Modernization of Rapa Nui
Rapa Nui was a de facto naval base into the 1960s, but an event that would change the island forever occurred in 1951, when Roberto Parragué Singer flew the Manutara from the Norte Chico city of La Serena to Hanga Roa in 20 hours—the first flight ever from the continent. By 1967, the new Aeropuerto Mataveri became a refueling depot on the first-ever commercial flight from Santiago to Papeete, definitively incorporating the island into the Chilean—and international—political and economic orbit.
These dramatic developments, and the navy’s withdrawal from administration, addressed a variety of local issues: Islanders could now travel, vote, and have a voice in local and national matters—in Rapanui (whose usage had been suppressed) as well as Spanish. The Christian Democrat administration of President Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964–1970) paid greater attention than ever to islanders’ concerns, including education, medical care, and infrastructure projects such as electrical power, potable water, and roads.
Even during the Pinochet dictatorship, improvements continued, but since the return to democracy islanders have become even more outspoken—and prosperous. At the same time they have argued vigorously for return of ancestral lands on an island where, for many decades, their residence was confined to a small area in and around Hanga Roa, many Rapanui have taken advantage of other opportunities. Some have traveled to the mainland and around the world for education, while others have remained to profit from the tourist trade. According to some statistics, every year upward of 20,000 tourists now visit the island, only five hours by jet from Santiago.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition