People of the sea fight for their right to the sea
Since 1991, the indigenous Lafkenche communities, located on Chile’s southern seaboard, have organised themselves in ITL (Identity Territorial Lafkenche) to defend their right to the sea.
In 2008 the National Congress adopted the Lafkenche Law recognising their marine-coastal areas. For ITL this was a historical achievement. However, the law did not include the right to fish. ITL had to accept an agreement with the State that the matter of fishing rights would be dealt with when parliament amended the Law on Fishing (2012). But when the legislature reviewed the new Law on Fishing, it did not include any of ITL’s proposals.
At the start of 2013, ITL supported the appeal filed by various lawmakers to halt adoption of the Law on Fishing because the State had not fulfilled its obligation to consult the indigenous peoples. This appeal was ruled inadmissible by the Constitutional Court, and the new Law on Fishing entered into force, without providing for Lafkenche fishing rights. For the Lafkenche communities, the risk is that the Lafkenche Law will be used for folkloric purposes, and not for livelihood and economic purposes. Adolfo Millabur, President of ITL, made the following comment: “The State is making fun of the Lafkenche communities: it recognises our right to look at the sea but not to touch it”.
The Law on Fishing recognises the rights of small-scale fishermen, but most Lafkenche are not registered as such, and therefore do not have fishing rights.
Despite the defeat, the process helped ITL consolidate their organisation internally, strengthen the unity of their communities, and ratify the legitimacy of their leaders. They were also able to strengthen their partnerships, especially with traditional fishermen and student organizations.