Easter Island Wants To Secede From Chile

Easter Island’s indigenous leaders want to sever link with Chile

Prominent families would rather be considered part of Oceania, but official says territory needs mainland support

Would-be separatists resent what they say is an uncontrolled influx of tourists and settlers to Easter Island. Photograph: Guido Cozzi/Corbis

Community leaders on Easter Island have threatened to secede from Chile and transfer allegiance to Polynesian states in a row over land rights and immigration.

Prominent families from the indigenous Rapa Nui population have told the Pacific Islands Forum, an inter-governmental body, that they wish to renounce Chilean sovereignty and be considered part of Oceania rather than the Americas.

Easter Island is a remote speck in the Pacific 2,300 miles west of Chile. It was annexed by Santiago in 1888 and made a province of the Valparaiso region but is considered a special territory, not least because giant statues known as “Moais” make it a UNESCO world heritage site.

Leviante Araki, head of the Rapa Nui “parliament”, an advocacy group for indigenous people who comprise half the 5,000 population, requested secession in a letter this week to the Pacific Island Forum and Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera. The would-be separatists resent what they say is an uncontrolled influx of tourists and settlers and accuse the government of taking over ancestral land with state offices. Protesters occupied several state-owned buildings.

The protests were sparked by Pinera’s appointment of a governor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, who was suspected of plotting land deals. Paoa offered to resign and the president dispatched a team of troubleshooters to address locals’ concerns. Government officials played down the threat of secession. Alberto Hotus, the octogenarian head of the island’s elders’ council, said the territory could not survive without mainland support.

“This island would be a disaster,” he told the BBC. “I remember when there was nothing more than muddy trails here. Thanks to the Chilean government it is different now, we owe them everything we have.”

Ethnically the islanders were Polynesian and American, he said. “Chile is part of the American continent and we are part of Chile.”

Would-be separatists resent what they say is an uncontrolled influx of tourists and settlers to Easter Island. Photograph: Guido Cozzi/Corbis

Copyright © 2010 The Guardian

Copyright © 2010 The Guardian

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