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  • Rapa Nui
  • Forrest Wade Young (bio)

On 31 July 2018, Sebastián Piñera arrived to the island for the first visit of his second term as Chilean president. While coming primarily to welcome the first group of tourists to arrive under the new law regulating visitation and residency on the island (Ley Residencia y Permanencia en Rapa Nui, 21.070), he also used the occasion to introduce two new councils and promote legislation for changing the island's name. Specifics of the visit, as well as conflict during his presence, presaged many of the paramount political issues of the review period.

After receiving the first tourists the following day at the Mataveri International Airport, he introduced a new council on population control (Consejo de Gestión de Carga Demográfica de Rapa Nui) at the sacred monumental grounds of Tahai. In a context where the population had more than doubled, from 3,791 in 2002 to 7,750 in 2017, and where tourists exceeded 120,000 in 2017, President Piñera conceived the new council and law as designed to address the problem that "there are many tourist places that, because they were not cared for in time, were destroyed and simply disappeared" (Ministerio Secretaria General de Gobierno, 1 Aug 2018). Recognizing tourism as "a fundamental engine of the island's development," he hoped the new controls would manage "a fair balance" between tourism and conservation of the "natural beauty, history, legends, and language" of the island (Ministerio Secretaría General de Gobierno, 1 Aug 2018). In addition to the council on population control, President Piñera also introduced El Consejo del Mar (the council of the sea) to manage the formation of the island's [End Page 262] Marine Protected Area, which like Ley Residencia was detailed in a previous review (Young 2019). Both councils integrate Rapa Nui representatives into a larger committee constituted by the members of the Commission for the Development of Easter Island (codeipa) that includes officials from various state ministries, for example, the Ministry of Defense (Gobierno de Chile, 1 Aug 2018).

During an address at King Riro Plaza outside the offices of the governor, President Piñera promoted legislation that would mandate an official name change for the island, initiated during the prior administration of Michelle Bachelet. In May 2016, Osvaldo Andrade, a representative of the Leftist political party Partido Socialista de Chile and leader of the lower house of the Chilean National Congress, started a legislative project to constitutionally change the name of the island from "Isla de Pascua" (Easter Island) to "Rapa Nui." Concurrently, Congressman Osvaldo Urrutia, a representative of the right-wing political party Unión Demócrata Independiente (udi), proposed the name change instead to "Rapa Nui-Isla de Pascua" (El Dínamo, 27 May 2016). Congressman Andrade's proposal emphasized the name change as necessary for demonstrating that the Chilean state is now "respectful of the diverse cultures and peoples" and stressed that the Rapa Nui people now have an opportunity to "live by the name they have given themselves" (La Tercera, 1 Aug 2018). Congressman Urrutia's proposal was instead designed to "recognize the union between the continent and the island, maintaining the name by which it is known throughout the world, but incorporating its ethnic and cultural denomination" (El Dínamo, 27 May 2016). Prior to the arrival of President Piñera, Rapa Nui leaders were vocal in emphasizing their preference. Camilo Rapu, President of the Ma'u Henua (the Indigenous institution responsible for managing the sacred sites and cultural heritage of Rapa Nui National Park), supported changing the name to strictly "Rapa Nui," a name he considered "representative of the people, and their language, history, and cultural heritage" (Teletrece, 8 July 2018). Rapa Nui Mayor Petero Edmunds also supported the change to strictly "Rapa Nui," a change he emphasized the Indigenous people had requested for "decades" (La Tercera, 1 Aug 2018). Given that President Piñera had highlighted the "urgency" of a name change that would "recognize the original, millennial history of the island" (Prensa Presidencía 2018), one might presume his speech at the plaza supported the bill Congressman Andrade proposed. However, as a...