Rapa Nui campaign for immigration regulation, 2009

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Time Period:  
17 August
24 October
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Location Description: 
International Airport
Pressure the Chilean Government to enact immigration control

Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) is most commonly known for its moai, monumental stone statues resembling heads. The island has over 800 of these statues, which are a large attraction for tourists in the area. The Rapa Nui people do not mind the tourism that travels through the island - in fact, they benefit from it. They do, however, take issue with the Chilean residents who freely settle in the area. As an annexation of Chile, Chilean citizens are free to spend as much time on the island as they desire without any regulation - a fact that many of the Rapa Nui have found detrimental to their community. The increase in population, the Rapa Nui argue, is harmful to the delicate environment of the UNESCO World Heritage site. They also had concerns with some of the Chilean immigrants having criminal records.

The Rapa Nui had petitioned the Chilean government for a number of years to establish immigration controls for the island, similar to those in place in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, but the Chilean government did not take action.

On August 17, 2009, approximately 20 activists of the Rapa Nui parliament blockaded the runway of the island's international airport using their trucks and cars. The action effectively prevented all flights to and from the island. The group was led by Leviante Araki, Mario Tuki, and Raul Teao, the latter two of which are members of the Easter Island Development Commission (CODEIPA). All three of the leaders were in support of Rapa Nui's independence from Chile. The three leaders demanded that the Chilean government take steps to control island immigration immediately, or the airport occupation would continue. Araki furthered the threat, stating that they would declare the island independent of Chile if the Chilean government continued to not act.

The Chilean Undersecretary for the Interior, Patricio Rosende, met with the occupiers via a video conference. Rosende promised to initiate immigration control measures within twenty days, and the leaders of the occupation agreed to end the blockade. The leaders intended to fly to Santiago to discuss the details of the new immigration control with Rosende, but a group of women within the occupiers did not agree with the terms. They blocked the runway again to prevent the leaders of the occupation from leaving, arguing that Rosende should come to Rapa Nui to meet with Araki, Tuki, and Teao, not the other way around. Rosende agreed to these terms and the blockade ended 40 hours later.

Rosende was presented with a proposal for an immigration control regime, which had been prepared before he arrived by members of the Rapa Nui community. Following a series of negotiations, Rosende enacted the proposed system on September 15, 2009. The legislation required all visitors to Rapa Nui to fill out a form declaring duration and reason for their stay on the island. Unfortunately, an anonymous complaint was filed and the issue was brought to court, with the Supreme Court of Chile declaring the legislation unconstitutional, as the Chilean constitution guaranteed that citizens would have free movement throughout the national territory.

At first, the government complied with this ruling by declaring the form voluntary, but the Rapa Nui citizens threatened further acts of civil disobedience. Eventually, the government opted to hold a referendum on Rapa Nui and amend the constitution accordingly. On October 24, 96.3 percent of the plebiscite voted in favor of amending the Chilean constitution to enable immigration controls in Rapa Nui.

Research Notes
Carroll, Rory. "Easter Island's Indigenous Leaders Want to Sever Link with Chile | World News | The Guardian." Guardian.co.uk. 13 Aug. 2010. Web. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/13/easter-island-indigenous-chile>.

"Easter Island Flights Resume after Protest." The Bali Times. 21 Aug. 2009. Web. <http://www.thebalitimes.com/2009/08/21/easter-island-flights-resume-after-protest/>.

"Easter Island Wants To Secede From Chile." DumpDC. Wordpress, 22 Aug. 2010. Web. <http://dumpdc.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/easter-island-wants-to-secede-from-chile/>.

Gonschor, Lorenz. "Polynesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2010 - Rapa Nui." The Contemporary Pacific. Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center, Spring 2011. Web. <http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2011/April/tcp-rn.htm>.

Vergara, Eva. "Easter Island Flights Resume after Protest Disrupts Airport - USATODAY.com." USA Today. 18 Aug. 2009. Web. <http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2009-08-18-easter-island-flights_N.htm>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ashley Banks, 29/04/2011