Working for Cultural Rights: Qa'tu's Case
One long running case that Chacolinks supported, concerns the imprisonment of a young Wichí man called Qa'tu, (also known as José Fabián Ruiz).
In June 2005 Qa'tu, a young memeber of the Hoktek T'oi community, was arrested and imprisoned on a charge of rape, because his wife Estela (married under Wichí custom) was deemed under-age according to Argentine national law. This charge was applied despite there being provision for such indigenous marriages enshrined in the Argentine constitution. Estela was made a ward of court while she was was in hospital giving birth to her first child.
Qa'tu was held in prison without trial for seven years, and was released in 2012 (though still having to report to the police weekly). His wife and child suffered greatly throughout his imprisonment – the family having lost the household breadwinner.
There was also a dispute over her age at the time of marriage, falsified documents having been used as evidence in her case. In Wichí custom, it should be noted, it is the woman who advances the marriage proposal. A proposal of marriage is her prerogative - without this approach, it could not have taken place.
Chacolinks' trustees and supporters campaigned over the seven years of his imprisonment. We sent letters to the President of Argentina and to the Argentine Embassy in London, in protest at his long incarceration without trial, which we claimed was in breach of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
We are delighted at the outcome of our efforts, but dismayed that it took such a long imprisonment before the charges were dropped.
Sadly Qa'tu's marriage did not survive the ordeal, and his wife Estela has now remarried. The debate over Estela's birth documents still continues.
While Qa'tu was in prison, his father Yilis died. He was a traditional spiritual healer and staunch defender of Wichí lands. The capture of his son by the Argentine State was the ultimate in a long line of offences against his people with which Yilis always took unflinching issue. And it led him finally to take leave of his earthly existence, in what for him was the certain knowledge that he would be more capable of repairing the injustice from beyond the grave. He departed in full command of his faculties, when (as we understand it) the pain of living became too much for him to bear.