Land Rights: Regaining Ancestral Forest
Land Rights: The Expropriation Case
This is our longest running case. Legal action was begun in 1996, before the foundation of Chacolinks at the end of 1999.
Since 1996, the Hoktek T'oi community has been pressing to regain ownership of part of its traditional territory. In 2001 the community succeeded in seeing through a national law by which 3,000 hectares of land illegally sold into the private sector have been expropriated by the Argentine State in the community's name (this is the expropriation mentioned in the title). The process of securing full title to the land has been a slow and arduous one.
In 2005, the Zlaqatahyi communities initiated a collective territorial claim under the terms of a Protected Areas Law that is in force in the province of Salta. As a first step towards regaining ownership of their traditional territory, eight communities petitioned the provincial government for the creation of a Cultural Reserve covering a total of some 100,000 hectares. The proposal was immediately shelved by the government, but we believe it should to be revived, now that a national law exists by which the Argentine State has committed itself to demarcating the traditional territories of the indigenous peoples of the country, a process that still continues (at snail's pace)
In 2007, six years after the 2001 law was passed – the community was granted 'rights of use' and 'possession' of this area of forest, but ownership is being delayed by the ex-title-holders, who are demanding exorbitant payments as compensation from the State.
Chacolinks has supplied funds for this long legal battle, working with the logistical support of the Anglican missionary organisation, Asociana. We have also funded other legal cases, paid for lawyers (América Alemán and Sarah Esper) and supported a translator for court proceedings, as Spanish is a second language for the Wichí. Please look at the picture on our 'Photos' page of the JP visiting the village of Hoktek T'oi to notify the community of the restoration of their rights. This was a day to celebrate!
The Hoktek T'oi community was dealt a blow at the end of December 2009. when they heard that a settler had filed a claim to one-third of the land expropriated in Hoktek T'oi’s name. He is seeking to acquire title to 1,000 hectares of the community’s lands on the basis that he has supposedly lived there for over twenty years. The community will oppose this vigorously, but is shows the urgent need for Hoktek T'oi’s inalienable rights to this legally recognized part of its ancestral territory. Full title is required.
This case epitomises the difficulties faced by the Wichí in getting their rights recognised in provincial law courts, owing to bias against them by the provincial judiciary. To get justice it is necessary to appeal to higher courts in Argentina, even up to the supreme court.
Our two indigenous lawyers Sarah Esper and América Alemán have themselves been the victims of persecution. América's name has been bandied about in the press, and an attempt was made to have Sarah struck off from the professional register for her dogged defence of her indigenous clients. Our Anthropological Advisor, John Palmer, even had an arrest warrant issued against him, on spurious charges, that were dropped after five years when they failed to make any headway.