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  • Stepping off the plane into the Maquehue Air Base decked in red cloak covered in Mapuche designs, the Pope plans to hold a mass for "the Progress of the Peoples" on January 17.

    Stepping off the plane into the Maquehue Air Base decked in red cloak covered in Mapuche designs, the Pope plans to hold a mass for "the Progress of the Peoples" on January 17. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 December 2017

Mapuche leaders say they aren't opposed to the pope's imminent visit, but warn that his arrival may actually serve to aggravate their situation.

Pope Francis' immiment visit to Chile couldn't come at a worse time for the Mapuche Indigenous group who are caught in the middle of a land dispute with the Chilean government.

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Due to land at the Maquehue Air Base decked in a red cloak covered in Mapuche designs on January 17, the pontiff is planning on holding a mass for "the Progress of the Peoples."

Indigenous Mapuche communities from Maqueuhe and Padre Las Casas, however, have cautioned that the holy father's visit is far from helpful to their progressive movements, which hang in the balance after years of fighting government forces.

As state employees prepare for the papal visit, demands for land restitution and sustainable development projects are being pushed to the side despite severe overcrowding, poverty and debt in Indigenous sectors.

Community leaders have denounced the ineffectiveness of the current program, the National Indigenous Development Corporation (Conadi), saying that it meets only minimum requirements while state benefits remain out of reach.

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Jailed Mapuche Activists Resume Hunger Strike in Chile

And while Mapuche leaders say they aren't against the pope visiting, they are warning that his arrival may only serve to aggravate their situation.

The group has been subjected to violence for centuries from international aggressors, with a history overflowing with stories of suffering, human-rights violations, massacres and murder.

One of the most recent tragedies is the death of 22-year-old Rafael Nahuel, an Argentine Mapuche found dead in Villa Mascardi on November 25.

Nahuel was shot following a clash with military forces. The nine-millimeter bullet which killed the young man entered through his left buttock and went up through his chest.

Also in Argentina, the murder of Mapuche sympathizer Santiago Maldonado, a young artist, remains under investigation.

Maldonado, who had spent seven months backpacking around his native country before he disappeared, went missing on August 1 in Pu Lof, shortly after he was arrested during a demonstration in support of the Indigenous Mapuche community.

The country's largest native ethnic group continues to fight the government in order to regain land lost during Chile's 19th-century expansion south, into Mapuche-held territory.

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