Argentina may be a country of immigrants, but it treats its own as strangers. The country has a population of nearly 44 million, an estimated 2.4 per cent of which self-identify as indigenous (of this, half are children). There are over 800 indigenous groups located across the country’s 2,766,890 square kilometers, but only 35 communities are officially recognized by the government. That’s about 4 percent. The vast majority of these communities (both government recognized and solely self-identifying) are located in the country’s northern provinces of Jujuy, Neuquén and Chubut.
The 1994 Argentine Constitution states in Article 75 that the Congress shall have power to:
- recognize the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous Argentine peoples.
- guarantee respect for their identity and their rights to bilingual and intercultural education.
- recognize the legal standing of their communities.
- recognize the possession and community property over lands they have traditionally occupied.
- regulate the transfer of other lands fit and sufficient for human development.
- assure their participation in the related administration of their natural resources and of other interests affecting them.
Very few, if any, of these decrees have been respected. In fact, representatives of the largest indigenous groups have been actively demanding to have these rights (legal personhood, territory, biodiversity and multiculturalism) respected globally for the past half decade and in denying them, the Argentine government is breaching not only its own constitution, national and international legislation, but also the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Democracy it is then.
With this in mind, it comes as a shock that Argentina ranked as the third most inclusive country in the Americas last year because it certainly has a long way to go when it comes to the treatment of its indigenous communities. Despite demanding that national authorities fulfill their obligations, they still aren’t being treated as full citizens deserving of basic rights and respect. Many argue that the members of these communities are virtual strangers in their own country. They are discriminated and neglected despite knowing and legally advocating for their rights; rights that are written in the constitution; rights that Eulogio Frites fought for; rights that Amnesty International is bringing to light.
Though there is a huge lack of statistical information on the country’s indigenous communities, as an open and transparent initiative to keep us better aware of what is taking place on the ground, Amnesty International Argentina launched an interactive website in September 2015, dedicated to highlighting the key issues faced by the country’s indigenous peoples.
The homepage of the site reads that “during the colonization era, and especially following the military campaigns that took place in the country, a large part of the indigenous population was exterminated, which literally turned into a genocide.” As a result of all the lost territory, those who survived have been forced to live in extreme conditions of poverty which over the years has spilled-over to other forms of social exclusion.
183 on-going conflicts with municipal, provincial and national governments, businesses, judges and prosecutors who have dismissed regulation, are mapped on the NGO’s design-savvy navigable map. These can be searched by province or by type of conflict: territorial, environmental, violent, eviction, legal status and criminalization, in an attempt to provide transparency on the conflicts.
The Bubble spoke to Paola Garcia Rey, who is in charge of Amnesty International’s project and the NGO’s director for the promotion and protection of human rights, about the interactive map’s objectives and how it has been doing since its launch.
What’s up with the social exclusion of indigenous communities in this country?
“We believe that historically, the social exclusion of indigenous peoples is the result of a conscious decision, either deliberately or through the medium of public policies that are life threatening to them. All too often, we see how government policies prioritize economic interests and over the years, public and private interests, especially the agribusiness sectors have put up huge barriers between the indigenous peoples of Argentina and the right to their traditional lands.”
“Several governments, multilateral agencies and non-governmental powerful actors in the region use the false excuse of indigenous peoples preventing the promotion of development and the fight against poverty, arguing that their internationally recognized rights represent ‘obstacles to development’.”
Though international human rights standards protecting indigenous peoples against dispossession of their lands and resources in the name of development have emerged to put an end to the historical patterns of decisions that threatened their survival, social exclusion prevails, which is why the lack of statistics on indigenous peoples is so significant and this interactive map so crucial. The lack of sufficient information and the use of indigenous peoples as a scapegoat is a clear violation of their right to life, culture, food and health: a violation that has been heavily criticized by the The Special Rapporteur of the UN on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, according to Paola.
