ROME – Though Latin America is plagued with conflicts dating back centuries, few are as violent in the present than that of the Araucanía Region in southern Chile, where indigenous populations have resorted to setting churches and industrial buildings on fire to raise awareness for their plight.

Hence the importance of a four-point declaration from all rectors of the universities present in the region, as well as the bishop of Temuco, who’s long been a mediator in the dialogue efforts.

The statement makes an appeal for dialogue as a state policy, calling “for a process of dialogue that allows for the repair and reconstruction of relations between the Mapuche people, Chilean society and its institutions. We have to take charge of the structural and historical problems, in order to achieve a genuine transformation of the current situation.”

Despite the structural damages the ongoing conflict has caused, with more than two dozen churches burned to a crisp in the past five years, the Catholic Church has largely sided with the grievances of the country’s indigenous population, which amounts to 12 percent of Chile’s 17.6 million citizens.

In Temuco, the Mapuche, an indigenous community, makes up 23 percent of the population, and though the percentage of Catholics in Chile has dropped drastically in the past years due to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, it’s estimated that some 70 percent of the Mapuche in the region are Catholic.

The statement titled “Araucanía: urgent need for dialogue as state policy,” was released earlier this week, signed by the rectors of both Catholic and state-ran universities, together with Bishop Hector Vargas Bastidas.

The first issue addressed in the four points is the need to recognize the indigenous peoples, taking into account the “significant progress in universal respect for national identity and a progressive valorization of cultural diversity as a contribution of all native peoples and traditional societies” at the global level in recent decades.

A consequence of this is the consensus, ratified by international organizations such as UNESCO and the International Labor Organization, “that the human rights of all peoples must be respected, which implies assuming their economic, political, social and cultural rights.”

The conflict is highly complex, dating back to the 1500s when Chile was first colonized by the Spanish crown. Back then, the Mapuche formed a resistance against the Spaniards, refusing to give up their territories. The Mapuche ferociously resisted the Spanish starting from their arrival to the country, in 1536, to the point that La Araucania wasn’t incorporated into Chile until the 1880s, decades after country declared its independence from Spain.

Though violence has been spiraling since the late 1990s, some have pointed out that the escalation in the conflict seen today began in 2013, when Mapuche people started attacking plantations, trucks transporting goods, and individuals.

The second point of the statement regarding the “painful situation in La Araucania”, made available online by the universities and the bishops, points out that “the way in which the Chilean state entered into relations with the original peoples severely affected their right to life, their territories, identity and way of life.”

“The solutions to current and future problems require the broad and inclusive participation of everyone in La Araucanía and the country, in a dialogue without exclusions, to respond fully to the needs and rights of the diversity of its people,” the statement says.

They also argue in favor of a “new pact” with “mutual respect for both the rule of the law and the customs and statutes of” of indigenous peoples.

“Respect for and recognition of ancestral and territorial authorities is needed,” the statement argues, mentioning the unsuccessful efforts made in the past four decades due to too many “unfulfilled promises.”

The sharp increase of violence in recent years has left several Mapuche, police officers and employees of forestry companies injured, and several have even been killed.

“Confrontation as a means of conflict resolution increases our differences and hinders the arrival of sustainable and just solutions for the inhabitants of these territories,” the signatories argue. “Constructive and peaceful solutions are needed, addressing all the necessary components for a new form of coexistence.”

Thirdly, they suggest a series of ways for a “new pact” between the parties involved, that must include a genuine intercultural dialogue if it hopes to resolve the main tensions between the parties; Social projects or state force won’t be enough to reach permanent agreements.

“Lasting peace can only be achieved when we act in pursuit of justice through dialogue,” they wrote.

Lastly, they refer to the “urgency of listening to La Araucanía,” indicating that the Chilean State has a “responsibility in the origin and evolution of this crisis. This is why we call on the authorities of the three powers – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary – to join actively in this process.”

“We make the same call to the Mapuche people, to their political, spiritual, territorial and national authorities,” they write, appealing also to civil society, NGOs, business and trade unions to also make themselves available for “the search for peaceful transformations of the problems affecting these territories.”

More concretely, they also suggest that the Norway-based Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue can bring together “in an independent and neutral manner” all the different parties, for the “construction of a road map that can contain all the issues that are determined according to the gradual development of the process.”

Not long after, the Nansen Center responded through a public statement saying that they had received the call from rectors and the bishop, and they accepted the invitation.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma