On the 11th of August of 1994, section 17 (1) of the new article 75 which recognised the pre-existing indigenous villages, their culture, and the right of occupancy and property of their ancestral lands among others, was unanimously approved by the Convention in charge of modifying the Argentine constitution. The text of the new law considerably exceeds that of the previous regulation, being this a major reason for hope in the case of local communities. Nevertheless, after two decades, the legislation has not regulated it yet and its declaration seems even rhetorical.
In the following interview, Israel Alegre, coordinator of the Nanqom de Formosa community, presents his views on that situation.
-How would you summarise the status of indigenous rights in the country?
-The overall situation is almost the same for all indigenous communities since neither what is established in the National Constitution nor what is said in the new Civil and Commercial Code ever came into effect. It has already been 26 years since the Constitution was modified but the government never established those rights because it does not want to hold responsibility for the natives’ issue. There is no justice for indigenous people, that is the reality.
Even though it is the duty and attribution of the National Congress, the regulation was never adopted. Yet, there is no political will on the side of national senators or members of the parliament, nor regarding the executive power or the law to actually do it since concerning lands and territories, the economic interest of wealthy people is the one at hand. When it comes to the interest of important logging, oil, mining, cattle, and soy companies, the fight for the land is criminalized. Then, the ones who claim the rights on the national constitution and international treaties are attacked.
-Being aware of its pre-existence, what do you think should be modified regarding the relationship between the Government and the indigenous communities?
-The indigenous pre-existence is acknowledged by the article 75 and that should automatically guarantee the recognition of natives as public legal entities such as the State itself, provinces, municipalities, and the Catholic church. What is more, the pre-existence leads to a law of historical reparation.
Many people get frightened when we say this, but the damage caused, that is to say the genocide, needs to be repaired: 318 years would correspond to Spain and 211 to Argentina since they are also responsible for it. Indigenous communities were never independent and history itself proves it. There has to be a historical reparation in order for us to be able to talk about self-governance and autonomy, if not we are still dependant on the State, and if we depend on it, I am not independent, I depend on it, I live off the Government and you have to do what it commands you to do.
By recognising our pre-existence, our institutions get acknowledged too. The assembly is the highest body that we have had since immemorial times, not despotism. Tyranny was an invention that originated when the military forces captured a group of indigenous people and dressed them up in military uniforms in order to impose a task. Hence, although it is said that our culture is presented, we feel obligated to use a system which is completely external.
When we demand the State to keep their promises, they ignore us, yet they force us to choose them and vote for them because even though the vote is secret it is compulsory. To this day, they have been manipulating us throughout the time that we have been living in this democracy. If you do not vote you are fined, if you claim your rights, you get a legal case, and you are criminalised for it. Thus, indigenous communities are still the trophy of the national congress.
-The national government frequently neglects the communities’ conflicts in the provinces, is this right?
-The national government excuses itself saying that it cannot do anything because it is a federal state. This is an absolute lie. The national government and the provincial states are in charge of the obligation and the enforcement of indigenous rights laws. The new local laws have to adapt to the new rights and if they do not, then they are unconstitutional.
We have to insist on the abolition of aboriginal laws, either national or provincial, which are still being implemented even when they do not apply to the national constitution. International treaties are also breached such as the section 169 of the ILO-Convention, the article 18 of the new Civil and Commercial Code which ratifies the article 75, section 17 of the Constitution. Nevertheless, they are still applicable laws.
-Being this such a difficult situation to solve, what makes you keep going?
-The truth is totally outrageous. It is not easy to claim the rights of indigenous communities to which I belong; It is not easy to go against the power, and not just regarding the economic power but also considering the fact that they control everything, even justice itself, right? If I claim my rights I get a legal case, and I get criminalised for it.
It is not easy, but this is the story that I am creating, that is what is going to be written in my tombstone when my life comes to an end and the footprint that I am leaving on my journey through this planet, right? I have to keep going, focus on the goal that I have set my mind onto and move towards it so that the new generation is able to contemplate a new horizon.
Translated by Claudia Bordalo
(1) “It corresponds to the Congress to recognise the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of Argentine indigenous communities. It is also in their hands to guarantee the respect of their identity and the right of a bilingual and intercultural education; to acknowledge the legal status of their communities, and the authority and property of the lands that they traditionally occupy; to regulate the granting of other lands adequate and sufficient for human development; none of them will be entitled, conveyed, or attached. To guarantee their participation in the management of their natural resources and other interests affecting them. The provinces may jointly exercise these powers.”