Rapa Nui occupy hotel to demand recognition of ancestral rights, 2010

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Time Period:  
August 1,
February 6,
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Location Description: 
Hanga Roa Hotel
Regain rights to ancestral lands

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; however, in 2010, the subject of land rights also became prominently associated with the island.

Since becoming official Chilean citizens in 1966, the native Rapa Nui islanders have struggled to maintain their own cultural identity. On August 1, 2010, in the midst of other mass demonstrations and sit-ins at a number of hotels and government buildings on Easter Island, members of the Hito Rangi clan began to occupy the Hanga Roa hotel. Most of the protesters at other sites were evicted from the premises, but the protesters at the Hanga Roa persisted. Due to lack of information, it is unclear whether or not the campaign at the Hanga Roa hotel was part of a larger campaign to the same end. Given the lack of information on the other protests of the time, this event is treated as its own, separate campaign.

The Hito clan had been protesting the construction of various publicly owned facilities for some time, protesting both at government offices and the sites themselves. They claimed that the tourist sites were built on ancestral grounds which non-native islanders unfairly acquired from their ancestors generations earlier. The Hito clan argued that their ancestors had been illiterate and taken advantage of, and that the private groups that now owned rights to the land had acquired those rights illegally.

Reports claim that anywhere from 17 to 50 members of the Hito family occupied the hotel in protest of this unfair treatment. The occupation was very effective, and long lasting. The Hito clan gained the support of other Rapa Nui families who had tried staging their own protests and failed. By mid-November the occupation had lasted more than 100 days and began to take an economic impact on the island. The head of Chile's Hoteliers Association reported to Santiago's La Tercera newspaper that tourism to Easter Island had dropped nearly 10 percent from the previous year. He went on to say that the occupation of the hotel was affecting the image of Chile abroad. As the occupation entered its fifth month in December, experts estimated that the Hotel Hanga Roa had lost approximately US $6 million.

Unfortunately for the Hito clan, this was also the time when the opposition started to become violent. On December 4, the Chilean government opted to forcibly remove the protesters who occupied the hotel. The police were armed with pellet guns and reportedly opened fire when the protesters refused to leave and others began to gather at the scene. Reports are conflicting when it comes to the damage done. Officials claim that there had been seventeen injured police officers and eight injured civilians. The Rapa Nui, on the other hand, say that there were at least nineteen injured local civilians, and that none of the police force had been hurt.

The police made a number of arrests, and members of the Rapa Nui claim that the police were unnaturally violent, even going so far as to say that they had been "shooting to kill". Reports claim that one man had been shot in the back by pellets, and another had been shot in the eye from just a meter away. At least one person was air-lifted to the mainland for medical treatment.

The attempt to end the occupation, however, backfired. Not only did a number of the protestors manage to remain at the site, but also all charges of trespassing against those who had been arrested were dropped on the grounds that the court had not yet made a decision regarding who was the proper owner of the land in question. Furthermore, the violence inspired international observers to speak up on behalf of the Easter Island natives, including the UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, American Samoa’s delegate to U.S.Congress Eni Faleomavaega, and members of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Unfortunately, despite the international pressure to avoid violent conflict and an order from the Chile Supreme Court denouncing the violent removal of the protesters, the protesters were still ultimately evicted. On February 6, 2011, approximately fifty armed members of the Chilean police force entered the Hanga Roa hotel and forcibly evicted the protesters.

Although this particular campaign has ended, efforts to preserve native rights and identity continued after this campaign. Although the campaign was unsuccessful in achieving its goals, the Rapa Nui did manage to raise international awareness for their cause.

Research Notes
Douglas, Joss and Samantha Nadler. "Unfolding Drama on Easter Island." Spero News. 20 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Jun 2011. <http://www.speroforum.com/a/48891/Unfolding-drama-on-Easter-Island>

Gallegos, Ignacio, "Occupation Of Hotel On Chile’s Easter Island Enters Sixth Month." Santiago Times. 01 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Jun 2011. <http://www.santiagotimes.cl/news/other/20638-occupation-of-hotel-on-chiles-easter-island-enters-sixth-month>

"Hotel occupation on Easter Island takes economic toll." Radio New Zealand International. 14 Nov 2010. Web. 16 Jun 2011. <http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=57003>

Warren, Michael. "Easter Island developer, islanders in land dispute." SFGate.com. 13 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Jun 2011. <http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-02-13/news/28532342_1_land-dispute-rapa-nui-easter-island

"Easter Island land dispute clashes leave dozens injured." BBC News. 4 Dec 2010. Web. 16 Jun 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11917511>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ashley Banks, 21/02/2011