Argentina: The Assassins of the Landowners

Source: Miradas al Sur 

Cristian Ferreyra’s murder exposed the harassment suffered by thousands of indigenous peasants that are forced to abandon their lands. This is how the gangs of thugs who work for big businesses function.

The indigenous peasant Cristian Ferreyra (23) was having lunch last Wednesday with his family in the home of his brother-in-law César Godoy (31) in Campo de Mayo. It is a place where the San Antonio community lives, some 60 kilometers from Monte Quemado, a part of Copo, in Santiago del Estero. There are some 800 families that live there self-sufficiently, raising cattle in ancestral lands of the Lule-Vilelean village, that today are coveted by landowners that look to expand the soybean production. After the meal, the members of the Movimiento Campesino de Santiago del Estero Vía Campesina (Mocase-VC) will have an assembly to debate a complaint that they‘ll present to the provincial Directorate of Forests. The issue: the clearing that is happening in the land belonging to a Santa Fe businessman, Jorge Ciccioli, the force behind such violence and harassment. Just a moment before, Ferreyra and Godoy had been demanding to Mario Abregú, that it will not end well. His brother Carlos Abregú and Javier Juárez arrived by motorbike to Godoy’s house, who left the ranch with no idea of what was about to happen. He was followed by Cristian and Sergio Ferreyra, his uncle.

“You, what you think with that San Bernardo bunch!” Juárez said to him. He carried, because of his role in the Santiago police force, a twelve-gauge shotgun that hung from his neck. It can be seen in the photo that Godoy’s mother took with his cellular phone, and cost her a tiny smack. In the image Juárez’s finger is close to the trigger.

“And you, what you think too!” Cristian answers.

The words didn’t help to mediate much. Juárez loaded the shotgun and pointed it at Cristian. He shot. Next at Godoy. The first shot broke Cristian’s femoral artery. They waited more than an hour before they could get a truck. He arrived dead at the Monte Quemado Hospital. Cristian was married and was the father of a two-year-old child. Godoy was lucky and today is recovering from the wounds in his muscles. Juárez also struggled with Sergio, the uncle. He again cocked the weapon, but it didn’t have any bullets. Then he pushed the butt of the gun against his eyes and mouth. “Everything is swollen in my face”, Sergio told Miradas al Sur. There is other pain he feels as well: “Cristian is gone and it hurts my soul.” The assassin escaped by motorbike. His companion Abregú loaded the gun intimidatingly, and then also disappeared. Not for long.

The four were detained on Friday. Javier Juárez was accused as the presumed shooter that killed Ferreyra. His brother Walter and the Abregú brothers, on the other hand, were charged with making threats. The order had been ordered by the judge Alejandro Fringes Sarria. The magistrate also ordered the arrest of Hugo Juárez and of the entrepreneur Ciccioli, who were fugitives. “Juárez ran from Tucumán and then from Buenos Aires, as a criminal. There, hidden in the forest, he continued being theirs,” said Ramón, Cristian’s cousin. Ramón confirmed that Juárez has good ties with Carlos Hazam, the mayor of Monte Quemado. “He went and he told him, “I just did two from Mocase.” “This isn’t an isolated conflict, it’s a plan designed with the help of the provincial government,” Antenor Ferreyra, the movement’s lawyer and the land conflict expert, adds to this account.

The private armies.

Friday morning, friends and acquaintances buried Cristian. This is the third funeral of a Mocase peasant. “Last year, the provincial police killed a militant by the name of Maldonado. Some time before, during another police repression, another member by the name of Ferreyra,” counts Antenor. Other peasants died in other provinces resisting on their lands and defending their forests: the Diaguita Javier Chocobar in Tucumán, the Qom Roberto López and Sandra Juárez, while a bulldozer charged into her ranch. But this week’s crime changed styles: the white guards, thugs of the the private repressive landowners, that until now had never shot a peasant with such outrageousness.

The “white guards” are a phenomenon that is known in the Latin American countries, but that seem distant in these lands. Why impose it then? Norma Giarracca, head of the Sociología Rural and principal investigator at the Instituto Gino Germani de la UBA, has an explanation: “It wasn’t many that came, with the soybean expansion and the need for the occupied land, and through debt and displacements, got the best of the Pampa region. Effectively, when the price of the commodity grows and ‘soy fever’ inundated these territories, the investors began to look, through non-democratic methods, for the means to get what they desired. So begins the indiscriminate logging of forests, yungas, and the rape of peasant and indigenous communities and territories, covered by law, like legislation of the subordinate sectors, it’s weak and ambiguous in the face of the interpretations of a judicial power that is very connected to the business players, like recent excellent investigations have demonstrated, it’s pointed out to Miradas al Sur.

Precisely because of the complicity of the judicial power the peasants complain. The Mocase already presented 220 cases of aggression in different provincial courts. “They are unheard,” warned Antenor. He includes that they have denounced the Juárez clan two times for attacking the FM Pajsachama. The last time they armed announcers and threw acid on the consoles. “Sarrías Fringes never did anything,” points out Antenor. The judicial power is a loyal reflection of political power. “The Ciccioli project is the same as that of the governor Gerardo Zamora: to evict people and destroy the indigenous territory,” ensures Ramón.

