Cablegate: Indigenous Rights Supplement: Rights to Land And

Published: Thu 12 Aug 2004 05:32 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Argentina's Northwest province of Salta is undergoing a
gradual economic transformation with prices for agricultural
products, mining, oil up, and the tourism sector growing. Life,
however, for the region's rural poor and indigenous communities
remains difficult, characterized by high unemployment, low school
retention, poor social infrastructure and urban migration. Lack
of bilingual education and qualified teachers is a primary factor
in low school retention among the indigenous communities, and the
provincial government sale of traditionally indigenous lands has
also been identified as a serious problem affecting these
communities. The GOA has announced a national bilingual
education program and education officials and non-governmental
organizations remain committed to trying to address these issues.
Given the complexity of the problems and the limited resources
available, it may be too little too late.
2. Political Intern traveled to Salta Province on August 6-7 to
investigate indigenous education and property rights issues. She
met with the Dean of the Universidad Nacional de Salta (UNSA)
Stella Perez de Bianchi and professors of human rights and
anthropology as well as the Secretary of Education Programming
Professor Graciela Mohedas from the Education Ministry of Salta
to discuss indigenous rights and the new bilingual program.
3. The GOA's July announcement of its new, national bilingual
program coincided with the annual publishing of the International
Work Group of Indigenous Affairs report in Denmark, which
criticized the GOA for not respecting indigenous rights to
property. On June 23, Salta Governor Juan Romero sold 16,227
hectares of land in the Pizarro Reserve inhabited by 85 Wichis
and 35 Creoles (people of European or mixed descent) to soy
farmers. The Dean of UNSA, Stella Perez de Bianchi, explained to
the Argentine press that this land was part of the protected
Chaco Forest. The Chaco forest is known to be the only dry
forest found at such a high altitude. Due to deforestation,
desertification is occurring at a rapid rate.
4. Yet, the environmental implications are not the only concern,
since the lands are being taken away from indigenous communities
such as the Wichi who have held claim to them for centuries.
Salta is traditionally considered one of the most environmental-
friendly provinces in Argentina. The provincial government of
Salta has argued that the lands in question are of little
resource value since they are in a state of environmental
degradation. Secretary of Education Programming Prof. Graciela
Mohedas confirmed this view, stating her belief that the
indigenous communities have overworked the lands. Academics and
international organizations share a different perspective.
5. Academics and international organizations are the primary
defenders of indigenous rights to land in Argentina. For
centuries, indigenes have lived off the lands and collected
medicinal plants that are not found elsewhere. In 1994, the GOA
invited academics to investigate how to resolve the sales of
inhabited lands. UNSA provided a proposal, but the government
has not acted on it. This year, the National Institute of
Indigenous Issues (INAI) decided to reconsider the UNSA proposal.
In July, professors from UNSA and the University of Buenos Aires
sent a letter to the government of Salta saying that the sale of
the protected lands is not only an environmental issue, but also
affects the lives of the inhabitants forced to leave their homes.
Academics are working with organizations such as Greenpeace and
Conicet, the National Council of Scientific and Technical
Investigations, to evaluate the consequences of the sales for
indigenous as well as Creole communities. (Conicet has also
expressed interest in contributing with the universities in
strengthening the bilingual program).
6. Both Creoles and indigenous groups inhabit lands sold by the
Salta government. Creoles have tried to initiate negotiations
with the government to little effect. From the indigenous
perspective, local leaders do not traditionally negotiate, but
rely on the support and intervention of international
organizations such as Greenpeace. The cultural perspective is
also rooted in collective rights; an entire indigenous community
often claims the right to land. The Creoles, in contrast,
maintain their individual claims to land. Therefore the sale of
land among the Creoles and the indigenous communities are treated
separately. Furthermore, the UNSA professors believe that the
Wichi in Salta have virtually lost all claims to land. Social
conflict between the indigenes and the government persists. In
July, The Buenos Aires Herald suggested that the new bilingual
program was announced to perhaps alleviate some of this tension.
