by Indy Staff, 13 November 2014.
The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INAI) has formally recognised the Santa Rosa Leleque Mapuche community’s ownership of 535 hectares in Chubut, Patagonia.
The terrain is part of 900,000 hectares that were sold to the Benetton corporation in 1991, in a deal that the Mapuche have always called illegal. The community was evicted from the land in 2002, but returned to occupy it in 2007.
The decision to hand the titles back to the community brings to a close one of Argentina’s most infamous territorial disputes of recent times. It is also a watershed for the rights of indigenous communities, setting a precedent that activists hope will be followed in similar disputes around the country.
Veronica Huilipan of the Indigenous People’s Human Rights Watchdog (ODHPI) said: “After a long struggle, led by the community and involving different tactics to highlight the case, such as a trip to Italy and the involvement of Argentina’s Nobel Peace laureate, we have finally seen this decision in favour of the community.”
The decision is the latest a in series of rulings in favour of indigenous communities in Patagonia. At the end of October, the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, which resides in an area of Neuquén known as Vaca Muerta, was also given official legal status. Vaca Muerta is home to one of Argentina’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, which are accessed through the controversial technique of fracking.
It is hoped that the community’s new status will give them more power to demand their constitutional rights of consultation over the use of natural resources that exist in their terrain be recognised. This right is particularly important in light of Argentina’s new Hydrocarbons Law, which is designed to attract more private investment into the country’s growing energy sector. The law was passed by the Senate on 30th October.
Huilipan said that the Campo Maripe community are going to challenge the law, as if it passes it will have done so without the communities being given their constitutional right to consultation.
She is hopeful that they can succeed: “The Mapuche communities have shown us that when they take a political stance, they are highly skilled at organising and mobilising, and have made huge gains and won important struggles in the past … So when the Mapuche confederation organises in such a way, we have high expectations, yes. The community is extremely open to entering into dialogue when they feel they have not been consulted on issues that affect them directly.”
Source: The Argentina Independent