Argentina: Native Communities Face Eviction, Death if Protective Law is not Renewed by Congress

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By: Mariano Pedrosa / Source: Tiempo Argentino / Resumen Latinoamericano / September 8, 2017

“Extend Law 26,160 to stop eviction of communities” / Photo credit: Tiempo Argentino

Representatives of Native Communities of the Argentine North-West arrived in Buenos Aires to protest in front of the Congress. Fully aware of the powerful interests that put pressure to prevent the extension of the Law of Indigenous Land (No. 26,160) and the danger they are in if the government postpones the vote, like it has announced. According to senators Miguel Pichetto, Ángel Rozas and Federico Pinedo closed ranks and postponed the vote until “at least” September 27.

The government and its allies are determined to let the legislation that protects the territories of native communities die without renewal. This will leave thousands of native people who live on their ancestral lands unprotected against those who want to transform them into private property.

The recent forced disapparition of Santiago Maldonado by state forces is linked to this struggle. Maldonado was helping Mapuche people claim for their rights against the harassment of big agribusiness and mining, forestry, and oil companies.

Land and Territory

The possession of land is linked to human rights. But is land the same as territory? Since Santiago Maldonado disappeared last August 1, the word “land” is on the lips of Argentinians, but, is it the same as territory? “There’s a dismal difference”, says Walter Barraza, representative of the Tonokote people. “‘Land’ relates to private property. It’s a capitalist concept, while territory includes us as people who live in that place, and our obligation to take care of its nature. We native peoples live in harmony with our animal brothers, plants, water. We are part of the territory, which provides us with everything we need. Cutting forests down is like cutting a limb. They are coming for natural resources, while we live in harmony with those resources”.

Law No. 26,160, which was sanctioned in 2006, ordered a survey of lands inhabited by native peoples, and also protects them from evictions and suspends trials against them related to the property of land. Human Rights organizations like Amnesty International and the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) have launched campaigns to create awareness on the risks native communities face if the law is not extended, because the survey was never brought to completion and 70% of all communities have not been registered. “Right now, with the law still withstanding, we’re already suffering persecution, threats, attempted murders, indiscriminate forestry, open-pit mining that contaminates our water, child malnutrition, and more”, says Néstor Jerez, chief of the Ocloya people.

Jerez thinks that “the law is a fundamental instrument to stop landowners that advance on our lands and our rights. We legally defend our ancestral territories. The fact that this law is not being discussed in Congress right now is extremely serious, because it leaves 2,000 Argentine native communities unprotected”.

Walter Barraza introduces himself in his native tongue, quechua, and then translates. He’s the camache (chief) of the Tonokote people of the Santiago del Estero province. He also represents the 38 communities of the Tonokote-Llutky Nation Council. He also describes evictions, juridical harassment and threats suffered by his people  even with the current legislation. “With these precedents, if the law is not renewed, we’re facing a massacre in our territories. There’s a cascade of judicial denounces waiting for the protection to fall to kick us out of our territories. And what is going to happen then? Landowners and usurpers are just waiting for it to drop to come in with the fencing wire”.

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