Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: ‘There is No Political Will to Respect Native Peoples’ in Argentina

Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel said the Argnetine government has a limited view of human rights, and stressed that the extractive model is moving forward, which includes the use of repression. “The truth is that there is no progress because there is no political will in the government to respect native peoples,” said Pérez Esquivel.

Adolfo Pérez EsquivelSource: Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Pueblos Indigenas

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said the Argentine government has a limited view of human rights, and stressed that the extractive model is moving forward, which includes the use of repression. He talks of the role of human rights organizations, the Qom community, Gildo Insfrán, La Cámpora, and others on the Right.

He describes himself as “an activist for human rights” and not as the recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel began his activism in 1971. Two years later he founded the newspaper Peace and Justice as a common space for organizations and activists. In 1975, he participated in the creation of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH). Between 1977 and 1978 he was imprisoned in Argentina on orders of the military dictatorship. Since the 1970s he keeps company with American indigenous peoples, and since 2010 he has been actively engaged with the Qom community of Formosa (Potae Napocna Navogoh, Puño de oso hormiguero – La Primavera). “The national government does not want to resolve the conflict, it gives priority to its provincial allies,” he says, summarizing the situation in Formosa while echoing the global perspective of the extractive model (of mining and soy): “The people say ‘no’ to these activities, for example in Esquel and Andalgalá, but the government says ‘yes’ to the companies because it gives priority to economic interests over the lives of the people.” Pérez Esquivel warns about the increased repression over those who oppose the extractive model, he condemns the INAI that “does not work for native peoples, but rather for the interests of governments,” he questions whether Kirchnerism encompasses human rights of the period 1976-1983, and he does not believe that new Secretary for Human Rights Martín Fresneda stands by the current victims of repression.

Darío Aranda: Félix Díaz was in an “accident” last week in Formosa. He was hit by a vehicle while he was riding a motorcycle, and he wound up in the hospital. Díaz was convinced that it wasn’t an accident.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: I spoke to Félix. What happened in Formosa is terrible: A feudal government that threatens anyone who demands his rights. In many provinces – the same thing is happening in Salta and Neuquén – the governments do what they want, they don’t recognize the rights of native peoples. And that has a direct connection to the policies of the national government.

DA: Which policies of the national government?

APE: The policy of not recognizing native peoples. A clear example is the INAI (National Institute of Indigenous Affairs). It does not work for native peoples, but rather for the interests of governments, whether provincial or national, but not for the development of native peoples.

DA: You were involved in setting up negotiations for the La Primavera community, at the end of 2010.

PE: The policy of the government towards the Qom community of Formosa was terrible. It did not recognize Félix Díaz as the Qom leader although the community chose him by a wide margin. It permitted the encroachment of national parks on the community, and on top of that, it ended by suspending the negotiations.

DA: For a government that has demonstrated sensibility on human rights and that embraced the cause, why did it make the decision to not respect the rights of indigenous peoples?

APE: The national government lacks sensitivity. It only has political interest in human rights that span the period 1976-1983. It doesn’t even address what was done by the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance). The government does not want to hear about human rights before 1976 or after 1983. The policy of human rights is restricted to the last military dictatorship.

DA: How are we to understand human rights?

APE: We understand human rights by its comprehensiveness, which clearly must include the rights of native peoples, the rights of those who oppose mining. So I don’t understand a project that calls itself “national and popular” and does not address these issues. Regarding human rights, there are more speeches than policies.

DA: In the context of the legal case of spraying in the barrio of Ituzaingó Anexo (Córdoba), you said that the farming and ranching model violates fundamental human rights. Nora Cortiñas (of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line) said something similar…

APE: One cannot view it any other way. Not respecting entire populations, not respecting cultures, devastating the environment, changing the way of life of the communities, and causing illnesses: they are all clear violations of human rights. I don’t understand how someone can view it any other way. The people say “no” to those activities, for example in Esquel and Andalgalá, but the government says “yes” to the companies because it places economic interests above the lives of the people.

DA: Why don’t other human rights organizations denounce extractivism?

APE: There are two issues here. Many organizations come from the period of the last dictatorship. Justice for those acts is their ultimate objective, and that’s fine, I’m not criticizing them. And there are other human rights organizations that do not denounce the current violence because they are allied with the government and receive funds from the government. There are alternatives. We are convinced that human rights policies must be comprehensive. If there are children dying of hunger, there is not respect for human rights. And in Argentina, children die of hunger. Two weeks ago I was with doctors from Córdoba who recounted with sadness how many malnourished children there are.

DA: In addition to the governments, even public opinion and our own society seem to be in denial regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, when they assassinated Mariano Ferreyra, 50,000 people filled the Plaza de Mayo. When Roberto López of the Qom community was killed, there were no more than 600 people in front of the Casa de Formosa.

APE: In Argentina there is historical and cultural denial about native peoples – they don’t admit it – there is enormous discrimination against native peoples. Argentina does not show its roots. It follows the discourse of “we are a country of immigrants,” when in reality that is only part of the story. There is so much discrimination that even the national public universities of Formosa and La Plata take lands from native communities.

DA: Respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and campesinos is one of the weakest points of the government. What expectations do you have for the coming years?

APE: They are unresolved matters. And I’m sorry to say that I don’t have expectations that this government will do right by the native communities and the campesinos.

DA: Why?

PE: Because there are no policies that go beyond the period 1976-1983.

DA: And Martín Fresneda, the new secretary for human rights? His parents were disappeared, he has an activist background and he knows first-hand the consequences of the agribusiness model in Córdoba.

APE: I know him, he came to see me. Up to now he has done absolutely nothing for the native peoples. I have no expectation that he will deliver comprehensive human rights. I don’t see it. If in the future I see it in concrete acts, I will say so immediately. But this government doesn’t even have a dialogue with native peoples. The INAI works against the communities, and the INADI (National Institute Against Discrimination) doesn’t work. The national and provincial governments, like that in Formosa, work by wearing us down.

DA: Wearing you down?

APE: Meetings that don’t resolve anything. Making no progress. One day, together with Félix (Díaz), we were in negotiations with the government from 5pm until 2am the next morning. And Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said to us, “We are a federalist country, we cannot get involved in the provinces.” You can’t be serious! The national government does not want to resolve the conflict; it gives priority to its provincial allies. The truth is that there is no progress because there is no political will in the government to respect native peoples. It’s tough. But no one told me this, I lived through it.

DA: Does “wearing you down” include repression?

APE: The growth of soy and mining brings threats, persecution, and it clearly includes repression. You need only look at Formosa, Santiago del Estero, Catamarca, La Rioja. And it’s clear that the provincial governments involved in repression are allies of the national government. We demand a halt to the persecution and repression of those who struggle, but we aren’t optimistic. Look at La Cámpora campaigning against Félix (Díaz), and backing those who support Gildo Insfrán. It’s not as though we’re expecting positive change.

DA: It was La Cámpora, led by its current deputy Andrés Larroque, that removed the Qom members from the Avenida de Mayo and the 9 de Julio in May 2011.

APE: I remember that operation: La Cámpora as shock troops against native peoples.

DA: Its critics are going to accuse it of “playing along with the Right.”

APE: I don’t go along with that. “Playing along with the Right” is what’s done by those who look the other way. We denounce injustices because we want a better country for everyone, and with true respect for the human rights of all. And always, as it has been for decades, we are on the side of those who suffer. In this case we stand together with the Qom community. On which side does La Cámpora stand? On which side does the government stand?