"They surprised us arriving at around 11:00 in the morning. Many were working and the children were in school. Immediately we saw that the police were crossing into the neighbor's land. We smelt the tear gas and right away they were breaking everything that stood in their path. They threw our few belongings out, they shot rubber bullets and they hit the women that were resisting. We defended what is ours as best we could while they [the police] died laughing."
(statement of an indigenous woman forcibly removed in Tucumán, Argentina)
At the beginning of November of 2006, the National Congress of Argentina approved Law 26.160 declaring a state of "emergency with respect to the possession and property of the ancestral lands of the indigenous communities of the country." (Unofficial translation from Spanish). This law prohibited, for a period of four years, the eviction or removal of indigenous persons and indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.
During February and March of this year, only four months after its adoption, this law was converted into a dead letter. Members of the Diaguita indigenous community of the Tucumán Province were victims of an aggressive campaign of forced evictions and threats of removal from their ancestral lands. This campaign came with the persecution of the police, the tolerance of the provincial government, and the silence of the State of Argentina. As a consequence of the excessive actions of the police - including the use of tear gas, the shooting of rubber bullets, and the hitting of indigenous women, children, and men - approximately 22 families were displaced from their homes, 15 houses were burned and destroyed, other structures and belongings were damaged or robbed, and many that peacefully resisted were left wounded.
In some circumstances, when carrying out their violent action the police possessed a judicial order, in others, they acted without an order or other legitimate document or procedure. In all cases, the removals and threats ignored the national and international laws regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. These include: the national and provincial constitutions that recognize the right of indigenous communities to possess the lands they have traditionally occupied (art. 75(17) and 149 respectively); Law 26.160 that prohibits removal of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands; Law 24.071 in which Argentina ratified ILO Convention 169 and assumed the duty to respect and promote indigenous ancestral lands (article 14); and the jurisprudence of the treaty bodies of the United Nations (UN) as well as the Organization of American States; and the policies and recommendations of other international and public institutions that prohibit forced removals (particularly in the case of indigenous peoples and other vulnerable populations) and only permit them in extraordinary circumstances where there is prior notice, consultation with the affected people, due process and adequate compensation. These circumstances and conditions were not present in the cases in question.
This police action was encouraged by the private owners of the land that possess titles giving them ownership rights to these indigenous lands (known in Paraguay by the name of "terratenientes"). The Diaguita indigenous peoples, in spite of their complaints and pending claims regarding these lands, still do not possess titles over these lands as otherwise provided for in the provisions of the national and provincial Constitutions. (Like the ex Parque de Menhires site discussed above, this valley is a place of high interest on the part of the Province and third parties for its tourism potential and value). The indigenous leader and community members presented themselves before the courts to ask for implementation of the national law that prohibits these removals, but the judge in question still ordered the eviction. In fact, the lawyer for the community initiated an action to suspend the removal in accordance with the terms of Law 26.160. The judge ignored the applicable law and the petition and the actual complaint was lost.
- On 28 February, at an ancestral site known as "ex Parque de los Menhires", approximately 60 indigenous familias of the Diaguita community of La Angostura region in the Tucumán Province, resisted a forced removal that the Province's Ecological Police tried to execute without a judicial order. Nevertheless, the police told the community members that they were acting under the orders of the Director of Plants and Wildlife, Mr. Manuel Imbert. The Secretary of Natural Resources wishes to use this area located within the Diaguita's ancestral lands. The Province's Tourism entity has a particular interest in this site for future hotel establishments.
- Again, on 2 March, in another action promoted by the Tucumán government with the complicity of Director Imbert, without judicial order the Ecological Police carried out another attack against various familias of the indigenous community of La Angostura. While members of the community were selling crafts in the same area of ex Parque de los Menhires, police officers forcibly entered a communal house used by the community's artisans. The police broke down the doors and windows and robbed and destroyed their crafts and artwork. During the incident, they hit women and left several with bleeding wounds. In spite of their historic and traditional occupation of this site, the indigenous community does not have a formal title recognizing its traditional territory. After this incident, the La Angostura community filed an opposition to a legal action (amparo) which was initiated by the government of the Tucuman Province in order to obtain possession of the land and justify the removal of the indigenous community.
