“Benetton. Lewis. Arabela. Pogliano. Water and land are not sold, they defend themselves ”, read one of the anonymous brochures found after the Andean club fire in a city in Argentine Patagonia ten days ago. It was the third intentional fire in recent months, which the provincial authorities of Río Negro attribute to Mapuche extremists and have denounced before the Justice as terrorist crimes. These fires and new occupations of state lands by indigenous communities have rekindled the tension in Argentine Patagonia due to the conflicts related to access to land and they have sneaked the electoral campaign through the legislative elections on November 14.
“My strongest condemnation of the arson attack on the Club Andino Piltriquitrón de The Baggins. We are not going to endorse any type of violence in Río Negro that endangers people’s lives and destroys institutions ”, declared the governor of Río Negro, Arabela Carreras the day after the fire. So far this month, the new Tourist Information Center of this Patagonian city and the facilities of Vialidad Rio Negro in Bariloche have also been burned.
The governor has also denounced the occupation of land in a rural area on the outskirts of El Bolsón known as Cuesta del Ternero. In mid-September, the Quemquemtreu community occupied a state land ceded to private hands for logging. The police evicted those who had settled on the property, but a group re-entered.
The authorities then chose to besiege them to force them to withdraw, a strategy that has prompted the intervention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights through a request for information from the Argentine State. “They are surrounded by police without allowing food or warm clothing to enter, it is a violation of human rights,” denounces Orlando Carriqueo, from the Coordinator of the Mapuche Tehuelche Parliament in Río Negro.
For Carriqueo, the authorities criminalize indigenous communities for claiming their right to inhabit lands recognized since 1994. “They enter and resist being removed from a territory abandoned by a forestry company that has the concession but in no way owns the land. Earth. What violence are they talking about? Most of the communities have suffered institutional violence. They have killed or tricked people into keeping their fields, they have sold land with people inside and then they have taken them away with the police ”, he stresses.
In Patagonia, which covers an area of more than 930,000 square kilometers (equivalent to ten times the territory of Portugal) in the south of the country, almost 150,000 people recognized themselves as descendants or belonging to an original people in the last census, which it represents 6.9% of the Patagonian population, almost triple the national average (2.4%). This minority assures that there is a double bar. “While there are communities that claim for 30 hectares and are questioned, Joe Lewis has a whole lake and Benetton has a million hectares, there is not the same view on the territories or the people,” adds Carriqueo.
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With the reform of the Constitution in 1994, Argentina recognized the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples, ordered to guarantee respect for their identity and to regulate the delivery of others suitable and sufficient for their human development. “That never happened. Why not? Because there is a corrupt, partial and racist judicial apparatus, ”says lonko Mauro Millán. “Faced with this reality, we went out to do a land recovery process in fact for future generations,” he continues. In his opinion, the lands occupied by the Quemquetreu community also highlight the environmental depredation of the pine monoculture in the area because “it affects the fragile biodiversity of Patagonia and dries up the underground layers of water.”
The escalation of the conflict puts the Fernández government in an uncomfortable situation, which wants to avoid violent evictions such as those that claimed the lives of Santiago Maldonado in 2017, who drowned in a river when he was pursued by police and remained missing for 77 days, and Rafael Nahuel, a Mapuche who was shot dead by security forces who entered occupied lands on the shores of Lake Mascardi.
For the Government, the responsibility for security rests in the hands of the provincial authorities and must be resolved through dialogue and without becoming an electoral tool. However, the opponent Juntos por el Cambio, strengthened by his victory in several of the Patagonian provinces in the primaries of September 12, criticizes the “Abandonment of the national state” to the neighbours.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.