Published January 15, 2013
For thousands of years, the giant stone Moai statues have guarded remote Easter Island from invaders from the sea.
But in recent months, the inhabitants of Rapa Nui – the Polynesian name for the 63-square-mile island currently part of Chile and its inhabitants – have had to defend themselves against an invasion from the air.
The steady flow of tourists and mainland Chileans moving to the island have forced the islander’s to threaten a formal complaint against the Chilean government at the international court of justice in The Hague and has raised the issue of independence. Rapa Nui is one of the most remote islands in the world and is believed to have been settled by Polynesian sailors centuries ago.
Four years ago, a group of demonstrators blocked the runways at the island’s only airport for days in protest of the massive growth of tourists flocking to Rapa Nui. In December of 2010, the Chilean government was forced to send troops to the island to remove protestors from an occupied building that was slated to be converted into a luxury hotel.
"We do not reject tourism, which accounts for 80 percent of our economy," said Luz Zasso Poa, the leader of Hanga Roa town council, according to the UK newspaper the Guardian.
Zasso Poa said that she opposes "mass tourism that endangers the fragile ecosystem" of the island. Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and sees over 65,000 visitors every year, who come for the beaches, volcanic landscape and Moai.
The islanders also claim that the Chilean government has not invested enough in healthcare, education and trade. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has been quiet on the issue, but said he hopes there will be peaceful solution to the issue.
The country relies heavily on tourism as there is no industry on the island and all good must be shipped in, which leads to high prices on the island.
"We could ask to become part of Polynesia, which is closer," said Leviante Araki, the speaker of the Rapa Nui assembly, according to the Guardian. "Given that Chile has not fulfilled its obligations."