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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Indigenous Peoples in Argentina

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Argentina Facts
Area:    2,766,890 sq. km.
Capital:    Buenos Aires
Total Population:    36,285,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Argentine indigenous groups have two of the risk factors for rebellion. Although they are geographically concentrated, they do not have a regional base. They have also suffered from moderate levels of government repression in recent years. However, the likelihood of more than sporadic violence is low, as Argentina is a democracy, and there have been some efforts at reform.

Historically, Argentine indigenous groups have periodically protested their condition, though rarely have they directly confronted authorities, or in significant numbers. Recently, indigenous groups have mobilized peacefully for greater rights, and organized small protests for equitable land reform and economic support from the governmen. While it is unlikely they will resort to violent tactics in the future on any large scale, small scale non-violent organizing through community and umbrella groups for greater rights will probably continue without much interference from the government. Scattered acts of repression by provincial government forces and private companies will likely continue, but the mobilization of indigenous groups and the willingness of the central government to negotiate and reform will most likely mitigate the frequency and intensity of such acts.


Analytic Summary

There are 16 to 20 indigenous groups in Argentina that dwell primarily in the northern part of the country, bordering Bolivia and Paraguay. The larger groups -- none of which have a population of more than 50,000 -- are the Collas in the Salta and Jujay provinces, the Chiriguanos, the Tobas, the Mapudungun of the Chaco, the Guaranies of Misiones, and the Wichi). Further south, a relatively large population of Mapuches live in the province of Nequen and a smaller population of Tehuelches live in the Patagonia region bordering Chile (GROUPCON = 3). There are also varying estimates of Quechua and Quichua speakers in Argentina depending upon seasonal employment. In the Tierra del Fuego, there are also some Selk'namgon people. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the northwestern provinces. While there are about 5,000 permanent residents who are Quechua speakers in the province of Jujuy, there have been estimates in recent years of about 800,000 Quechua speakers from Bolivia coming to Argentina for employment, including 200,000 temporary laborers, 100,000 looking for work, and 500,000 living in Buenos Aires. Chiringuan, Choroti, Mataco, Mocovi, and Toba are spoken in the Gran Chaco. In Mesopotamia, Guarani is the main language for indigenous people. Aruacano-Mapuche and Tehuelche is spoken in Patagonia, while Yamana, Ona, and Selk'namgon are spoken in Tierra del Fuego (LANG = 1).

Indigenous people in rural areas receive very little education and are generally not proficient in Spanish. Those who have migrated to urban areas have more command over the Spanish language, but live in shantytowns on the outskirts of the cities (two known shantytowns are Residencia and Barranqueras). Shamans are a very important part of indigenous religion throughout the country and traditional ceremonies and mysticism are practiced. There have been attempts to Christianize these populations and missions for indigenous people exist, some of which have been active in promoting social change for the indigenous. While most indigenous are Christian, their religious practices are often a combination of traditional mystic ceremonies and Roman Catholic traditions (RELIGS1 = 1).

Many of the indigenous groups were killed during the colonization of Argentina in the 16th century, and genocide continued until the 19th century. Those groups that did survive the mass killings isolated themselves or remained on reserves designated by the government. Indigenous people did not begin to mobilize until the 1970s, when many of them migrated to urban areas for better lives and employment. Until this time period, Indians were not legally recognized citizens of the state.

Indigenous people are extremely isolated in rural areas of the country. They constitute some of the poorest sectors of society. Their primary employment is agricultural or seasonal labor. Some tribes (mainly in the Pampa region) are hunter-gatherer, nomadic peoples. In the Chaco region, the cotton and sugar plantations and the timber industry employ seasonal labor. The rivers of Pilcomayo and Bermejo from April until June also provide seasonal labor for indigenous peoples. However, the Salta province recently banned commercial fishing and thus, has damaged the seasonal economy of the indigenous people living in this region. Both groups receive little or no medical treatment and have been reported to suffer from malnutrition, cholera, syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and infant mortality rates as high as 50 percent. In the cities, despite some very limited government efforts at correcting the situation, indigenous are not hired for office jobs, TV commericials or point-of-sale clerk positions. Instead, they are in farming, cleaning, and behind-the-scenes-kitchen jobs (ECDIS06 = 3).

In 1970, the Coordinating Commission of Indigenous Institutions (CCIIRA) formed. After 1973, many indigenous regions formed organizations, such as the Indigenous Federation of Chaco, the Indigenous Federation of Tucuman, and the Indigenous Federation of Neuquina (representing Mapuche Indians). By March 1973, the CCIIRA ceased to exist and the government formed the Indigenous Association of Argentina (AIRA). This organization had three objectives: 1) to respect the indigenous person and his/her culture, 2) to define indigenous lands, and 3) to appoint an indigenous representative of all of the communities. However, in 1974, the government of Isabel Peron repressed many popular organizations. By 1975, many indigenous organizations stopped functioning and cooperative communities were made illegal. In 1983, indigenous peoples received legal status. The following year, an "Indigenous Policy and Support to the Aboriginal Communities" law was passed to restore traditional indigenous lands and territories and to provide bilingual education in indigenous communities. This law was and is still criticized for not having representation from indigenous peoples on advisory committees for these programs, and for not being adequately enforced. For examples, some forced land evictions were still taking place as of 2006, despite a moratorium decreed against the practice earlier the same year, and while bilingual education is permitted it is not properly funded or organized (CULPO206 = 1).

