Problems faced by the Wichí of the Itiyuro Basin
The Wichí have always faced prejudice and discrimination from the Spanish-speaking white settlers, and have struggled to find a voice against encroachment onto their lands. Their legal rights are enshrined in Argentina’s laws, but in practice, have routinely been ignored, so that their position today is extremely threatened: they are struggling to maintain their culture and independence of spirit.
These problems were brought to crisis point in 1996 when Los Cordobeses – a company owned by a wealthy lawyer, and based 2000kms away in Buenos Aires – bought up 3000 hectares of Wichí traditional lands in the Itiyuro basin. The land had been illegally sold by the provincial government in Salta, without the permission of the Wichí themselves. Los Cordobeses proceeded to devastate this landscape- tropical hardwoods were ripped out and the surrounding forest was cut and burned. The 44 hectares of the village of Hoktek T'oi was left exposed, with the surrounding forest stripped.
Similar depredations were being carried out by other companies against neighbouring Wichí villages. These onslaughts led to the formation in 1998 of the ‘Our Forest’ Project (Zlaqatahyi or Nuestra Selva), to fight the deforestation that was sweeping over the Itiyuro Basin. This fragile organisation is struggling to overcome all kinds of stresses, and is still developing a strong voice for the Wichí, but it gives hope for the future. It was the struggle of the communities of Zlaqatahyi against loss of their ancestral lands that inspired the foundation of Chacolinks in 2000.
The village of Hoktek T'oi has been active in the fight for land rights, in an attempt to stop Los Cordobeses from attacking the integrity of the village. For example,in one year, poison laid round the village killed over one hundred of the village’s animals; one woman had to be treated in hospital.Chacolinks supports attempts to use provincial laws to protect this community but many of these have failed because of a corrupt local judicial system, because of close links between business and the provincial legal system. However a notable victory for the community of Hoktek T'oi was obtained when the National Government passed a bill in 2001expropriating the 3000 hectares of the community’s forest from Los Cordobeses. The land however cannot be returned to the Wichí until compensation is agreed and paid to the company. This process is still ongoing – title has still not yet been returned, more than ten years later, though the community does have rights of use, and the deforestation has been halted. The communities of Zlaqatayhi are therefore still involved in an ongoing legal battle in the courts for their rights.
Land rights are not the only problem facing the Wichí of the Zlaqatahyi: illegal oil extraction and theft of timber are two others that must be fought in the courts. We also support the cultural rights of the Wichí of Zlaqatahyi, as in the case of the imprisonment of Qa'tu.
And there have been many shocking attacks, by police and others, against the Wichí of Zlaqatahyi, again listed in this newsletter section.
You can see our summaries on the problems, also in the newsletter section (we are currently updating this part of the website).