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Washington University

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


In this Independent Study Project, I investigate the relationship between tourists and the tourism industry and two indigenous Mapuche communities located near the popular vacation destination of San Martín de los Andes, located in the province of Neuquén in Argentinean Patagonia. Historically, these Mapuche communities have had a difficult and complex relationship with the government, Lanín National Park, and the tourism industry of San Martín de los Andes due to repeated human rights violations, discrimination, and marginalization on the part of these institutions. However, recently attempts to foster mutually beneficial and culturally respectful forms of tourism in the Mapuche communities have arisen at the level of the city’s institutions and also within the communities themselves. This paper will examine the interactions between the institutions of San Martín de los Andes (defined in this paper as the municipal government, Lanín national park, and tour agencies), tourists, and Mapuche community members. Additionally, it will analyze some of the implications of these interactions.

To understand the views and policies of these institutions regarding tourism and the many Mapuche communities surrounding the city, I conducted interviews with Fernanda Lavalle and María Virginia Gallardo, two employees of the Office of Public Use of Lanín National Park; Cristina Lazos, the Director of Tourism Planning of the municipality of San Martín de los Andes; and Miriam Pérez, a tour guide with the tour company Turismo los Alerces (all of whom work in San Martín de los Andes). In addition, I visited five other tour agencies in the city and inquired about the types of tours they offered. My goal from these activities was to gauge the focus and key attractions of tourism in and around the city and how the Mapuche communities are portrayed in relation to these touristic attractions.

In order to understand the viewpoints of members of the Mapuche communities, I spend three days in the community of Chiuquilihuin (located about 80 kilometers from San Martín de los Andes in an area with much less tourism). I lived with the family of the director of the community’s handicraft workshop, and conducted two participant observations with women from the community during the daily weaving lessons that take place in this workshop. I also visited several popular tourist sites in the Mapuche community of Curruhuinca, which is located within Lanín National Park immediately next to the city of San Martín de los Andes and therefore receives a high volume of visitors. In Trompul, a population center on a popular hiking trail within Curruhuinca, I observed a meeting of two Mapuche tour guides planning a tour guide training course for the community members. My goal from observing these communities was to understand how they adapt to and control the presence of tourists in their communities and how they are affected by tourism.

Due to the fact that there are many different sites and actors involved in this research project, I have structured my investigation around the different realities found at the three sites of my investigation: the city of San Martín de los Andes, Chiuquilihuin, and Curruhuinca. Thus, in the first section I analyze the interactions between tourism and the Mapuche communities from an institutional perspective. In the second section, I analyzed the case of Chiuquilihuin with a focus on the production and sale of handicrafts and also on the development process of tourism in the community (as Chiuquilihuin has a relatively small amount of exposure to tourism). In the third section, I analyze the case of Curruhuinca, specifically focusing on the movement to train Mapuche tour guides and also on how the community, due to the large amount of tourists it receives, adapts to the constant presence and influence of non-Mapuche outsiders.

I conclude that, although cooperation and respect between the institutions of the city and the Mapuche communities is growing, the objectives and interests of the two groups are still quite different; thus, the institutions assert their asymmetrical power over the Mapuche communities when it is necessary to protect their interests. Tourism, although it has the potential to exacerbate this imbalance of power, also can be used by the communities as an economic and cultural tool to revitalize their own culture and distinguish themselves from dominant culture. By gaining influence over sectors of the tourism industry, the Mapuche communities gain control and agency over how they present themselves to the rest of the world, allowing them more autonomy and stronger, more unified cultural identities.


Civic and Community Engagement | Family, Life Course, and Society | Tourism


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