The Occupation of Rural Estates
Speech in the Plaza de la Constitución
Santiago, 22 December 1970
Yesterday I was in the province of Cautín. The atmosphere there is very tense. Naturally so, in fact, if one bears in mind the social and economic wretchedness of the lives of the Mapuches, the native Indians.
I was there, and I stated publicly that I was not going to raise the tomahawk - the symbol of the Mapuches - nor was I going to offer hypocritically a pale and wan dove of peace.
What I brought was the responsible word of a governor of the people, telling the workers of the land, telling the Mapuches, that while I recognized the justice of their claim and their anxiety to own land, I begged them not to take part in any further takeovers of farms nor in breaking down boundary marks, for this encourages exploitation and the malicious campaign that accuses the government of being ignored, and claims that the law is no longer respected and that anarchy is rife. I stressed that in this government there is someone responsible in the position of President of the Republic, and that his decisions are grounded in moral strength and in the influence that he exerts upon the masses of the people.
At the same time I declared that, while we were going to organize a National Peasants' Council, to study seriously the situation of the Mapuches, there were in fact two kinds of landowner. There are those who have complied with the laws, who have worked the land, their land, respecting the men with whom they worked and respecting the dignity of the peasant. Also, to their shame, there is another class of landowner. I refer to certain groups allied to reactionary forces, to open and hidden conspiracies to smuggle guns into the country. I would like to substantiate my remarks, for a daily paper has reported that arms have been smuggled into the country from Argentina, but it has not analysed what this means. This kind of landowner has smuggled arms into the south of Chile, particularly into the provinces of Cautín, Bio-Bio and Malleco. There are landowners who are armed, who have rifles and machine-guns. They have used them already and they declare that they will continue to use them.
I have stated categorically that I do not want Chilean steel to be wrought into weapons with which Chileans will fight Chileans. We want our steel to be made into picks, hoes, hammers, tools with which to work. But I also maintain that, if those landowners will not listen, it will be the government itself that will impose respect for the law and for the lives of the workers on the land.
Discussions have been held with the farmers' unions, or rather with the representatives of the major unions in the National Agricultural Society, and they have been told that the memorandum they submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture will be answered as soon as possible. I assured them that we would not pass over a single one of the seven questions they have framed. I want all landowners to understand what our attitude is to be, and what the means are that we shall take to achieve our ends. The small- and medium-scale farmer, all who work the land honestly, may be sure that the government of Unidad Popular will come to their aid.
We shall carry out the Land Reform Act to the letter, as an economic and social necessity. In fact, we shall modify the law itself, but we shall do it legally. If we expect the Mapuche, the native Indian, and the farm worker to respect the law, then all the more firmly do we demand that it be respected by those whose duty to respect it is all the greater on account of their cultural and educational advantages.
Furthermore I would emphasize that this government has not overstepped the limits of the law. I would like to refresh memories in certain respects, as already a document has been published in the papers in Santiago which stems from the Christian Democrat Deputies in Cautín. They, above all, should not forget that occupations in that province began in June of this year, and that in the months from June to August more estates were taken over than there have been since the elections. I should like those deputies to remember that there were boundary violations then, in just as high numbers as there are now, and I remind the people of Chile as a whole that there were landowners lacking in respect for the government of President Frei on the occasion of an act of the National Agricultural Society itself. I remind you that it was the landowners themselves who blocked the roads with their cars and lorries in protest against the previous government's attempts to fix the price of corn. I remind you too that, in Linares province, officials from INDAP  were shot at, beaten and injured. I remind you that reporters were attacked; and finally I remind you that a public official, Hernan Mery,  was murdered while trying to enforce the law, although protected by the Carabineros.
It is not we who have used the authority of the government to transgress the law. Whenever an estate has been occupied we have gone immediately and tried to reason with the farm workers. We know that some estates have been occupied because their owners no longer work them, or have abandoned them. On other farms where there has been constant and prolonged conflict, desperation has driven the workers into action and into occupying the estate. In such cases we have nominated superintendents and have issued very clear instructions that the superintendent should not merely be the nominee of Unidad Popular, that he should if necessary renounce any official connection, but that primarily he must be competent in his technical capacity.
For it is essential that such farms continue to produce, so that the people of Chile shall be better fed, and this we feel is a responsible attitude on our part.
1. Institute for the Development of Agriculture.
2. Hernan Mery was an official of Cora, the government's land reform agency, and was shot early in 1970 by an irate landlord whom he was in the process of expropriating.