Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Argentina: Indigenous peoples forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands, update December 2009

1 December, 2009

Indigenous peoples in Argentina continue to suffer violent state-assisted forced resettlement. They are calling on authorities to halt all evictions immediately and take steps to fully uphold indigenous rights and the rule of law.

At the beginning of November 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'. This law prohibited, for a period of four years, the eviction or removal of indigenous people from their ancestral lands. Shortly after its adoption this law was converted into a dead letter as members of the Diaguita indigenous community of the Tucumán Province were subjected to violent forced evictions. Excessive police actions in February and March 2007, which included using tear gas, shooting rubber bullets and beating indigenous women, children, and men, resulted in the displacement of 22 families, the burning and destruction of 15 houses, and the damage and theft of other structures and personal belongings. Many indigenous people who peacefully resisted were left wounded. At the time, the Government promised a number of constructive actions, but they were not fully carried out and the displaced families remained without homes, without land, and without their personal belongings. Other indigenous families continued to live under the threat of eviction and with the constant fear of forced removals.

Over the past few months, the Government's failure to act turned the indigenous peoples' fears into reality again as the forced evictions resurfaced. On the morning of 17 September 2009, in the Indigenous community of Quilmes, approximately 40 more indigenous families were displaced and their homes destroyed as 120 armed police and mounted brigades in full riot gear with guns, grenades and tear gas, descended on their community. The police cut off the highway routes to prevent the indigenous peoples' legal counsel, family members and friends from helping them. Fortunately, many of the community members were at work and as a result there were no injuries. Five days later, in the Pueblo Nogalito Lule Indigenous community, armed police units (accompanied by the terratenientes - 'non-indigenous' - who sought the evictions) entered Diaguita indigenous lands with the intent of evicting the residents. One elder was beaten, racial insults were made and community fences, structures, gardens and other belongings were destroyed. Peaceful resistance made full execution of the eviction impossible.

Finally, on 12 October 2009, armed police entered the Diaguita community of Chuschagasta to enforce another eviction. This time, the police left behind several wounded and a community elder, Javier Chocobar, was shot dead. These actions are prohibited under international law and the Diaguita community and their supporters are calling upon the Government of Argentina to put an end to evictions, to respect their rights to their traditional lands and territories, and to demarcate, title and protect the same.