Argentina needs to acknowledge its history in order to move on from its reaffirmed patterns of discrimination and exclusion. Paola believes that “despite the progress in legal recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, this legal framework is moving far away from reality.”
“The map, however, is not trying to write the Argentine history record” she asserts, “that is a task for the indigenous people themselves.”
So how is the interactive map helping?
“The idea was to expose the situation that Argentine indigenous communities are in as well as their fight for their right to territory and fundamental rights,” she said. “Unfortunately, despite developments in international human rights relating to indigenous peoples and constitutional acknowledgement, the violation of their rights has continued to worsen in the past decades, especially those regarding territory.” She went on to explain that Argentina breeds much inconsistency in terms of efficiently implementing laws and that the map confirms “a significant gap between the domestic legal framework and its effective implementation.”
The ultimate goal is to somehow give a dimension to the situation in which the indigenous communities live, to give their existence the value it deserves throughout the nation and to raise awareness about the magnitude of the problem, poor treatment and state policies they are victims of.
To make this an interactive space, the platform invites people to join the fight and ask the authorities to respect the rights of indigenous communities by gathering signatures. Each community’s page has a “sign the petition” option in order to boost government action to provide them with more basic rights.
How did the interactive map come together?
The map itself is the result of a collaborative effort from various organizations working with indigenous peoples, lawyers, academics and indigenous leaders.
“Our work is carried out at different levels and case by case. We work directly with communities or sometimes organizations who work closely with them to create stronger, more robust alliances. And above all, more impact. For example in the case of India Quilmes and Chocobar, our local partner is the ANDHES organization, which has been working with them for decades… have built bonds of trust and are present in the field. In Relmu Ñamku’s case, we dealt with her criminal proceeding [she is being prosecuted for attempted murder after trying to resist unfair eviction from her community’s ancestral territory] directly through her, regardless of alliances we already had with other organizations through whom we could have gone.”
So how successful has the map been since it launched? “The response has been very positive,” Paola tells us. This is an ongoing project, a tool for open consultation for anyone who needs it, where information will keep being updated periodically. “Anyone is invited to send data to Amnesty which will be studied and eventually integrated into the map.” Paola went onto explain the the initiative received encouraging feedback primarily from a wider audience, ranging from scholars, students and professors to human rights organizations and the press throughout the country, including indigenous communities. “We are exploring a second release with even more surveys and specific cases of conflicts with the help of indigenous leaders who will contribute, more or less directly to the website.”
One familiar face on the website is Felix Díaz, who over the years has become a recurring figure in the headlines. He is the leader and face of Qom indigenous community from the subtropical province of Formosa, where 110 communities live. Díaz works directly with Amnesty in getting content onto the interactive map. The cause for his fight? A dispute over 600 hectares of La Primavera land on which the government is planning to build a university. Despite camping out in Buenos Aires for months last year in protest, despite suffering brutal violence and death, despite being invited to the Vatican by the Pope and despite signing a joint declaration with 24 other indigenous representatives in demand of basic human rights, the national authorities continued to ignore Díaz’ legal plees.
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was all for promoting equal rights to women and criticising Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis yet took little action to support the most socially excluded community of the country. Since, President Mauricio Macri “held talks“ with Felix Diaz while camped in protest at the heart of the city, 20 days prior to election day while campaigning last year and more recently met with Diaz again, stating that for this government, “recognizing indigenous communities and [government] policies regarding them are state policy.” But snapping a few photos to keep the media happy isn’t good for much and promises only have a certain amount of value. The indigenous issue still hasn’t been given enough attention.
Vamos a trabajar juntos para atender las necesidades de los pueblos originarios y lograr el objetivo de pobreza cero pic.twitter.com/1gFwHOgaYw
— Mauricio Macri (@mauriciomacri) December 17, 2015
These people have been systematically excluded throughout the country’s history. With a minimum of hope, Amnesty’s interactive map will spread the word, raise awareness and strengthen the cultural diversity dialogue.
(Check out the fair trade stores that promote indigenous cultures and their produce in the heart of the capital city.)