Argentina: Mapuche win one, lose one in land disputes

Indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche organizations and allied groups marched in Esquel, in the western Argentine province of Chubut, on March 10 to support Santa Rosa Leleque community members as they filed an appeal in a land dispute with Compañía Tierras Sur Argentino SA, a subsidiary of the Italian multinational Benetton. A decision by Judge Omar Magallanes favoring Benetton had been announced on March 1; Magallanes conceded the multinational 500 hectares where the community is located and ordered the Mapuche residents to leave within 10 days.

A judicial order first awarded the land to Benetton in 2002, but community members reoccupied it in 2008. They base their claim to the land on provisions of the Argentine Constitution and International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169. The community argues that it is “resisting and fighting in 534 hectares, while Benetton owns more than 1.5 million hectares” in Argentina’s Patagonian region. (Adital, Brazil, March 9; Organización Periodística Independiente Santa Cruz, Argentina, March 11)

At almost the same time, the Cutral-Có Civil Court 2 in the western province of Neuquén ruled in favor of a Mapuche group and against an oil company, basing its decision on the same provisions of the Argentine Constitution and ILO Convention 169 that the Santa Rosa Leleque community is citing in its appeal. The Neuquén ruling, made on Feb. 16 but not announced until early March, found that the Mapuche Wentru Trawel Leufu community had rights regarding the land it occupied and needed to be consulted in any exploitation of its resources. Analysts say the decision could be an important precedent for indigenous rights both in the province and in the country.

The Neuquén government granted the Piedra del Aguila oil company a concession of 3,800 hectares in the Picún Leufú region in January 2007. When the Wentru Trawel Leufu community resisted, the company contracted 40 people to drive the residents away, killing almost 100 animals and setting fire to two houses and one vehicle. The company also got a court order backing its claims to the land, but in 2008 the community filed the appeal that led the higher court to overturn the earlier ruling. (Página 12, Argentina, March 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13.

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