The territorial conflicts with demands from indigenous communities in Patagonia Argentina have their counterpart in the possession of the land in the area of the mountain range and the foothills, where large properties are spread in the hands of foreigners. But there are also lawsuits that bind the Argentine State itself, from the formation of the National Parks, almost 90 years ago.
On November 18, President Alberto Fernández, through a Decree of Necessity and Urgency, extended for four years the Indigenous Territorial Emergency Law No. 26,160 -originally sanctioned in 2006-, which orders a survey of the settled communities and stops the evictions of those with pending legal cases. This measure is especially relevant in the Patagonian provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz.
The Bariloche Consensus Forum, made up of neighborhood references, business chambers and the Rural Society of that city in the province of Río Negro, expressed its rejection of the measure. “Far from solving the existing conflicts, the only thing that produced this constant delay in time is that they intensified, generating a legal uncertainty that generated increasingly violent events in our Patagonian region,” they said.
One of the most resounding cases of litigation with Mapuches is in the province of Chubut, where the Italian textile businessman Luciano Benetton owns 900,000 hectares, which are mainly dedicated to sheep farming and forestry production, through the Tierras del Sud Company. Argentinian. The same firm also owns land in the Río Negro and Santa Cruz provinces.
In the lands that Benetton has in Chubut, located in the Cushamen department, in 2015 the Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala – who is currently serving a sentence in Chile for the burning of a ranch and illegal possession of firearms – initiated the so-called “territorial recovery ”In the Vuelta del Río area. His ancestors lived there, he argued.
The department of Cushamen exceeds the foreignization quota
The conflict became visible at the national level when Santiago Maldonado disappeared in August 2017, while the National Gendarmería evicted a Mapuche protest on National Route 40. The 28-year-old, who had come to accompany the Mapuche claim, after a raid carried out by The Chubut Police in which they detained members of the community, was found dead 78 days later in the Chubut River, within the disputed territory and even today the responsibility of the federal security forces in this outcome is in doubt.
Agustín Dranovsky, CEO of Tierras del Sud Argentino, told Radio Rivadavia of Buenos Aires months ago that “more than 60 complaints” have been made for violent acts on his properties and attributed it to the Mapuche Ancestral Resistance (RAM) group, with which Jones Huala identifies himself. “Unfortunately this began in 2015, as justice has not stopped them, they continued,” said Dranovsky and pointed out that the parent company of the company based in Italy “is concerned that justice does not act, does not resolve and that we have three occupations in the field, for years, and that nothing can be done ”.
The Rural Land Registry indicates the department of Cushamen as one of those that exceeds the foreignization quota, with 22.9% of its extension in the hands of non-Argentine citizens, but in the case of Benetton, the properties were acquired in 1991 to an English consortium, many years before the entry into force of this cap, which has been in force for a decade.
According to Argentine regulations, through Law 26,737 sanctioned in 2011, a Regime for the Protection of the National Domain over the Property, Possession or Tenure of Rural Lands is stipulated, which sets a limit of 1,000 hectares in possession of a foreign owner and a “foreignization quota” of 15% of the territory at the national, provincial or departmental level. The law does not affect the rights acquired so far by foreign owners, but it regulates in the future.
“The other party decided not to appear, showing no intention of dialogue”
Another of the hot spots of the current Mapuche conflict is located in Villa Mascardi, 40 kilometers from Bariloche, the main tourist city in the region, rich in landscapes, water resources, mountain ranges and native forests, 1,600 kilometers from Buenos Aires.
There, in 2017, the Lafken Winkul Mapu Mapuche community settled in two lots that make up the broad jurisdiction of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, a protected natural reserve of 710,000 hectares between the provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro that was created in 1934. The installation of This Mapuche community continues to this day with a legal dispute that is about to reach trial for the crime of usurpation.
“Last June we decided not to raise the case to oral proceedings, without first having a conciliation hearing. However, the other party decided not to appear, showing no intention of dialogue. Something to which we have bet since the beginning of the conflict ”, affirmed the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Nation, Juan Cabandié, when ratifying weeks ago that National Parks remains as plaintiff in the judicial case that is processed in the Federal Court of Bariloche.
Justice never took him out @ParquesOficial the quality of the plaintiff. In June, we decided not to take the case to oral proceedings, without first having a conciliation hearing. By not showing up, or showing a willingness to dialogue, the court case continues to advance.
– Juan Cabandié (@juancabandie) October 24, 2021
The Mapuche communities point out in their historical review a “dispossession” perpetrated by the Argentine State when creating the National Parks on lands where indigenous people lived. In the last decades, many families returned to those territories that they consider ancestral and established different links with National Parks. The case of greatest conflict is that of the Lafken Winkul Mapu community, which undertakes a radicalized vision of the Mapuche cause, but there are also those who work in a shared management (co-management) with the Nahuel Huapi National Park, as in the case of the Wiritray Mapuche community, made up of about 20 families, living at one end of Lake Mascardi and managing a camping site for tourism.
In the case of the Lafken Winkul Mapu community, there are a multiplicity of causes in the provincial courts for the advance of the occupation or violent acts registered on private lands, among them Juan Grehan, owner of the La Escondida ranch, bordering the lots of National Parks. “I have not been able to enter my property for four years, which they occupied when they extended the usurpation of park lots, placing flags on my gate and fencing. Now I found out that they live in what was left of my house that was burned in 2015, ”Grehan explained to France 24.
There are other privates in similar situations. Like the Bishopric of San Isidro, belonging to the Argentine Catholic Church, which owns a neighboring property to Grehan, which was occupied. Or the former Argentine basketball player Emanuel Ginobili, who in 2004 bought 12 hectares in the town of Villa La Angostura, in the province of Neuquén, where he intended to carry out a tourist development; but those lands were claimed as their own by the Paicil Antriao community, which the athlete denounced for the crime of usurpation. Today the court case is on hold with an ongoing mediation instance.
In parallel to the Mapuche conflicts, the weight of foreign landowners in Patagonia has generated other disputes. According to a report from the National Registry of Rural Lands, the Department of Bariloche exceeds the foreignization limit, since 21.53% of the lands belong to foreigners. At the provincial level, Río Negro is in a national average ranking with 304,784 hectares in the hands of foreign people or companies.
The final report of the Investigative Commission for the Survey of Rural Land Transfers in the Province of Río Negro (Law 4744), which was later translated into the book “La tierra de los otros”, published by the publishing house of the National University of Río Negro, highlights that the rural area in the hands of foreigners in the Bariloche Department (which includes the homonymous city, rural areas and the town of El Bolsón) is 36,609 hectares. The largest amount belongs to the Estancia Río Foyel SA, owned by Belgians, with 21,480 hectares; and Hidden Lake, British owned, with 11,284 hectares.
All these disputes over Patagonian lands continue to confront each other between foreign landowners, local private owners, the Argentine State and the Mapuche communities in a multipolar conflict that has not yet been resolved in a way that leaves all parties agreeable.