A military plane carrying riot police reinforcements landed on Easter Island yesterday, and Chile's Interior Minister said they will continue evicting Rapa Nui islanders who have been squatting in government buildings built on their ancestral properties. The Rapa Nui are the indigenous inhabitants of the island, which lies over 2,000 miles off the west coast of Chile.
Dozens of people were wounded by police buckshot and batons after violently resisting the first eviction on Friday on the usually tranquil South Pacific island, where as many as 50,000 tourists come each year to see the Moai – huge stone heads carved by the Rapa Nui's ancestors.
Documentary filmmaker Santi Hitorangi, who dug 14 pellets from his backside after police shot him while he videotaped the clash, said the atmosphere remained tense yesterday, with families squatting in a dozen other properties refusing to back down despite the police pressure. Mr Hitorangi said: "What happened yesterday is their way of trying to stop any attempt of the Rapa Nui people to reassert their right to the land. All we're asking for is title to the land. It's a rightful claim. We are not asking the government for anything else."
Many of the Rapa Nui feel squeezed out by the tourism boom, and fear the Chilean government, which annexed the island in 1888, now wants to turn the Unesco World Heritage Site into something like a theme park for the benefit of outside companies, whose profits go offshore.