Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Argentina

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Argentina, 1 July 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c3331207a.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The indigenous population in Argentina numbers between 700,000 and 1.5 million. These figures include groups such as the Aymara, Chiriguano, Guaraní/Mbyá, Mapuche, Quechua, Toba and Wichi/Mataco. Despite constitutional recognition of their ethnic and cultural identity, and the existence of laws for advancing bilingual education and communal ownership of ancestral lands, little real progress to safeguard their rights was achieved in 2009. Responsibility for the implementation of these principles rests with Argentina's 23 provincial governments, but only 11 provinces have constitutions recognizing indigenous rights.

During 2009, Argentina's indigenous peoples continued to have little say in the use of their lands or the management of their natural resources. As a result, protests continued in many provinces over attempts to dispossess or evict indigenous communities from their ancestral lands to make way for tourism or large-scale petroleum, mining and agro-industry projects. Indigenous organizations such as 11 de Octubre Mapuche-Tehuelche Organization continued in 2009 to claim that their constitutionally guaranteed rights to land ownership and their title deeds were not being respected, and that the sale of land with people living on it was still occurring.

Mapuche claims

An estimated 200,000 Mapuche (People of the Land) live in Patagonia, which encompasses the provinces of Río Negro, Neuquén, Chubut and Santa Cruz. According to Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen, 94 per cent of this group still have no title to the lands they have occupied ancestrally. As a result, land is frequently sold to the highest bidder, leading to land ownership disputes, such as those that continued during 2009.

During June 2009, hearings continued in the ongoing civil trial to determine possession of the Santa Rosa estate in the southern Patagonian province of Chubut. The case goes back to October 2002, when the Curiñanco-Nahuelquirs, an indigenous Mapuche family, were forcibly evicted by the Benetton Group SpA from a 535-hectare stretch of land in Chubut. The family claimed to have received verbal permission from a government land settlement agency to use what was supposedly unoccupied indigenous territory. Benetton claims ownership of over 2.2 million acres of land – including the disputed territory in Patagonia – through the Compañía de Tierras de Sud Argentino (CTSA). This makes Benetton the largest landowner in Argentina. The case went to court after the family refused a Benetton offer to settle in another area, and the litigation has continued to attract attention. This is because of the global recognition of the Benetton brand-name, and because the case highlights the challenges of reconciling traditional indigenous concepts of land ownership and use with private property laws that are constitutionally enshrined in all the countries of the region.

Resource extraction

Resource use in Mapuche communities is another of the group's concerns, and protests continued during 2009. Hearings occurred in Salta Province following a December 2008 ruling in a lawsuit brought by 18 indigenous communities in which the Argentine Supreme Court ordered a suspension of plans to harvest approximately 2 million acres of forest. There were also year-end protests in Salta by Mapuche who claim that 12,000 hectares of their communal lands were re-designated as a nature reserve by state governmental decree, and also that Mapuche lands were being ceded to private entities for the establishment of a private country club.

In September 2009, a Mapuche confrontation with a US-based petroleum company on Lonko Purran territory in the Neuquen district of Argentina ended peacefully when the company temporarily retreated. The corporation, which was granted an oil concession by the government, backs its claim to the area with the support of a former Argentinean Supreme Court justice who professes to have acquired the land at a public auction. The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquen released a formal statement immediately after the encounter, denouncing the petroleum company, as well as the former justice and the provincial governor, for suppressing, ignoring and violating Mapuche rights over the past two years.

The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquen have compared the latest incident to previous confrontations with petroleum companies in the area, such as that of 2001 when Mapuche protests led investors to seek a legal resolution. In that case, the court ruled that Mapuche had a right to demonstrate on their own territory, based on ILO Convention No. 169, and dismissed all charges against them. While this was seen as a great victory for Mapuche, the events of 2009 indicate that the judgment seems to have had little lasting impact.

Steps towards Afro-Argentinean inclusion

In a national environment where minorities such as Chinese, Koreans, Roma and immigrants from Latin America do not receive equal treatment, Afro-Argentines in particular continued to experience discrimination in employment, education and housing. According to US State Department reports, they continued to endure racial affronts while using public transportation and to be denied entry to commercial establishments. However, MRG partner organization Afro-Indio reported in December 2009 that, in an unprecedented public gesture towards inclusion, the Municipal Council of the City of Santa Fe, the capital of the Province of Santa Fe, voted to rename a public walkway close to the Ethnographic and Historical Museums that was previously known as 'The Path of Two Cultures'. The intention was to acknowledge the African element in Argentinean society by officially changing the name of the walkway to 'The Path of Three Cultures'. It also authorized the building of two emblematic monoliths representing indigenous and African cultures, to be placed in a sufficiently visible location so that they properly represent the encounter of the three cultures and serve as a public reference point.

In a society where little recognition has historically been afforded to Afro-Argentineans, Afro-descendant rights groups such as Afro-Indio indicated that they regard this as a modest but significant move in the right direction.

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