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  • Rapa Nui
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

The year under review was marked by heavy political upheavals on Rapa Nui that were still unfolding at the time of this writing. A very successful protest action in August 2009 initiated a process of limiting immigration, while a historic change of political leadership in Chile in early 2010 caused a reconfiguration of local politics through the controversial appointment of former Mayor Petero Edmunds as governor. This in turn precipitated a far-reaching and ongoing political crisis.

The review period started rather calmly. On 11-14 July, the French warship Prairial visited the Island in order to unload building materials for the establishment of a branch of the Alliance Française, an organization promoting French language and culture abroad, in Hanga Roa. This followed a visit by the French ambassador to Chile earlier in 2009 (French embassy in Chile website, undated article), an act symbolizing the normalization of Franco-Chilean relations regarding Rapa Nui, which was in the French colonial sphere of influence for two decades before being annexed by Chile in 1888.

In mid-July, a controversy arose over planning for the solar eclipse of 11 July 2010, named "Honu Eclipse" on the Island, for which all tourist accommodations were booked out a year in advance (RNJ, Oct 2009, 172). Since the event was expected to bring up to 50,000 tourists at one time, local authorities were very [End Page 233] concerned (ST, 3 Aug 2009). The polemics about the event increased as a group of Chilean promoters planned a techno dance festival during the eclipse, which gained the support of the Rapa Nui Parliament, the Island's pro-independence body under its president, Leviante Araki; but no government entity authorized it. In a protest letter published online, Cristian Moreno-Pakarati criticized Araki for his support of the event, arguing that tourists would come anyway to see the eclipse and that the planned festival would pose unnecessary risks for the Island's historic monuments (TRN, 11 July 2009). After long hesitation, the governor's office finally authorized the festival in May 2010 (La Tercera, 8 May 2010).

Even without the possible visitor overkill for the eclipse, the growth of tourism has reached extreme dimensions, with 64,495 visitors in 2008 (ST, 25 Aug 2009). This figure (which was then about twelve annual visitors per inhabitant and has been increasing at an annual growth rate of about 20 percent) now constitutes the highest per capita tourism rate in any Pacific Island entity, —more than twice that of Hawai'i, which held that distinction for decades. While many Islanders appreciate the economic benefits of tourism (since, unlike in other mass tourism destinations like Hawai'i and Guam, the visitor industry on Rapa Nui is almost completely in native hands), its recent exponential explosion has made more and more people concerned about its sustainability. Earlier estimates had set the Island's carrying capacity at 20,000 yearly visitors (di Castri 2003, 45)—a figure now far surpassed.

Paralleling the visitor count, the number of cars on Rapa Nui is exploding as well: according to estimates, there are now up to four vehicles per inhabitant, which would mean over 19,000 total (RNJ, Oct 2009, 173). Though this estimate may seem much too high, there is indeed frequent traffic congestion on the Island, and the density of vehicles in Hanga Roa is certainly extraordinarily high for such a small community.

During 2009, a second bank, Banco Santander, opened in Hanga Roa to compete with the hitherto monopolywielding Chilean State Bank (RNJ, Oct 2009, 171). While competition may bring more advantages for bank customers, the installation of such outsider-controlled businesses raises concerns among Rapanui who are worried about losing control over the Island's economy.

On 5 August, virtually the entire community gathered at the Hanga Roa stadium to support the aspiring Rapanui national football team, CF Rapa Nui, in what was called by local media the "match of the century" against the popular professional Chilean team Colo-Colo. While CF Rapa Nui unsurprisingly lost the match, it did so with a rather fair score of o to 4, a very good showing for an amateur team...


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pp. 233-242
Launched on MUSE
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