7. The GOA announced the national bilingual program to improve
the education of indigenous students at the primary level who
live in remote towns and villages and are isolated from daily
Spanish-contact. There are three kinds of public schools in
Argentina: 1) schools with Creole students only; 2) schools with
indigenous students only; 3) and schools with both Creole and
indigenous students (mainly found in cities). The goal of this
program is to institute bilingual instruction in at least 1,000
of the 2,500 indigenous schools and maintain the enrollment of
the Wichi, Mapuche, Toba, Mocovi, Kolla, Guarani, and Pilaga
students. The program is in effect for the first through third
grades because most children have learned Spanish on their own by
seventh grade. A bilingual program is already in effect in 107
schools in the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, and Salta, reaching
out to 20,000 indigenous students.
8. The current bilingual program is limited by a lack of trained
teachers. Instead, a translator with little or no formal
education is in the classroom while another teacher instructs in
Spanish. Scholarship and training programs will be provided for
bilingual instructors to receive higher education and training
and return to their native communities to teach.
9. Complicating the issue is the fact that the indigenous
languages are not written languages, making it difficult to teach
young children who have not had daily contact with Spanish how to
read and write (in both Spanish and their local languages).
Universities are working with the indigenous communities to
transform the indigenous languages into written languages. This,
however, is a long-term process, while each year there is more
indigenous migration to the cities resulting in an urbanization
and hispanization of the indigenous culture. Nevertheless, the
universities remain committed to the bilingual program.
10. The UNSA representatives said that one of the faults of the
bilingual program is that it will be implemented on a province-by-
province basis. Although following national guidelines, each
provincial Education Ministry will have different degrees of
enforcement and success. The indigenous communities, however,
are not neatly divided on a provincial basis. The Wichi, for
example, live throughout Northwest Argentina. University experts
are therefore concerned over the varying quality of education
given by different provincial systems. Therefore, universities
are going to coordinate with the provincial ministries in
attempts to maintain a national standard of education.
11. Prof. Mohedas from the Salta Education Ministry assured the
Pol Intern that the provincial ministries would maintain national
standards. She said that she believes the education program has
improved in Salta since the 2000 Social Plan. Before 2000, many
schools were llanchos, adobe structures of the lower class found
in Salta that had no running water or electricity. According to
Mohedas, now the schools are made of good construction and
include bathrooms and eating facilities. She also emphasized the
1995 law that made school mandatory up to ninth instead of
seventh grade.
12. Prof. Mohedas was adamant that the provincial schools have
improved. On August 7, the Pol Intern visited a school in the
remote village of Alemania, Salta about 80 kilometers outside of
Salta. Once a railroad track stop, Alemania now has several
buildings where about ten families live. There is no electricity
and no running water. There is a school where thirty children of
mixed Spanish-indigenous descent are sent to live there with the
teacher for four days a week. The living conditions are very
grim and much still needs to be done.
13. In Salta, poverty is a key factor in both the selling of
lands and the education program. In Oran, Salta, 80% of the
population is unemployed. More and more indigenes choose to
migrate to the cities in search of work and to escape the poverty
of their remote rural villages. Half of the indigenous
population of Salta lives in urban areas. Up to ten percent of
the national indigenous population is found in Buenos Aires.
14. In Salta, indigenous communities and other rural poor are
being displaced through the sale of their land without
negotiations between these communities and the provincial
government. People are forced out of their ancestral lands into
other lots or the cities. The indigenous communities are at a
particular disadvantage because their leaders, culturally, are
reluctant to negotiate directly with the government. Social
inclusion of an isolated group of people involves communication
from both sides. Yet, when the Creoles, usually more vocal in
protecting their rights, have tried to negotiate, the provincial
government tends to ignore their attempts.
15. Nevertheless, the GOA is making an effort to socially include
the indigenous community through the bilingual program. The
language issue is an interesting debate because with the
urbanization of the indigenous community, the number of speakers
of indigenous languages is decreasing, leading some to question
the amount of long-term effort that should be put into
transforming the languages into written form. It is a
controversial issue concerning the maintenance of culture and
heritage versus modernization and development.
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