was 24 days; in winter it was very complicated, he went out at night and came back at night”.
In the 1970s, in the middle of the Cold War, the Weke family had participated in the recovery of land that made possible the reform initiated by the socialist Government of Salvador Allende. However, the revolution was half-baked: in 1973 came the dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet, who had the support of the United States and its anti-communist doctrine. It was a terrifying period for the left, which ended up massacred, cowed; the military did not hesitate and assassinated personalities like the singer Víctor Jara. In addition, an extremely liberal economic system was pushed, probably the largest in history, based on the theories of the Chicago School.
In 1990, the democratic transition began, although before that, in the eighties, social movements had begun to wake up, to lose their fear of the regime. In this context, the Mapuche organized themselves and, as soon as the dictatorship fell, they promoted a process of land recovery and identity recognition.
Jorge Weke played a crucial role in this process: he designed the Mapuche flag that everyone recognizes today and was present at the protests that in 2019 forced the Liberal Government of Sebastián Piñera to step down. 30 years later, this flag not only represents the Mapuche, but also the fight for respect for indigenous people and the environment.
Chile is a country of 19 million people who inhabit a very long strip of land 4,270 kilometers long. The north is dominated by the Atacama desert; the south, through Patagonia and the Antarctic region, the southernmost tip of the planet; the west faces the Pacific Ocean; and the entire country is crossed by the Andes mountain range, the longest in the world. A land of contrasts, Chile is home to dozens of minorities, Aymaras, Diaguites, etc.; but the Mapuche people stand out, which add up to 10% of the Chilean population.
The Mapuche people are one of the many who have inhabited the region since ancient times, since before Spanish colonization and the subsequent creation of nation-states in the 19th century, when Chile and Argentina were born. The Mapuche opposed all of them, and as a result they were repressed, annihilated, and their lands were also stolen. Their movement resurfaced at the end of the 19th century, although it was again defeated. Out of fear, generational silence was then imposed, and identity proclamations were silenced until, in the middle of the Cold War, the Mapuche began to stick their heads out alongside the socialist Government of Salvador Allende. It was a mirage, and in 1973 the military led by Augusto Pinochet staged a coup d’état.
During the Cold War, the United States demonstrated its determined commitment to eradicating communism worldwide. In South America, they gave their support to the military who staged coups against democratically elected governments in Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay. In Chile, as the USSR collapsed in the 1980s, the dictatorship began to leave democratic spaces. In 1988, Pinochet agreed to hold a referendum to ask the population if they wanted him to continue as president. The “no” vote came out, with 55%, and a year later, the party of the liberal Patricio Aylwin, a historical right-wing politician and benchmark of the “no” Concertation parties, won the elections. In 1990, the Chilean transition began, although the dictatorial legacy was not eradicated: a part of society, that which was conniving with the dictatorship, sustained its power; in the Chilean case, the Constitution of the 1980s was maintained, which stipulates the primacy of private interest over that of society.
For decades, the Chilean left has tried unsuccessfully to reform this ultraliberal Magna Carta. After the social eruption of 2019, a process began to write a new Constitution that would include the plurinationality of the State, and in addition, in the elections presidential elections, Gabriel Boric’s reformist left prevailed. However, the illusion was soon dashed: society rejected the first constitutional proposal in a referendum and, in 2023, the Chilean right won the majority in the assembly that directs the constitutional process. A new block to the hopes of the Mapuche society.
In the 90s you were part of the Mapuche organization Aukin Wallmapu Ngulam, or Council of All Lands. How did the people experience the end of the dictatorship?
In 1979, a law was passed for the subdivision of land, after the landowners had settled again in the territories recovered with the agrarian reform[d’Allende]. Pinochet wanted to divide the lands denying Mapuche existence. Then the first Mapuche organization, the so-called ‘Cultural Centres’, was set up during the dictatorship. The organizations advanced and, in the transition, they split, because there were organizations with different political tendencies: communist, socialist, Christian Democrat. In the nineties, as a split from AdMapu, the Consell de Totes les Terres was born, where a socio-political structure formed by territorial organizations was created.
You designed the Mapuche flag, or “Wenüfoye”, what does it represent?
I was one of those who participated in the process. Five drafts came out, one included the Argentine part of the Mapuche. We looked for what the regional flags had in common. And in 1992 the multicolored flag was born, which has a blue stripe representing the spiritual dimension, the green stripe suggests the Mapuche territory, and the red part represents strength, power and human genetics, although also the bloody battles against Spaniards and Chileans. At the top, the flag has black and white shapes. They are 12, a very important number, because numerology matters to the Mapuche; and in the center is a circle which is a kultrun [instrument tradicional], which has a kind of new moon inside, an element that looks like a star and that recalls the five elements, the five fingers, numerology again, and on either side stand out two figures that reflect the power of the wind. The kultrun is the sublime element, the central element.
