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  • Rapa Nui
  • Forrest Wade Young (bio)

Rapa Nui politics during the review period centered on the reclamation of ancestral territories that Chile had developed into a national park in 1935 without notifying or consulting Rapa Nui. A 2003 national truth commission on Chile’s indigenous peoples had recommended return of [End Page 237] the “park lands” to Rapa Nui along with all island territory (Gobierno de Chile 2008, 570), but this was never realized under the subsequent neoliberal presidency of Sebastián Piñera. The reclamation efforts reflect an intensification of Rapa Nui pursuit of their international indigenous human rights to self-determination in the face of statecraft that continues to foreground the development of economic growth threatening Rapa Nui culture, island ecology, and livelihood. Under the guidance of Ariki Valentino Riro Kainga (appointed king of Rapa Nui in 2011 and descendant of the last Rapa Nui king, Riro), the leadership of Parlamento Rapa Nui President Leviante Araki and Vice President Eriti Teave is distinguished in this review of the conflict and the broader context of the events of the year.

As expansion of the tourism industry in Rapa Nui has intensified annually since the turn of the millennium, questions of sustainability have been constant. The late unesco assistant director general, Francesco di Castri, worried about the sustainability of tourism at the beginning of the new millennium, when he estimated 20,000 visitors as the maximum carrying capacity of the island (di Castri 2003, 45). He noted that this number had already been exceeded in 1990 when visitors climbed to 21,000 and by 2005 had reached 45,000 (Gonschor 2007, 244). Australian ecologist Petra Campbell echoed di Castri’s concerns with a 2004 study that projected current tourist development as likely to result in an “environmental catastrophe” that would involve future aquifer contamination, continued land degradation from long-term erosion and mismanagement, marine resource destruction, and a range of energy failures (Campbell 2006). While recent government statistics registered over 92,000 tourist visits to the island in 2013 (El Correo Del Moai, Oct 2014), during the review period the Chilean state continued to pursue development projects that will expand tourism even further beyond the 2003 unesco recommendations of di Castri.

Three development proposals are most noteworthy. During October 2014, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced an approximately us$160 million plan for infrastructural changes to the island airport (including a second runway), docking, irrigation, power, and sewage systems to begin in 2015 and be completed by 2020 (gi, 20 Oct 2014). In strong support, island Mayor Petero Edmunds emphasized that the projects were necessary for maintaining the island like a “Rolls Royce”—a goal he conceived as having immeasurable value for Chile’s “image” (lt, 17 Oct 2014). In December, Edmunds announced an additional plan to build a shopping mall on the island. The project proposes to develop a four-hectare plot of land containing some of the world-famous moai statues within the municipality of Hanga Roa into a mall with multiple retail stores. The mayor called for a partnership with billionaire German-Chilean entrepreneur Horst Paulmann, chief executive officer and chairman of the Cencosud Corporation, reportedly “one of the largest and most prestigious retail conglomerates in Latin America” (Cencosud 2015). While the project would require the displacement of some of the moai for mall construction, [End Page 238] Edmunds promised coordination of moai movement by the Chilean National Monument Council, utilizing the most advanced technology in the world (ec, 28 Dec 2014). Rather than address projected aquifer contamination, in June 2015 the Chilean National Corporation of Forestry (conaf) announced a plan to build a desalinization plant for agricultural development. Carolina Cuevas (who is, ironically, the head of a Chilean sustainability foundation) emphasized that the new desalinization technology will provide more water to help local farmers realize new economic opportunities (Parque Nacional Rapa Nui, 25 June 2015).

State plans to restructure the island ecology, infrastructure, and material culture to intensify economic growth are being coordinated with programs to develop Rapa Nui subjectivity in terms of the principles of “homo oeconomicus” that are increasingly dominant in the era of global neoliberal rationality (Brown 2015, 33). As part of Chile’s...


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pp. 237-244
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