Illegal Logging In The Zlaqatahyi Communities
Chacolinks has long protested about the illegal invasions into Zlaqatahyi lands of loggers. Theft of timber is a festering insult to the Wichí who wish to protect their ravaged ancestral forests . We have petitioned the President of Argentina and the Argentine government repeatedly. It is one of the main focuses of our campaigning and also of the legal actions which we support.
For years the Wichí have waited for a court to be found which will hear a case they first brought in 2002 against the Ministry of the Environment of the Argentine province of Salta for failing to control the illegal deforestation of their lands. A local judge has finally been ordered to investigate the matter. In order to ensure against continued judicial negligence, Chacolinks will actively monitor the investigation.
During the same period (2002-2010), the Wichí have made numerous police reports in connection with timber-poaching on their lands by non-indigenous loggers. Chacolinks is maintaining pressure on two of the cases that have reached court:
A bunch of loggers whom the Wichí discovered on their land in 2006 – chainsaw in hand and surrounded by felled trees – were cleared of charges by the intervening judge. With Chacolinks’ backing, the Wichí’s lawyer has made three successive appeals against the verdict, all of which have been dismissed. The case is now before the Argentine Supreme Court in Buenos Aires.
In 2008 the Wichí intercepted loggers transporting 120 hardwood tree trunks (photographs are posted on Chacolinks’ website). The butchered trees had been growing in the Wichí’s 3,000-hectare forest. The culprits were summoned to appear in court without the presence of the lawyer engaged by Chacolinks to act on the Wichí’s behalf. The lawyer challenged this procedural irregularity, but her challenge was overridden. Three successive appeals have since been rejected and she has now applied for the case to be heard by the Argentine Supreme Court in Buenos Aires.
Legislation to bring about the demarcation of indigenous lands has been promised by the government of Argentina. This is good news but we should not forget that these are minority rights and, as such, will be very hard fought by the hard-nosed opposition, at every level of government. We will need to give support all along the way so that the Zlaqatahyi communities can benefit.
Hoktek T’oi has referred its flagship case against the provincial government, for authorizing and tolerating illegal deforestation of community lands, to the highest court in the province (Corte de Justicia de Salta). With Chacolinks’ support, the community presented a formal Complaint about judicial dilatoriness, on the grounds that almost seven years have passed without a single court even so much as accepting to investigate the matter.
In December 2008, at the initiative of one of the province’s Catholic bishops, nine indigenous communities in Salta province – including Hoktek T'oi and one other Zlaqatahyi community – submitted a lawsuit to the national Supreme Court in Buenos Aires. The object was to have deforestation and logging prohibited in areas of Salta province where the Wichí live. John Palmer (our Anthropological Advisor) was asked to provide support with relevant documentation. To everyone’s surprise, the Supreme Court ruled – in a record time of 10 days – in favour of the indigenous plaintiffs and has ordered the temporary suspension of all deforestation and logging in those areas. it remains to be seen whether or not the prohibition becomes permanent.