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  • Rapa Nui
  • Forrest Wade Young (bio)

Politics in Rapa Nui during the review period were diverse. In addition to municipal elections in November, there were significant political contests over cultural and ecological conservation projects, economic development, education, health, immigration, and the international human rights of the Rapa Nui Nation. Broadly, two competing discourses have structured conflict and possible resolutions: a Rapa Nui-based nationalist discourse of self-determination and a neoliberal Chilean-based discourse of stakeholders and sustainable tourism.

While Rapa Nui nationalist discourse continued to gain international support during the period in review, stakeholder discourse strengthened its local roots as a result of the municipal elections. In an election in which there was a voter abstention rate of approximately 47 percent—slightly better than the 55 percent Chilean national average rate of voter abstention—Petero Edmunds Paoa was elected mayor after receiving 1,013 of the 4,300 possible votes and thus defeating four other candidates: Luz Zasso Paoa (the current mayor); Julio Araki Tepano (a municipal councilman); Jose Rapu Haoa (a member of the Development Committee [codeipa]); and Mata Atan (a lawyer and political activist for Rapa Nui self-determination) (cm, 26 Nov 2012). Alberto Hotus along with Carlos Mardones Riroroko, Marta Hotus, Yolanda Nahoe, Mai Teao, and Peter Tepano were elected as the municipal council (concejal). Local media interpreted the abstention rate in Rapa Nui and Chile more broadly as “an indication [End Page 214] that the majority of the population is dissatisfied with the political class that governs the destinies of the country” (cm, 26 Nov 2012). In the case of Rapa Nui, some basic arithmetic is indicative of why some Rapa Nui voters would be disinclined to vote. There are only about 1,800 possible Rapa Nui votes (Young 2013), so Rapa Nui people are significantly outnumbered by the voting power of the Chilean settler population and thus see municipal elections as hopeless. Although Rapa Nui people commented to me while I was on the island in July and August 2013 that they knew some Rapa Nui had voted for Petero Edmunds and Alberto Hotus and that they recognized that a significant number of Chilean settlers had not voted (cm, 26 Nov 2012), they insisted that the Chilean vote nevertheless had an important impact on the elections. Given the numerical differences, it is indeed hard to see how the Chilean vote could not have had a significant impact.

Alberto Hotus and Petero Edmunds historically have been strongly supportive of the Chilean status quo on the island. Their election is particularly noteworthy in light of heightened conflicts on the island over the past few years. Alberto Hotus, the president of the Council of Elders (a Chilean political office transformed from an initially grassroots organization), has consistently supported the Chilean state and military against Rapa Nui people. For example, when Rapa Nui shut down a public Chilean celebration of the “annexation” of the island amid the six months of Rapa Nui occupations and protests of 2010, “Kete,” as Rapa Nui nicknamed Hotus (“kete” meaning “pocket” and the nickname implying that he is “in the pocket of the Chilean government”), conducted a military celebration on a navy ship anchored off the coast of the island (em, 9 Sept 2010). Such betrayal is not uncommon in Hotus’s biography: in 2003 he supported replacing a truth commission report that told the history of relations between Rapa Nui and Chile, written by Rapa Nui over the course of months of painstaking grassroots community discussions, with a report written by Chilean social scientists that radically simplified the history and current Rapa Nui demands for reconciliation (Desling 2009, 244–245).

Petero Edmunds’s last involvement with politics on the island ended with his resignation as island governor amid the large-scale Rapa Nui occupations and protests of state-run institutions and the increasing corporatization of the island in 2010 (see Young 2012). It is transparent why Chileans would vote for Edmunds: he has consistently supported and collaborated with Chilean “stakeholders” on the island against the Rapa Nui people. After supporting the corporate development of the Hotel Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa against the interests of the indigenous Hitorangi clan in 2010 in...


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pp. 214-225
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