esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 23:45:14 +0200

CNT - MARZO 1996
c/ Molinos, 64. 18009 Granada
Tel 958 - 22 01 19


Survival International

Despite governmental promises to recognise their land rights,
indigenous peoples' demands have been repeatedly ignored and the
government now has given the go-ahead for developmental plans
without any consultation.

There are some 50,000 Wichi who live in Bolivia and Argentina.
In the dispurted zone known as Lotes Fiscales 55 and 14 (some
600,000 hectares) live some 5,000 Wichi, linked to small
communities of indigenous peoples - Chorote, Toba and Chulupi.
Their small huts made of mud, branches and leaves adapt
themselves well to the high temperatures which reach 50 degrees
in the shade during the summer months. During the dry months in
the winter they rely on the fish in the Pilcomayo river. During the
rainy summers they cultivate maize, melons, kidney beans and
squashes and throughout the whole year they hunt deer,
armadillos, pecarries and iguanas whilst gathering honey.

The problems of the indigenous peoples go back as far as the early
part of this century, when creole conquistadores moved into the
area with herds of cattle, goats and sheep. These herds quickly
destroyed the delicately balanced pasture land thus unleashing
environmental devastation. The result has been that the indigenous
people in the zone have seen the near total disappearance of the
animals and plants that they hunted and collected and as a result of
this malnutrition and even death from hunger is well known. As
the Wichi say: - Our land has died and we are dying of hunger.

The situation has deteriorated with the 'developmental' plans of the
government for the zone passed without discussion. A bridge is
being built over the River Pilcomayo (which forms the frontier
between Argentina and Paraguay) next to a small village caled
Nopok Wet (Peace). The Wichi have been told that their village
will be replaced by a new border town. Moreover, the government
plans to build a motorway which will cross the Wichi territory to
link this town with Tartagal. All this is part of a development plan
to link Paraguay to the North East of Argentina and, ultimately
Chile to Brazil and the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The indigenous people maintain that the bridge and the
'development' programmes are a terrible threat to their land rights
and the local environment. The government of Salta province has
made no study of the impact this project will have on the
indigenous peoples' villages.

At the bottom of all these problemes is the continuing negative
attitude of this provincial government when it comes to
recognising the rights of the people to their lands. In 1991 the
people working with the Survival project prepared a territorial
claim which demonstrated that at least 400,000 hectares within the
Lotes Fiscales region were indeed their lands. Later, in the same
year, the provincial government signed a declaration (N=B02609/9 1 )
recognising that the land was idigenously owned and promising
that legislation would be passed. The government in Salta which
then came to power did not pursue the matter and allowed the
situation to degenerate dangerously. Shortly after abandoning its
responsibilities during the course of last year, the same
administration proposed a territorial piece of legislation totally
against the indigenous position and whose aprobation will deprive
them of large areas of land. On 10th December 1995 a new
administration came to power in Salta. If moves are not made soon
it may be too late.