- Rapa Nui
The year under review marked the beginning of great political change on Rapa Nui. In a long process initiated by the Chilean president, a draft bill for an organic law providing a special political status for the island was elaborated, while the Chilean constitution was finally amended to create the administrative category of a special territory. On the local political landscape, there was a shift away from the local elite at the election for the local Development Commission, with two opposition and pro-independence candidates receiving the highest numbers of votes.
The period under review started with the loss of one of the most important political figures of the island's recent history. In mid-August 2006, veteran opposition and pro-independence leader Juan Chávez passed away at age eighty-two (Rapa Nui resident Stephanie Pauly, pers comm, 13 March 2007). One of the cofounders of the Rapanui Council of Elders in the 1980s, Chávez had led various initiatives of resistance against the Chilean government, and since 2001 he had been the president of the pro-independence Rapanui Parliament. He was also renowned as one of the island's most culturally knowledgeable koro (elders). At the time of this writing, no successor has been named to head the Rapanui Parliament, but within the months following Chávez's death, the pro-independence forces consolidated themselves once more under its umbrella.
At the same time, the controversy about a planned casino on the island was resolved in September 2006, when the Chilean authorities once again refused to grant permission, thus stopping the project indefinitely. The reason for the refusal was the incompatibility of the juridical status of the island with Chilean gambling legislation. Also the nonexistence of income taxes on the island would have made it impossible for the Chilean fiscal authorities to track the earnings of the casino (Noticias de Rapa Nui, Sept 2006). The casino project, [End Page 238] a joint venture between the Chilean company Grupo Martinez-AM Holding and Rapanui entrepreneur Petero Riroroko, had stirred up passionate debates within the community. While it had the support of Mayor Petero Edmunds and Council of Elders President Alberto Hotus, former Governor Enrique Pakarati had strongly opposed the project, along with Rapanui organizations on the Chilean continent, and apparently most of the local population. The demise of the plan was therefore greeted with much joy and relief on the island, while it represented a severe setback for the political ambitions of Edmunds and Hotus.
Although there will be no gambling on the island, the tourism industry and the immigration of Chilean settlers continue to grow, leading to constant infrastructure problems such as traffic jams and electricity blackouts (RNJ, Oct 2007). In November 2006, Chile's Public Works Ministry announced that it would spend US$2.4 million on improving the road network in order to facilitate access from the capital Hanga Roa to Ovahe and Anakena beaches, and to some of the more remote moai (statues) for which the island is famous. It was announced that once the road network has been completed, Rapa Nui would have a forty-six-kilometer-long circuit, intended to attract more tourists to the island (Santiago Times, 12 Nov 2006).
The main issue during the year, however, was the project for a special administrative statute for the island. Currently a municipality and a province within the continental Chilean region of Valparaíso, Rapa Nui is supposed to become a special territory outside of the normal Chilean administrative system, and will be placed directly under the national government in Santiago. The first step toward achieving this new political status will be to change the Chilean constitution in order to create the administrative category of a special territory. Second, an organic law must be passed to specify the administrative system in that territory. Debates regarding the new statute have been going on both locally and in Chile for years, and thus the parliamentary process has progressed very slowly. On 2 May 2006, the Chilean Senate unanimously adopted the constitutional reform (Senate of Chile Web site, reviewed 19 June 2006; SUBDERE, 10 May 2007; RNJ, Oct 2006), but in...