‘Crimes against indigenous must be recognized’
Filmmaker Mariano Aiello won five-year court battle against the Martínez de Hoz familyMariano Aiello, an Argentine filmaker and lawyer specializing in human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, has come to the end of a long, drawn-out legal battle and has found himself vindicated.
Earlier this year, Aiello and his fellow filmmaker Kristina Hillie won a five-year court battle against brothers José and Alejandro Martínez de Hoz — the grandsons of José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, former Economy minister under dictator Jorge Rafael Videla — who brought a lawsuit against the release of their film, Awka Liwen (“Rebellion At Dawn”), on the grounds that it slandered the family name.
The 2010 film documents the oppression of the country’s indigenous population and explores the issue of land ownership in Argentina.
Aiello, who currently lives in Berlin, spoke to the Herald recently about the lengthy court battle and his views on the current administration’s relationship with the indigenous community. His next film, Martínez de Hoz, addresses Argentina’s economic development and the role of the elite.
How did it feel to win such a long case against the Martínez de Hoz family?
When I first became involved with their demands I was in Miami, preparing to make a film. There we were planning to assemble our team, buy the vehicles (we needed) and travel to Guatemala overland, down the bay of Mexico, and trace out the route of the migrants, which we wanted to be part of the film... But I was in the hotel, and I got an email from the historian Felipe Pigna who we had interviewed in the film. He said, “Look, Mariano, I have bad news.” And well, the Martínez de Hoz family are heavily connected to the dictatorship, so it was serious.
The power of the landowning class in Argentina was addressed in your previous film, questioning the historical but also of present importance of the issue. Can you see this being addressed in the near future?
Certainly not at present. With the previous Kirchnerite governments, which I would define as being a similar model to a robust European social democracy, it was possible to hold debates to see how the body politic might be moved more to the left. But now it’s a completely different situation.
With administrations in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela we have seen an effort being made to increase national consciousness about those countries’ indigenous populations and original inhabitants. Why do you think this has often not been the case here?
I think that it has happened here, too. I previously spoke with former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at the Pink House, and in my capacity as a specialized lawyer, I helped present a paper to the government on this topic, saying we must recognize (their rights) as it was important for the state to acknowledge the previous crimes against humanity committed and ask for forgiveness for what happened, as happened in Australia and Canada... with the current government there’s not a chance of a debate over these issues.
So do you think Mauricio Macri’s moves in this direction, like the invitation of indigenous groups to the opening of Congress and to the Pink House, are just symbolic?
Not completely. I think this is a situation where change is more apparent than real, a co-opting of popular indigenous movements to the forces of capital.
Despite the reforms, why do you think there has been persistent conflict between the state and the indigenous groups, for example the Qom in the north of the country, regardless of which government is in power?
It’s evident that a government and a state is a community of people with a collection of very large and very diverse interests — one might say to govern a state such as Argentina is to “govern” a large wild horse. Whichever government comes to power, to maintain civil order and happiness they must maintain power with (the help of) allies. With the previous government, for example, they had an ally in Governor (Gildo) Isfrán of Formosa, who — well, perhaps wasn’t the best governor — but he was who existed in this province at the time. In other places too, leaders such as (Qom leader) Felix Díaz are undertaking a struggle which is very personal in form, not necessarily completely representative of his people.
Why do you say that?
For example, when there were elections among the Qom people in Formosa and the Comunidad Primavera to choose a leader, they did not choose him. I know him personally too. We met but did not arrive at an agreement.
How was it working with a renowned historian such as Osvaldo Bayer?
It was really interesting, it was quite a lot of work, too, writing the script. We worked with a lot of experts, in libraries, researching first-hand documents, letters, it was a really serious investigation as a whole. It was really great working with Osvaldo — he knows so much and he helped us work with many other people too.
The Martínez de Hoz family, during their lawsuit against us, actually hired a writer to portray their own version of Argentine history with the demand that they present them as great guys, as patriots. (It was) great really, because they have their version of events and against that, we made this film. It’s a work of truth, because we produced the film as an historical and scientific project, validated by university experts.