Although eight days remain until Christmas and stores are filled with shoppers snapping up gifts, the festive spirit is surprisingly absent on the streets of the capital. The week of violence in the Villa Soldati neighbourhood stemming from a housing and, according to the mayor, immigration crisis which left three dead might be over, but in the run-up to the season of goodwill Buenos Aires is as prickly as a forest of holly bushes.
Sitting on the number 59 bus, gazing at people moving faster than the bus itself, the scream of “you son of a bitch” breaks up the journey.
Through the window, a mother with two small boys has just been mugged, but not for her purse or bags bulging with Christmas presents, brand names splurged all over them. Her assailant barged into her, then ripped off her necklace and sped off down Carlos Pellegrini street, making a sharp turn into Bartolomé Mitre.
No one batted an eyelid. Although the usual suspects from various political factions weren’t bringing the streets to a gridlock yesterday, a small group of Toba Indians from La Primavera community in Formosa province is camping on a concrete space between the world’s widest avenue, 9 de Julio, Cerrito and the Avenida de Mayo junction.
It’s a far cry from their northern province homeland and 4,600-strong La Primavera community (also known as qom navogoh) is locked in a dispute over ancestral rights to 600 hectares of land, a conflict which, like Villa Soldati, has resulted in the death of Toba Roberto López.
Rubén Díaz has been in the capital since Sunday. “We’ve come to Buenos Aires as we have been demanding our land back from the province, which has also taken away our rights. That ancestral land is important to us, and we’ve been fighting for it for many years. We are also asking for justice — and want our human rights to be recognized too.
“We cut off provincial route 86 because no one was listening to us in Formosa. We thought that would be enough to resolve the problem. But then one of our brothers was killed, who was trying to secure our territory for his grandchildren and give them a future,” he added.
“So we’ve had to come here and cut off 9 de Julio avenue several times in order to be heard. We are tired of the laws which are killing us. And we won’t move from here until we have a response,” he said.
The 2006 law referred to stipulates that native Indians cannot be evicted from the land they live on until 2013. During those seven years the government is meant to be conducting a study and census which should conclude with the native Indians’ ownership of the land.
Regardless, in April, the Formosa provincial government, escorted by police, began a deforestation project on the 600 hectares the Toba live on, evicting nine families in the process.
Miriam Liempe, from the Mapuche community, has come to Buenos Aires to support the Toba. “We‘ve come here to show solidarity for our brothers, and especially because people have died. We feel persecuted and I haven‘t felt like this for years. Some people know the truth about what is happening in Formosa and they are also frightened.”
Talking to the Herald yesterday afternoon, the group hadn‘t decided whether to hold another roadblock.
“We’re deciding upon our strategy as no one will listen to us,” she added. “We’re still hoping to meet the government but the silent treatment they are giving is hard. All other social complaints are listened to but when indigenous people are involved, there’s a conspirational silence.
“We are peaceful people, we’re from the countryside — I can‘t stand the noise here — and it goes against our nature to hold a picket. That word doesn’t even exist in my language — we’ve adapted it, and the action, from the Spanish.”
However, at 6pm yesterday evening, La Primavera community took matters into their own hands, once again cutting off 9 de Julio avenue and Avenida de Mayo, causing rush-hour chaos and making thousands of drivers break out in a prickly, angry sweat again.
First published in the Buenos Aires Herald, 17 December, 2010,
Photo by Mariano Fuchila