Félix Díaz, president of the Consultative and Participatory Council of Indigenous Peoples of Argentina (CCPPIRA) and leader of the Qom indigenous people, has been camping outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina for two years. He wants the indigenous people's right to land and dialogue with the state to be respected, but according to Félix Díaz, the politicians do not respond to attempts to talk. Photo: Vilma Ellemark.

FUF-correspondents, Interview

Indigenous peoples camp outside the presidential palace in Argentina - demand dialogue on land

The indigenous Qom people have camped outside the Argentine presidential palace in the capital Buenos Aires for over two years. This is in protest against the fact that politicians do not initiate dialogue with the group about their land rights.
- The politicians have not responded to a single one of our formal letters or requests for dialogue, says protest leader Félix Díaz.

Félix Díaz sits in a large protest tent in front of Argentina's presidential palace in Buenos Aires. He is a protest leader, chairman of The Consultative and Participatory Council of Indigenous Peoples of Argentina (CCPPIRA) and leader of the indigenous Qom people in the Argentine province of Formosa. When Uttvecklingsmagasinet meets him, he is sitting flipping through a booklet in which he has, among other things, compiled the national and international laws that Argentina has committed to follow with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples.

- Here is a paragraph that I would like to share with you and that I think is central to the issue, he says, pointing to the Argentine law 23 302.

- The law guarantees indigenous peoples' rights to land, education, health and participation, Félix Díaz reads aloud.

- The state is therefore obliged to solve these problems!

Qom's protest tent is set up right outside Argentina's pink presidential palace Casa Rosada in the capital Buenos Aires. On the tent cloths and on the placards around, the group has written down various laws on the rights of indigenous peoples that they believe Argentina is not enforcing. Photo: Vilma Ellemark.

Since the 8th February 2021 Félix Díaz, along with about ten other rotating Qom representatives, has camped outside the presidential palace in an attempt to open a dialogue with politicians about the situation of indigenous peoples in Argentina. At the center is the indigenous people's lack of land ownership, which, among other things, leads to poverty and threats to traditional ways of life.

- The land is our life. In nature there is our food, our medicine and our spirituality. When we do not own the land to which we are entitled, we become like occupiers of it, says Felix Diaz.

He explains that many are forced to move to the cities to get jobs, which means that the children do not learn the indigenous languages.

- In this way, the culture slowly dies out, says Félix Díaz.

The land in the province of Formosa, where Félix Díaz comes from, has long been the subject of conflict. Félix Díaz claims that there is oil, mining and gas in which the Argentine state has financial interests. He also believes that the state, through legal loopholes and withholding of information, has deprived the Qom people of land that was once recognized as theirs. In addition to access to natural resources, the provincial government of Formosa also decided to build a university 2006 on land that Félix Díaz claims belonged to Qom. This led to Qom members imposing road blockades as the provincial government of Formosa, according to Félix Díaz, did not want to negotiate on the issue.

About ten people take turns to be in the protest tent around the clock. From their place in front of the presidential palace, the Qom representatives see the politicians with whom they want to start a dialogue about the rights of indigenous peoples. Photo: Vilma Ellemark.

The decision to set up a tent outside the Argentine presidential palace in February 2021 was made after more conventional avenues of contact for dialogue between the state and indigenous peoples had failed. Félix Díaz means more specifically that Decree 672, who started CCPPIRA and which would promote the rights of the indigenous peoples, has not resulted in the dialogue between the state and the indigenous peoples as it was intended. Although the tent has been pitched for over two years in a place where the Qom representatives can see the politicians they want to talk to every day, no talks have yet started.

- The politicians have not responded to a single one of our formal letters or requests for dialogue, says Félix Díaz.

He says the Qom representatives were initially contacted by the Chief of Cabinet who referred them to the Parliamentary Secretariat – who in turn referred them to the Human Rights Secretariat. So it went around until they were back at the cabinet again.

- During these two years, no institution has approached and asked what is happening or what we want, says Félix Díaz.

One of the main aims of the protest is to start an intercultural dialogue between the indigenous peoples and the state regarding the indigenous peoples' right to, among other things, land. The group believes that many laws that are supposed to protect the rights of indigenous peoples are not implemented in practice. Photo: Vilma Ellemark.

Félix Diáz believes that the lack of dialogue is partly due to politicians believing that the protest has links to the opposition, because Decree 672 was developed by Argentina's former president Mauricio Macri.

 - But we are not here for party political or ideological interests. We are here because we are worried about our situation, says Félix Díaz.

He also believes that the lack of dialogue is due to the fact that the indigenous people's struggle has no economic benefits.

- Our goal is not financial, it is completely secondary. The state only sees the economic value and not our spiritual value, says Félix Díaz.

But Feliz Diaz's theories can neither be confirmed nor denied. The state has not expressed why it does not want dialogue with the group outside the presidential palace. On the other hand, conflicts between different interests are a recurring theme in disputes between indigenous peoples and states globally. For example, since 2013 there has been a conflict between the Sami and the Swedish state around Gállok mine, which is called Kallakgruvan in Swedish. In that case, the state has given permission for companies to mine iron ore on land that has historically belonged to the Sami.

Human rights organization International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) believes that a common denominator for several land conflicts is that the rights of indigenous peoples are not implemented when issuing business permits - something that Félix Díaz agrees with.

- Argentina is a country that is at the forefront when it comes to education and laws to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. But they are not implemented in practice, he says.

When asked how long the Qom representatives plan to continue camping outside the presidential palace, Félix Díaz laughs.

- I wish I had the answer to that, but I don't. We want the government to listen and fulfill its obligation to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, he says.

Agenda 2030 and the situation of indigenous peoples in Latin America  
  • approx 2,5 out of 100 Argentine citizens identifies with some indigenous people. The Qom, or Toba as they have previously been called, are the second largest indigenous people in Argentina.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean there is a total 826 different indigenous peoples forming 8 percent of the continent's population, compared to the global figure of 6,2 percent. Common to indigenous peoples is that they have lived in places that have since become colonized and as a consequence of this they have often become deprived of their land. Indigenous people often practice others languages, cultures and political systems than the countries they live in and are exposed to different types of discrimination. For example, the indigenous peoples make up 17 percent of those living in extreme poverty in Latin America, despite the fact that they only constitute 8 percent by the population.
  • Actors from indigenous peoples played an important role in the development of the global goals for Agenda 2030, according to the UN. Urthe nations are mentioned several times in the global goals. For example, the overall focus on reducing inequalities is important for indigenous peoples – who are almost always disadvantaged in the societies they live in. Goal two on ending hunger also has a specific sub-goal, sub-goal 2.3, where it says that Indigenous peoples' agricultural incomes must be strengthened by securing equal access to land.  

Sources: FAO, UN, World Bank, Globalamalen.se

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