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Toba in Argentina

  • Profile

    The majority of the 126,967 (2010 Census) Toba in Argentina (they also live in Paraguay) are based in the provinces of Chaco, Formosa, Salta, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. They speak their own native language and Spanish.

    Some Toba in the Chaco region cultivate small parcels of land; most work on sugar plantations and in the cotton and timber industries, but conditions are poor and often result in debt peonage. Toba in the northern province of Bermejo, however, have successfully reacquired lands previously occupied by a sugar refinery.

    Cultural manifestations of a distinctive Toba identity can be found in their music and weavings.

    Historical context

    Toba had a degree of autonomy until their military defeat in 1920. A reserve was established in 1923 but colonisation of Toba land in the Chaco region continued. Over the next decades their territory was reduced by 25 per cent. Land shortages have forced many Toba to migrate to Buenos Aires and Rosario.

    They do not have their own political organizations, but many Toba participate in the Unión de Pequeños Productores Chaqueños (Union of Chaco’s Small Producers). In 2006, the Chaco provincial government’s agreed to give indigenous communities in the region more land titles, following a hunger strike by Toba, Wichi and Mocovi people.

    In recent years, Toba communities in the Chaco region have recuperated approximately 30,000 hectares; today they have a reservation of 365,000 hectares officially recognised by the authorities.

    Current issues

    Despite recent achievements, most Toba in rural areas still live on land without land titles; this is a major problem for them. Many have migrated to the cities of Rosario and Buenos Aires and live in the slums there. Efforts continue to encourage the use and promote the cultural value of the Toba native language.

    Since 2010, episodes of police violence have taken place against members of the Toba community. Felix Diaz, a prominent leader of the Qom community in Chaco, led a picket line in November 2010 that closed National Route 86, in protest against the proposed construction of a new university on indigenous land. Police officers violently evicted the protest, resulting in the deaths of Qom activist Roberto Lopez and a police officer. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Justice arranged a public hearing for 7 March 2012 and the accusations against Diaz of resisting the authorities and stealing weapons were dropped.

    In May 2020, police officers from Chaco broke into the house of a Qom family, stating that this family had taken part in a protest outside a police station in the city of Fontana, where stones and bottles were allegedly thrown. The officers were unidentified, dressed as civilians and did not have a search warrant. The family was tortured until the early hours of the morning. Similar incidents had been reported against the Washek community at the beginning of April and against residents the Toba neighbourhood.

    Updated September 2022

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