Argentina: “national hero” recast as mass murderer of indigenous people

Writers, academics and indigenous groups in Argentina are lobbying for Julio Argentino Roca, an army general who served as president from 1880-86 and 1898-1904, to be recognized as a political criminal who exterminated indigenous peoples and doled out their lands to cronies. In recent weeks, two cities—Santa Cruz and Tucumán—have renamed Julio Argentino Roca avenues after Néstor Kirchner, the former president who died in October. Other initiativess call for removing Roca from the 100-peso note and replacing his statue in Buenos Aires with a bronze figure of an indigenous woman. A leading writer and historian, Osvaldo Bayer, said he felt ashamed every time he passed Roca’s statue.

Roca, born in 1843 to a prominent family in northern Argentina, rose up the army ranks and was tasked with putting down indigenous resistance in Patagonia, a vast area of pampas the government sought to settle with immigrant European farmers lest Chile act on its claim to the region. In his 1878-9 “Conquest of the Desert,” Roca’s cavalry force crushed Mapuche and other indigenous groups, wiping out communities and capturing thousands who became slaves. Patagonia subsequently became Argentina’s breadbasket.

Some academics continue to defend Roca. Juan José Cresto, a director of the national history museum, said the Mapuche were violent parasites who attacked farms and abducted women. The historian was attacked as a racist and lost his post. (The Guardian, Jan. 13)

See our last posts on Argentina and the Mapuche struggle.

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