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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Argentina

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Argentina, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 24 November 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.

According to the Additional Survey on Indigenous Populations, published by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC), the indigenous population in Argentina is about 600,000. A census was conducted in 2010 but was criticized by minority and indigenous activists for lack of accuracy and under-counting of Argentina's African descendant population and the 19 indigenous peoples. These include Mapuche, Toba, Wichi/ Mataco, Guaraní/Mbyá, Chiriguano, Quechua and Aymara.

According to local MRG partner organization Casa de la Cultura Indo-Afro-Americana, a major preoccupation of indigenous communities during 2011 continued to be insecurity over land-ownership and the many problems and delays they encounter when trying to obtain legal titles. Indigenous people such as the Toba, Wichi/Mataco and Mapuche continued to be especially concerned about the lack of dialogue and participation prior to the start of resource extraction and other economic projects on their lands. In many instances, land traditionally occupied by indigenous groups was appropriated by the authorities, especially at the provincial level.

This contributed to conflicts between indigenous communities and private resource extraction companies, which, in contrast to the affected groups, are significantly facilitated by legal authorities and the judicial system.

Natural gas explosion

According to the US Department of Energy, Argentina possesses the world's third largest potential reserves of unconventional gas – 774 trillion cubic feet. Reports by Argentina's Neuquen Observatory on Indigenous Peoples' Rights indicate that of the 59 Mapuche communities in southern Argentina, 19 are affected by the hydrocarbon industry or live in areas being considered by companies looking to expand exploration.

In the Chubut province in Patagonia, an oil concession granted in June 2011 prompted Mapuche Tehuelche communities to hold a trawun (parliament) in mid-October to evaluate the impacts of the industry. In Chaco province, 12 resource extraction blocks have been created. Some affect indigenous Wichi, Qom and Moquit lands, where the local Servicios Energéticos del Chaco and the state-owned Argentina Energy Service began exploring for hydrocarbons in mid-2011.

This expansion is meeting with criticism. Members of the Mapuche community charge that the Argentine government's aggressive push to increase energy supplies by allowing oil company exploration on their lands will cause irreversible social and environmental damage. In November 2011, the Gelay Ko Mapuche community in Neuquen province blocked gas-well drilling work on their land by the US oil company Apache. Among their complaints was that they had not been consulted about the project. They demanded that the provincial government create commissions to evaluate the social and environmental impact as well as to monitor oil company activities.

During 2011, Salta province in northern Argentina was also the scene of conflict between the extractive industry and indigenous groups. In October and November, the Wichí Lewetes Kalehi and Lote 6 communities tried to stop seismic testing on their territory. They reported being harassed by the police as well as by the exploration company contracted by the Unión Transitoria de Empresas Maxipetrol.

Following an 11-day visit to Argentina in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, concluded that the government must strengthen legal mechanisms securing indigenous land-ownership and establish a meaningful dialogue with communities in decisions which affect them.

Continuing marginalization

In addition to territorial issues, Argentina's indigenous peoples in their often remote locations remained concerned about the lack of access to adequate education. This includes bilingual instruction and inter-cultural exchanges to help keep indigenous languages alive while also acquiring a standard Spanish-language education.

Many indigenous communities retain their own languages, but illiteracy rates in the country's north-east, where many indigenous peoples live, is more than twice the 1.9 per cent national average. Lack of access to bilingual education is partly due to a shortage of trained teachers; in part, this is caused by an absence of measures to facilitate university entry for eligible indigenous students.

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