[News] Argentina’s Bicentennial: Indigenous Tell Another History

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 27 14:21:49 EDT 2010

Argentina’s Bicentennial: Indigenous Tell Another History
Written by Marie Trigona

Thursday, 27 May 2010 07:37

Argentina is celebrating the bicentennial of a 
revolution that paved the road to independence 
from Spain with the nation’s capital transformed 
into a gala event. But not everyone is 
celebrating. The nation’s indigenous people are 
calling attention to a legacy of invasion and 
displacement that continues to this day.

Nothing to celebrate

As bicentennial events commenced, indigenous 
groups led a caravan to the nation’s capital to 
demand recognition of their sovereign culture and 
plurality, in one of the largest indigenous 
demonstrations in Argentina’s history. During the 
march thousands commemorated the nation’s non-colonial history.

Santiago de la Casa, a Pilagá community member 
traveled from the province of Formosa to push for 
a law to recognize indigenous cultures, languages 
and territory. “We can’t be happy and celebrate 
the nation’s past 200 years as indigenous people. 
The indigenous people already existed here. The 
other, the Europeans who came here 200 years ago 
can celebrate. They can be happy because they 
have benefited from the waters, rivers, air, 
earth apt to produce. We are sad because we don’t 
have a specific law for the aboriginal people.”

The Pilagá  community has faced environmental 
devastation and water pollution due to the 
construction of public water works project which 
has flooded indigenous ancestral lands. Amnesty 
International published a report on the 
“systematic violation of human rights.” The 
Pilagá community numbering around 6,000 inhabits 
the bordering lands of the La Estrella wetlands. 
The indigenous have faced constant repression 
from security forces and threats, in addition to 
the degradation of living standards due to the 
pollution of the wetlands. The Pilagá  face food 
shortages and risk losing their traditional ways 
of life, such as hunting and fishing which they have depended on for centuries.


More than 30 indigenous nations have survived the 
mass immigration of Europeans to Argentina. 
However, the nation’s early leaders led campaigns 
such as the “conquest of the desert,” to wipe out 
indigenous communities in the Patagonia south to 
make room for white inhabitants. General Julio 
Argentino Roca led this campaign in which “30 
million hectares were stolen from the indigenous 
and distributed among the nation’s most wealthy 
under what is called the campaign of the desert,” 
said Anarchist Historian Osvaldo Bayer.

Lestuaro Newen is from the Mapuche confederation 
in Neuquen, one of the communities attacked in 
the campaign to dominate Patagonia in the 1870’s. 
“An essential component of the change that needs 
to take place in Argentina and in Latin America 
is that history tends to be manipulated and tries 
to legitimize the genocide that took place. And 
that history recognizes that there were 
pre-existing communities and that the 
colonialists tried to exterminate indigenous 
people which constitutes genocide. Our 
communities have a lot to contribute to history, 
not only the past but the future and we have hope history will change.”

The lands stolen during the Campaign of the 
Desert were handed over to the nation’s 
oligarchy. One such beneficiary to the genocide 
of the Patagonian indigenous includes the Great 
Grandfather of Jose Martinez de Hoz, the former 
economy minister during the dictatorship and 
architect of the neoliberal economic model for 
which the military junta needed to carry out 
another genocide campaign to implement and 
disappear 30,000 activists during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

200 years after the supposed end to colonial 
rule, indigenous territory continues to be 
invaded by foreign economic interests. One of the 
largest landholders in the Patagonia, includes 
the Italian company Benetton which owns 2.2 
million acres of land. Benetton has lead a 
campaign to evict families from the land which 
their families lived centuries ago. “Our demands 
include that they recognize our people, territory 
and our rights to natural resources,” says Newen. 
He adds, ““The provincial governments carries out 
policies that allow natural resources to be 
bought and sold, for lands that Mapuches have 
occupied for decades to be sold with the 
communities on the lands, and that our people 
along with the people from the province are being 
polluted from the extraction of natural resources such as petrol and mining.”

Mourning Pachamama

Indigenous communities have faced not only 
displacement but poverty and health problems due 
to the environmental devastation of their land by 
industrial agriculture, mining and dam projects. 
One indigenous representative from the Amayra 
–Quecha Andean region, Guayma Huamca, said that 
the Pachamama, or Mother Earth desperately needs equilibrium and harmony.
“Our leaders have been dismembered and tortured 
during the nation’s history. To squash our 
consciousness and rights our communities have 
been terrorized so that we never raise our voices 
again. Years go by and centuries have passed, and 
the Pachamama is boiling with grief, and is crying for help.”

Festivities for the May 25 independence 
revolution concluded, and millions have visited 
the art exhibits, food stalls, and didactic 
historic displays line the Buenos Aires major 
avenues. President Cristina Kirchner met a 
delegation of indigenous representatives. Only 
one law has been passed in 2006 to protect 
indigenous lands, and only a handful of provinces 
recognize the pre-existence of indigenous 
cultures, languages and sovereignty over territory.

However, for the 8,000 indigenous who marched to 
the city, the May 25 bicentennial struck a deep 
chord for communities that face discrimination in 
the present and forget of the past. Throughout 
the city, the cries of “the stolen land will be 
recuperated,” the mourning of the Pachamama and 
the tears of genocide of indigenous peoples 
echoed as the nation celebrated its bicentennial.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and 
translator based in Argentina. She can be reached 
through her blog 

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