The design of the Mapuche flag was controversial. Different organizations disagreed with the final result. 30 years have passed, and the Mapuche flag was present at the social outbreak of 2019. Are your people happy with the work you did?
The Mapuche organizations had split to belong to political parties. Several had agreements with the Transitional Government of Patricio Aylwin, which had to recognize us in the Constitution, create an institutional framework for indigenous peoples and ratify Convention 169. An institutional and legislative framework was created that ended up being of the State and not of the indigenous peoples. These organizations did not agree with the Council of All Lands, which had an autonomist character. However, we continued our work and 30 years ago we came out with this flag, which was not recognized by the Government. The flag was created to claim liberties, autonomy, free self-determination, which were the slogans of the social explosion; without a doubt, it was impressive to see her there, I felt proud to have contributed to Mapuche history.
What are the main goals of your organization, Parlament Koz Koz?
Give continuity to the vindictive process of recovering ancestral lands and defend our territory from investment projects; with our actions we have prevented the construction of seven hydroelectric plants in this region until 2012. Once I had to go to Italy to meet with the shareholder assembly of Enel, which had projects here. At the moment, there are no projects underway in our rivers, although they are talking about building mini power stations. We won’t allow it. We also don’t want boats to have engines, because they pollute our rivers and lakes.
The reclaimed lands in Argentina are in many cases unproductive, with no value for the tourism or energy market. Does the same happen in Chile?
Through the indigenous law, drafted during the transition, resources begin to be counted and a process of land recovery begins in which the State pays individuals and landowners. Most of the lands have been negotiated by the CONADI[Corporació Nacional de Desenvolupament Indígena], which is the State institution to regularize them. Although there are private cases between individuals and the Mapuche, it is generally CONADI that validates the process; otherwise, there is a risk that the land will remain in the individual’s name. But yes, in Chile there are productive and tourist lands of the Mapuche where they want to build mansions for the wealthy.
How is your relationship with the Mapuche people of Argentina?
We work together to preserve natural parks, even if we are late in Chile. Argentina is a federal state and the regions have more possibilities for action, unlike here, where centralism prevails and administrative issues are more difficult.
The Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM) has Territorial Resistance Organs, which resort to political violence. How do you rate political violence?
I don’t agree with some actions. Violence is necessary when the State does not want to dialogue, but there are groups that display machine guns, weapons, and I do not see it as necessary, even if these weapons are not to kill people, but to carry out sabotage, as I understand from an interview that I read from the CAM spokesperson.
The Chilean State criminalizes the Mapuche for these sabotages.
The Mapuche recognize the sabotage, but there are other facts in which we do not know the authorship. In some cases, it was shown that the Mapuche did not do it, that’s why there are policemen or private prisoners. These are suicide attacks, led by armed groups that settle in our community waiting for the State. They hold the Mapuche people accountable, which is transparent and recognizes their actions.
The Mapuche people have had problems with the leftist Gabriel Boric, and the right controls the constituent assembly. How do you value this process that generated excitement in society?
As the Koz Koz Parliament, we were never excited about Boric. In addition, in the Constituent Assembly of the Constitution, the Mapuche are related to the political parties. Because of this, we knew this process wouldn’t work.
Why are the Mapuche divided?
It’s always been that way. It is said that when the colonialists arrived, they became friends with the Spanish. The Mapuche, above all, supported Allende. Then, at the end of the dictatorship, we had no affinity with the politicized organizations; we were independent.
Why does a Mapuche vote for the ultra-right?
They are not a majority, the pseudo-left has won many times, I say this because of Boric, Lagos and Bachelet. In our region, 30% or 40% of us are Mapuche. In other regions, the right has more presence, because of the pine and eucalyptus plantations. In addition, more than 50% of the Mapuche people reside in the capitals, in Santiago. For this reason, the Mapuche do not vote for the ultra-right, although neither do they vote for the pseudo-left.
Bolivia or Ecuador are plurinational states that recognize indigenous peoples. How do you define the situation of nations in Chile?
It is always under the tutelage of the de facto powers, which are neoliberal. Indigenous peoples are still subjugated by post-colonial states; not enough progress has been made and, after the social explosion in 2019, the Chilean people are asleep. In other countries there is a more elevated political debate: this is the case in Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala. Indigenous peoples must get rid of the influence of colonialist states.
Yes, there is paternalism.
How does Christianity affect Mapuche identity?
Western religiosity has disturbed our spirituality and penetrated our thinking, which has become more paternalistic. Religion ends up being political. It has been and is harmful to our people, and we explain that these imperialist religions are here to continue to take away our rights and our culture.