Talks are underway between the government in Argentina’s Neuquén province and local indigenous Mapuche communities after a protest occupation of a natural gas plant owned by the Houston-based Apache Corporation. The plant was occupied Nov. 23 by members of the Mapuche community of Gelay Ko, who maintained a blockade of the entrances and prevented workers from entering. The protesters, including women and children, agreed to lift their blockade Nov. 26 after the government agreed to hear their demands. The company reported that output at the plant was reduced by 30%. The processing plant at Anticlinal, outside the city of Zapala in the foothills of the Andes, has since been surrounded by police to prevent further disturbances.
In talks underway at the Neuquén office of the Fiscalía, Argentina’s justice department, Mapuche leaders are demanding that Apache quit the territory, that tests are carried out to determine if local water sources have been polluted, and that the government carry out a remediation program for any environmental damage. They say they will resume their occupation if their demands are not met. The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén said in a communique that they will “not permit even one well nor one pipeline more within our communal territory, asserting that as indigenous peoples we have the right under law to control and administer our natural resources.”
Apache began operating in Argentina in 2001 and supplies both residential and industrial customers in the region, but has been forced to halt drilling following local protests. The company has urged the courts to intervene and resolve the conflict, a spokesperson told EFE news agency. Apache also holds concessions to oil and gas blocks in the neighboring provinces of Rio Negro and Mendoza, as well as on the island of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina’s far south. (See map.) (La Mañana Neuquén, Nov. 30; Neuquén al Instante, Nov. 29; La Nación, InfoBAE, EFE, Nov. 24; La Mañana Neuquen, Movimiento Popular Fueguino, Nov. 23)
The Mapuche have been pressing a movement for land recovery in the region in recent years. On Nov. 30, Argentina’s congress passed a law that will return 400 hectares of land to the Mapuche community of Curruhuinca, Neuquén province. The law will result in the transfer of lands from the Lanín National Park to the Mapuche people for homes, a hospital and a school. The community of Curruhuinca filed their land claim with the government seven years ago. (UNPO, Dec. 2)