- The same day of 2 March in the Tafí Valley, another forced eviction was carried out (see attached photos). This removal was executed with the tolerance of the Provincial government and was authorized by Judge Emma Lidia de Nucci of the Penal Court (Second Instruction) under provisional non appealable precautionary measures that were issued to secure the titles of private landowners (The Teran and Chenat Families) that continue to usurp indigenous lands. The police entered an area known as "Los Cuartos" in the Tafí Valley and violently removed 22 families from their houses and ancestral lands. This eviction was carried out during the day and as a consequence, the police not only destroyed the houses of these indigenous families (in some cases they were burned), but also pushed children, women and elders and used tear gas and rubber bullets, and left wounded 15 members of the community.
- In addition to these events in the Tafí Valley, other indigenous familias of the province has been threatened with imminent evictions initiated by terratenientes through judicial processes guarantying their rights. These include the following:
- A process for removal has begun against (1) indigenous family (Moya) in the Amaicha Valley. Specifically, there is a ruling in a court of first instance permitting the eviction. The Moya family does not have a title but they do have ancestral possession of these traditional lands. The private owner (Critto) has title, but does not have possession.
- Two removal processes have also been initiated against two indigenous familias in Quilmes (one against a presumed sale by a blind indigenous grandfather of 91 years of age (Mr. Rafael Marcos Gonzalez)). He was made to sign some documents without knowing their content. Another process was initiated against a grandmother of 70 years of age (Mrs. de Caro) whose lands were sold without her consent. While the indigenous families have always maintained traditional possession of these places, there exist private land owners that have titles to these lands and these landowners often sell them to others.
- Another family in the indigenous community of Tolombón (the Donato Nieva family) also has lands that are subject to removal processes initiated by law suits filed by private land owners (Lopez de Zavalia). This family is still waiting for a final ruling. In this situation, which is shared by approximately 20 other indigenous members in the neighboring community of Rodeo Grande, various indigenous individuals were previously manipulated into entering into rental agreements with private non-indigenous owners. They pay rent to live on their traditional lands. This happens because the people are not educated. Under pressure, many who do not read or write sign these kinds of agreements without knowing their meaning.
Request of the Diaguita Indigenous Peoples
The former UN Human Rights Committee (now the Council of Human Rights) has affirmed that "the practice of forced removals constitutes a serious violation of the human rights." (Human Rights Committee, Resolution 1993/77, parr. 1). Also, the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers that "the instances of forced removals are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and could only be justified in the most exceptional of circumstances and in accordance with the relevant principles of human rights." (CESCR, General Observations, Nos. 4 (parr. 18) and 7 (parr. 1)). Consistent with these affirmations, the two UN bodies have affirmed that the best protection against removals is judicial security with respect to land tenure for those that are most vulnerable to such removals. In accordance with this affirmation, the Union of the Nation of the Diaguita Indigenous Peoples requests that Argentina takes the necessary measures to achieve the following:
- immediate suspension of the removals from the territory of the Diaguita Nation, in particular the Tucumán Province;
- the restitution of the houses and lands of the removed persons and moral and material compensation for the victims of these acts;
- the full recognition of the property rights of the Diaguita communities to the lands they have traditionally used and occupied;
- the protection of the lives and physical integrity of the members of these indigenous communities.
The Diaguita Nation respectfully requests the help and support of the International Community to secure a positive response from the State of Argentina and to guarantee the rights of the indigenous peoples and their members living in the Tucumán Province of Argentina.
For more information, please contact:
Legal Advisor, Union of the Nation of the Diaguita Indigenous Peoples
Telephone in Argentina: 011 54 3892 421428 or 011 54 3717 428561
Dr. Vanessa J. Jiménez
Forest Peoples Programme
Telephone in the U.S.: 001 703 875 0360