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Assessment for Indigenous Peoples in Argentina

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Indigenous Peoples in Argentina, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
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.
Argentina Facts
Area:    2,766,890 sq. km.
Capital:    Buenos Aires
Total Population:    36,285,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Argentine indigenous groups have periodically protested their condition, though rarely have they directly confronted authorities, or in significant numbers (PROT90X = 2, PROT98X = 3, PROT01 = 1, PROT02-03 = 0). Only one instance was found in 1999-2000, when protesters in the city of General Mosconi burned City Hall and destroyed stores and a bank, after National Guardsmen attacked their barricade. While it is unlikely they will resort to violent tactics in the future on any large scale, small scale non-violent organizing through community and umbrella groups for greater rights will probably continue without much interference from the government.

Analytic Summary

There are 16 to 20 indigenous groups in Argentina that dwell primarily in the northern part of the country, bordering Bolivia and Paraguay. The larger groups are the Collas (35,000), the Chiriguanos (15,000), the Tobas (15,000), the Mapudungun (40,000) of the Chaco, the Guaranies (10,500) of Misiones, and the Wichi (25,000). Further south, about 36,000 Mapuches live in the province of Nequen and Tehuelches, bordering on Chile (GROUPCON = 3). There are also varying estimates of Quechua and Quichua speakers in Argentina depending upon seasonal employment. In the Tierra del Fuego, there are also some Selk'namgon people. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the northwestern provinces. While there are about 5,000 permanent residents who are Quechua speakers in the province of Jujuy, there have been estimates of about 800,000 Quechua speakers from Bolivia coming to Argentina for employment, including 200,000 temporary laborers, 100,000 looking for work, and 500,000 living in Buenos Aires (MIGRANT = 2). Chiringuan, Choroti, Mataco, Mocovi, and Toba are spoken in the Gran Chaco. In Mesopotamia, Guarani is the main language for indigenous people. Aruacano-Mapuche and Tehuelche is spoken in Patagonia, while Yamana, Ona, and Selk'namgon are spoken in Tierra del Fuego.

Indigenous people in rural areas receive very little education and are generally not proficient in Spanish. Those who have migrated to urban areas have more command over the Spanish language, but live in shantytowns on the outskirts of the cities (two known shantytowns are Residencia and Barranqueras). Shamans are a very important part of indigenous religion throughout the country and traditional ceremonies and mysticism are practiced. There have been attempts to Christianize these populations and missions for indigenous people exist, some of which have been active in promoting social change for the indigenous. While most indigenous are Christian, their religious practices are often a combination of traditional mystic ceremonies and Christian traditions.

Many of the indigenous groups were killed during the colonization of Argentina in the 16th century, and genocide continued until the 19th century. Those groups that did survive the mass killings isolated themselves or remained on reserves designated by the government. Indigenous people did not begin to mobilize until the 1970s, when many of them migrated to urban areas for better lives and employment. Until this time period, Indians were not legally recognized citizens of the state (ATRISK1 = 1, ATRISK2 = 1).

Indigenous people are extremely isolated in rural areas of the country They constitute some of the poorest sectors of society. Their primary employment is agricultural or seasonal labor (ECDIS03 = 1). Some tribes (mainly in the Pampa region) are hunter-gatherer, nomadic peoples. In the Chaco

region, the cotton and sugar plantations and the timber industry employ seasonal labor. The rivers of Pilcomayo and Bermejo from April until June also provide seasonal labor for indigenous peoples. However, the Salta province recently banned commercial fishing and thus, has damaged the seasonal economy of the indigenous people living in this region. Both groups receive little or no medical treatment and have been reported to suffer from malnutrition, cholera, syphilis, gonorrhea,

tuberculosis, and infant mortality rates as high as 50% (DEMSTR99 = 3; DMSICK01-03 = 3).

In 1970, the Coordinating Commission of Indigenous Institutions (CCIIRA) formed. After 1973, many indigenous regions formed organizations (GOJPA00 = 1), such as the Indigenous Federation of Chaco, the Indigenous Federation of Tucuman, and the Indigenous Federation of Neuquina (representing Mapuche Indians). By March 1973, the CCIIRA ceased to exist and the government formed the Indigenous Association of Argentina (AIRA). This organization had three objectives: 1) to respect the indigenous person and his/her culture, 2) to define indigenous lands, and 3) to appoint an indigenous representative of all of the communities. However, in 1974, the government of Isabel Peron repressed many popular organizations. By 1975, many indigenous organizations stopped functioning and cooperative communities were made illegal. In 1983, indigenous peoples received legal status. The following year, an "Indigenous Policy and Support to the Aboriginal Communities" law was passed to restore traditional indigenous lands and territories and to provide bilingual education in indigenous communities. This law was and is still criticized for not having representation from indigenous peoples on advisory committees for these programs, and for not being adequately enforced--for example, while bilingual education is permitted it is not properly funded or organized (CULPO303 = 1).

Argentina currently recognizes indigenous lands, culture, and community development through its National Plan of Indigenist Policy. However, the funding and support for this institution have been reported to be very low (POLDIS03 = 2). The Colla people have demanded the right to name their children in Quechua, which is not a recognized language of the state. The Colla have also made verbal protests against the abuse of their land by gas companies, as well as against the environmental decline that has been the result of the construction of a gas pipeline in 1999, making the forest more susceptible to natural disasters such as the forest fire in 2001 (PROT01 = 1; DMENV01 = 2). The Toba, Mataco, and Mocovi Indians demand better wages and working conditions in the cotton and timber industries which employs the vast majority of them in the Chaco region. The Mbya Guarani people have two reserves in the Misiones province, which are being invaded by settlers. The Mapuche Indians demand autonomy in order to unite with the Mapuche of Chile. The Tehuelche also have a small reservation, which they are demanding be preserved.

Since 2001, a few groups such as Tincu Nacu (a Colla indigenous group), Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE, located in northwestern Santiago del Estero province and organized by Quechua speakers), and the Indigenous Association of the Argentine Republic have remained active in promoting indigenous rights and culture (ORG03NUM = 3). In 2003, MOCASE launched a radio station that broadcasts in both Spanish and the Quechua language, and has plans to launch 6 more (CULPO201-03 = 0). MOCASE represents over 9,600 families who are fighting for land rights, which is of primary concern for many of Argentina's indigenous (ECOGR50A = 1; DMCOMP03 = 2; DMEVIC03 = 1).


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Passafari, Clara. Pueblos Indios, Argentina 1986. Argentina. Libro Edicion Argentina. 1986.

Psacharopoulos, George and Harry Anthony Patrinos. Indigenous People and Poverty in Latin America. Washington,D.C. The World Bank. 1994.

Rudolph, James D.,ed. Argentina: A Country Study. Washington, D.C. The American University. 1985.

Serbin, Andres. "Las Organizaciones Indigenas en la Argentina." America Indigena. XLI (3). July-September 1981: 407-434.

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Reports, 2001-2003.

IPS-Inter Press Service, March 14, 2001, Environment-Argentina: Fires Raise Concerns Over Pipeline Safety. Date accessed: 11/29/2004.

Lexis-Nexis articles, 2001 - 2003.

**Other sources utilized were from Reuters and Inter-Press News Service.

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