Argentina currently recognizes indigenous lands, culture, and community development through its National Plan of Indigenist Policy. However, the funding, support and enforcement for this institution have been reported to be very low (POLDIS06 = 3). The Colla people have demanded the right to name their children in Quechua, which is not a recognized language of the state. The Colla have also made verbal protests against the abuse of their land by gas companies, as well as against the environmental decline that has been the result of the construction of a gas pipeline in 1999, making the forest more susceptible to natural disasters such as the forest fire in 2001 (PROT01 = 1). The Toba, Mataco, and Mocovi Indians demand better wages and working conditions in the cotton and timber industries, which employ the vast majority of them in the Chaco region. Indigenous groups in Chaco and Salta Provinces, including the Toba, Wichi and Mocovi groups, have demanded a budget for the Indigenous Institute of Chaco, funding for housing and medical care, and an end to the way state-owned land has been distributed to lumber and soybean companies. The Mbya Guarani people have engaged in protecting their two reserves in the Misiones province, which are being invaded by settlers.

The Mapuche Indians demand autonomy in order to unite with the Mapuche of Chile (POLGR06 = 3). They also want the creation of an indigenous reserve to preserve ancestral territory, as well as environmental protection of lands from transnational mining and forestry companies that benefit from tax breaks and other programs initiated by the government that encourage development. The Tehuelche also have a small reservation, which they are demanding be preserved. The Wichi in the General Mosconi region of the Salta Province demand the return of communal land and an end to land exploitation by private companies. In recent years, indigenous communities still facing land eviction have organized themselves against the practice, with some modest victories: Protests led to the 2006 moratorium on any forced land evictions so that the government could investigate the disputes. Most famously, a Mapuche couple kicked off their land by clothing giant Benetton harnessed international publicity to argue their case which is yet unresolved.

Since 2001, a few groups such as Tincu Nacu (a Colla indigenous group), Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE, located in northwestern Santiago del Estero province and organized by Quechua speakers), and the Indigenous Association of the Argentine Republic have remained active in promoting indigenous rights and culture (GOJPA01-06 = 2). In 2003, MOCASE launched a radio station that broadcasts in both Spanish and the Quechua language, and has plans to launch 6 more. MOCASE represents over 9,600 families who are fighting for land rights, which is of primary concern for many of Argentina's indigenous.

There are other groups actively promoting the economic and cultural rights of indigenous. The Indigenous Association of the Argentine Republic represents approximately 70 percent of the indigenous population and has been active in promoting the cultural rights and heritage of indigenous communities. The Argentine Association for Native Peoples helps indigenous buy land and organize community centers where they can study their own language and history. The Commission of Indigenous Jurists of the Argentine Republic (CJIRA) is an organization of indigenous lawyers helping communities fight for their human rights. Other groups include the Council for Aboriginal Events, the Community of Students of the First Nations of America (CEPNA), the Association of Indigenous Communities (ACOIN), and the Mapuche Communications Team of the Río Negro, made up of Mapuche youth. Kolla women in northwest region have organized a system of successful community banks to help community members, called Warmi Sayasjunqo.

There have been scattered acts of repression, usually by local government forces. For example, in 2004, after a private company attacked an indigenous community on disputed land (INTERCON04 = 1), the local police did nothing to protect the indigenous and even detained seven persons without written order after the hired company guards themselves filed a police complaint (REPGENCV04 = 3). In 2005, after a storm tore through the northwest, the provincial government sent the military to violently evict the indigenous groups that had moved to different land after being displaced by the storm; they used tear gas and rubber bullets on the displaced (REPGENCIV05 = 4). Activists have reportedly been arbitrarily detained and police have used rubber bullets against nonviolent protestors (REPNVIOL05 = 4). Members of the Peasant Movement of Santiago del Estero (Mocase-Via Campesina) were violently evicted from disputed land by police November 2006, even after a moratorium on land evictions had been passed by the central government just two weeks earlier (REPNVIOL06 = 4).

Unless the central government takes a stronger role in resolving lingering land disputes, it is likely that provincial governments and private companies will continue to use violence against indigenous groups in disputed territories. Indigenous mobilization and steady legal wins favor positive outcomes for the indigenous, but lack of adequate funding and enforcement by the central government pose the biggest hurdles to effective resolutions. Until land and economic rights issues are settled to the satisfaction of all parties involved, scattered violence against mobilized indigenous communities will likely continue.



Amnesty International. 2006 Annual Report for Argentina., accessed: 11/8/2008.

Amnesty International. 2007. Human Rights in Argentine Republic., accessed: 11/8/2008.

Bethel, Leslie. 1993. Argentina Since Independence. Cambridge. The University of Cambridge Press.

Indian Country Today. 9/20/2006. "Declaring humanity and challenging legacies"

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 2004. Indigenous Peoples in Argentina., accessed: 11/06/2008.

IPS-Inter Press Service, 3/14/2001. “Environment-Argentina: Fires Raise Concerns Over Pipeline Safety.”

IPS. 6/12/2006. "Argentina: Indigenous People Camp Out in Plaza to Demand Land Rights."

IPS. 6/8/2006. " Argentina: Kolla Indians Fight to Protect Their Land."

LexisNexis. Various reports. 2001 - 2006.

Passafari, Clara. Pueblos Indios, Argentina 1986. Argentina. Libro Edicion Argentina. 1986.

Psacharopoulos, George and Harry Anthony Patrinos. Indigenous People and Poverty in Latin America. Washington,D.C. The World Bank. 1994.

Rudolph, James D.,ed. 1985. Argentina: A Country Study. Washington, D.C. The American University.

Serbin, Andres. 1981. "Las Organizaciones Indigenas en la Argentina." America Indigena. XLI 3:407-434.

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Reports, 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006