August is the month of the Pachamama, a celebration that forces us to reflect on the demands of the indigenous peoples of Jujuy and their valuable Third Malón for Peace, which – passing through various parts of the country to request their rights and the repeal of the new constitution of Jujuy – reached the city of Buenos Aires. The indigenous communities have always fought to preserve their collective territories, with nobility, without selfishness and seeking respect for the ecosystem, water and their culture.

By Miguel Julio Rodríguez Villafañe (*)

In the Puna region, it is worth remembering a historical fact that is not often referred to. 149 years ago, on 3 December 1874, the battle of Abra de la Cruz or Combate de Cochinoca took place. On that occasion, the indigenous people fought for the ownership of their ancestral lands and to be able to work them without the burdensome demands of illegitimate landowners, who charged them high rents to cultivate them, or forced them to work for them under threat of expulsion if they did not do so.

In response to these injustices, the Puna Indians of Yavi, Rinconada, Santa Catalina, and Cochinoca rose up. They had no firearms, typical of an army of that time, and only had boleadoras, slingshots made of llama wool, arrows, spears and other rustic weapons.

Faced with the aborigines’ stance of demanding their rights, Governor José María Álvarez Prado offered battle in defence of the landowners’ interests. The Indians triumphed in the battle in front of a battalion of 300 soldiers. Commander Álvarez Prado spilled out, but was not executed by his captors and was released.

Battle of Quera

After the defeat, a year later, Alvarez Prado, as second-in-command, with approximately 1100 well-equipped, professional soldiers, on January 4, 1875, confronted the Indians in the so-called Battle of Quera.

The battle was fought against Indians without adequate weapons for the engagement, in a fierce and unequal fight. They defeated the Indians, but the victors, without the nobility of the aborigines and in a different attitude to that of those in the battle of Abra de la Cruz, captured the indigenous chiefs Federico Zurita, Benjamín Gonza and Laureano Saravia Anastasio Inca, who were shot on the spot and their bodies put on display as a punishment.

Moral vengeance to memory

Now, paradoxically, the Ministry of Education of Gerardo Morales’ Jujuy government has enabled the operation of the so-called pre-military academies. There are two of them, one of them named General Álvarez Prado, which is in operation, with branches in Quiaca, Humahuaca, Tilcara, Perico, San Pedro, San Salvador and Palpalá.

The designation of the academy, in itself, constitutes a moral offence to the active memory of the indigenous people, since he was the commander who ruthlessly shot their chiefs in the battle of Quera.

The academies are paid and receive children called “aspirants” from seven to thirteen years of age and others, as “cadets”, from fourteen to twenty-three years of age, of both sexes. There, they are given military instruction and promised to facilitate their entry into the provincial police and national military institutes.

They are also made to perform military actions inappropriate for their age, without respecting the fundamental values of the rights of minors. The latter, in turn, are made to chant slogans against indigenous demands. In a true mental colonisation, they are being prepared to repudiate the actions of the indigenous peoples, eliminating in the consciousness of many of them, their origins and their culture, and training them to fight against their own people.

Unconstitutional reform

The due restitution of ancestral territories, even today, remains an unpaid debt to the original peoples. Their lands are occupied by multinational companies to extract minerals, especially lithium, or by the government of Gerardo Morales, without due respect for indigenous rights.

In addition to the aforementioned, in the affront it implies, there is the illegitimate dictation of a partial reform of the Jujuy Constitution, questioned in all its steps and methods of condemnation. It is worth noting that Governor Morales was the president of the Constituent Convention, violating article 131 of the current 1986 Jujuy constitution, which prohibited the governor from being a member of the Convention, on the grounds that the position was “incompatible with any other public function or employment” and article 100, which states: “the Constituent Convention members may not hold any national, provincial or municipal public function or employment while exercising their functions”. However, the governor, on several occasions, made decisions as such while he was a member of the convention, among other irregularities.

Furthermore, the new Jujuy constitution violates fundamental articles of the National Constitution.

Illegal repression

In the face of legitimate protests against the illegal new constitution, violent repressive action was carried out by a trained police force, with no respect for human rights or basic protocols for due process.

Indigenous and other social forces petitioning for their rights, such as teachers, were attacked with inappropriate use of non-lethal but dangerously activated weapons, such as rubber bullets fired in the face at close range. Several indigenous people were injured and lost their eyes as a result.

In addition, there were police, out of uniform, throwing stones at the demonstrators. There were many arbitrary arrests. There are even towns like Tilcara, where the electricity was cut off at night, so that the police, in many cases in unmarked vans, served summons or arrested people.

Likewise, some doctors became accomplices and denounced those who went to the hospital to be treated for injuries or blows, informing the police of the situation, as alleged criminals, presuming that the injuries were the result of picketing or confrontation with the police. Even delaying their care, when the matter was of urgent care.

Permissive judiciary

Meanwhile, there has been a permissive judiciary that has tolerated, in practice, serious violations of human rights, when arbitrary arrests, harassment, improper intelligence, illegal searches and arrests of those who provided legal advice to the protesters, as in the case of the lawyer Alberto Nallar, who is now serving a house arrest.

Federal responsibility

It is imperative that, as soon as possible, the National Executive Branch send lawyers to request participation in the multiple armed cases, in order to guarantee the rights of those involved. Article 28 of the American Convention on Human Rights states that “in the case of a federal state”, it is the national government that must enforce all the provisions of the Convention.

Let us hope that the indigenous people hear, Jallalla! (a Quechua-Aymara word, which combines the concepts of hope, celebration and happiness).

(*) Constitutional lawyer from Córdoba, former federal judge of Córdoba, specialist in information law and opinion journalist.