September 1, 2014
Days after provincial government transfers four percent of its landMonday, June 16, 2014
Salta indigenous groups: land decree is only half the battle
Yet the communities that would benefit from the decree say their long-held demands are far from being resolved.
The decree allocated 400,000 hectares to the indigenous communities, and 243,000 hectares “criollo families,” as the descendents of Spanish colonial settlers call themselves. The land destined to the criollo communities would be divided equally among the 400 or so inhabitants living in the area, while the lots for indigenous groups would be turned into communal land.
While this decree officially transfers land to these groups, putting an end to a 20-year legal dispute over their ownership, before property deeds are issued land must be demarked and legalized by the Executive Provincial Union (UEP), a divison of the provincial Human Rights secretariat — this could take years.
“A decree is a decree, it’s an important step, but we still need to officially be given the deeds,” Lhaka Honrat (our land) indigenous communities’ coordinator Francisco Pérez told the Herald. He claimed the government had signed the decree in part to meet a deadline set by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
The decree comes 16 years after the Lhaka Honrat, which represents 50 indigenous communities, first took their land demands to the Inter-American Commission of Human rights (IACHR), supported by the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).
CELS lawyer Gabriela Kletzer says UEP now holds the key for the transfer to become effective.
The Salta government insists that despite the delays, progress will be made soon.
“They’ve had an enormous amount of patience, but if you see the progress we’ve made in the last few months, we can get there,” Salta Human Rights Secretary Martín García Cainzo told the Herald. He explained they face numerous challenges, including inhospitable conditions during the area’s rainy season and insufficient resources.
“We’re working hard with the INAI (National Institute of Indigenous Affairs), indigenous associations, human rights groups and government secretaries to try to get more local and international funds,” said Cainzo.
Other indigenous groups are watching the process closely.
“It’s incredible that they are going through this process,” Mapuche member Rubén Curricoy, who is based in Bariloche, Río Negro, noting this marked the “most significant land-restitution effort to date.”