The land is ours.

“We have been fighting more than twenty years. It is very sad that for our position we have to pay so dearly, with our life of our Chango,” says Antenor. There is a backdrop of voices and honking. Its Friday, noontime: a dozen peasants, along with other social groups, marching towards the Casa de Santiago del Estero in the city of Buenos Aires in order to demand clarification of the crime of their fellow countryman. Antenor raises his voice: “The threat is strong. But not a meter more: the land is ours.” The Mocase was born 21 years ago and is the most important peasant organization in northern Argentina. It is made up of some eight thousand families, almost 40 thousand people-organized in thirty regions. They were pioneers in warning about the harm done by soybean monoculture that has been devastating the native forests-and their ecosystems-to gain cultivatable land.

For Giarraca, Cristian’s crime is “a story that has been repeated a lot during this period of agribusiness.” “The question that we can formulate is, Are there limits to the facts that they should shame us as a society that diligently looks to find democratization? We can’t be very optimistic given the agricultural projects announced last time, that 160 million tons of grain are to be grown by 2020, by biotechnology contributing more genetically modified seeds; the key resides in the large expansion of the frontier of this type of agriculture. It’s to say: clear cuts happen when they laws are correctly enforced, and the arrogance they show towards populations that have another feeling of what land and food means. It needs to be debated collectively with Argentines what it is we need for the production of food, and not only those that only chase profits and rents.”

In tune with Giarraca, the philosopher and doctor in Social Sciences Maristella Svampa tells Miradas al Sur that “the models of development that today are being imposed (agribusiness, mega mining, tourism, among others) demand a great concentration of land and produce a reconfiguration of the territories, which is expressed in an emblematic way in the expansion of the “frontiers of exploitation”. For the investigator, the result is the “advance of a dynamic of dispossession, that generates a model of domination that opens a new cycle of violation of human rights. Today the connection is minimized between models of development and the dispossession of land, a phenomenon that involves peasant and indigenous communities, and in such a way, to inhabitants of small and mid-sized localities. In this aspect, the future that Argentina shows us is very bleak. It’s highly likely that the dynamic of dispossession will only become aggravated, and, with this, the criminalization and the assassinations will grow in number, since these are models of concentration of lands that are excluded, that don’t allow the coexistence of other forms of life.” Svampa also warns about the new antiterrorist law, presented in the Senate: “The law repealed the actual figures (already objectionable) in order to establish an aggravated figure generated for whatever crime. It pretends, naïve or malicious, that ‘the facts of social protest remain outside criminal interpretation,’ always tries to exercise constitutional right, when in reality the project of the law shows a clear repressive potential.”

Towards De-wiring.

The Mocase-VC denounces that Ciccioli is a business that arrived to Santiago del Estero to widen the agricultural frontiers. He bought about 3,500 hectares that included the locality of San Bernardo, whose villagers argue have bought their rights of possession. “It wasn’t legal: Ciccioli bought some 1800 hectares of surface to bump into. We defended it, and it cost us the life of my cousin,” said Ramón.

Some forty families continued protesting in a peaceful way. How? The Mocase propose to cut the wires of the landowners and return to occupy the lands that they inhabited for many generations with a familiar model of production. “The country that Ciccioli bought has a public school on it.  He fenced in the school, and those Juárez told the mothers that if they crossed the land to go to the school they are going to get shot to death,” says Antenor.

Pedro Orieta is a peasant-community lawyer. Talking with Mirada al Sur, he explains that “the harassment of the peasants is constant.” “In Santiago del Estero the majority of the indigenous peasants don’t have titles to their lands. They obtain them sometimes, with a huge effort, through ‘veinteañal right’, the right to possession of land. But there are few judges that apply it.” The lawyer concludes: “There is an invisibility of the way of life of a peasant, which sustains itself for centuries on a productive model that today, to the capitalist model, isn’t’’ profitable. We are seeing how the two models face each other. One that resists. And another that imposes the force of bullets.”
In the final survey of the area of the native forests in Chaco, Argentina: Chaco, Santiago del Estero, part of Formosa, Salta, and Jujy; the Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development realizes that the “loss of forest surface is caused primarily by the advance of the agricultural frontier.” Between 1998 and 2002 some 430 thousand hectares were deforested. The figure almost doubled to 806 thousand between 2002 and 2006. In only a year, in 2007, they have devastated 317 thousand hectares.

In December of this year, the sanction of the Forest Law proposes the total freezing of all deforestation until each province relieves the forested area and revises the permits. Without exception, 136 thousand hectares were destroyed illegally. The report warns that the places where the trees grew, the satellite images show “new cultivation that relate to soybean”. Santiago del Estero was one of the provinces with the largest amounts of deforestation, although the major part of the cultivation of soy happened in the southern zone. Today, it covers everything.