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Wichi/Mataco in Argentina

  • Profile

    Most of the 50,419 (2010 Census) Wichi live in the provinces of Salta, Chaco and Formosa There are also many Wichi in Bolivia and Paraguay.

    Traditionally Wichi people are hunter-gatherers, planting gardens and gathering honey as well as fishing. Colonization of traditional lands by settlers has created a vicious circle in which the settlers have forced Wichi into the same situation of urban poverty that the settlers hope to escape.

    Historical context

    In the late 1980s, contrary to national and international legislation, the provincial government of Salta passed a law that gave settlers a legal right to Wichi land. Subsequently, settlers forbade Wichi to hunt and often took gratuitous violent actions against them.

    The non-traditional herding of cattle and goats by settlers on Chaco scrublands has reduced previously fertile grassland to a sandy desert.

    During the last three decades Wichi communities have begun to organize together with other indigenous groups in the region. In the early 1990s they won an important legal victory when the authorities recognized that Wichi were the rightful owners of approximately 400,000 hectares in the Chaco province. However, several years after this they had still not been granted the official land title.

    Current issues

    In August 2006, after several Wichi, Toba and Mocovi people had led a hunger strike of 31 days outside the provincial government buildings, it was agreed (by the provincial government of el Chaco and the Instituto Aborigen Chaqueño) to grant more land titles to local indigenous communities. Authorities also agreed to revise recent sales of fiscal lands to private interests. It remains to be seen whether such agreements are adhered to.

    Nevertheless, there seems to have been little progress towards improved food access and better living condition for the children of the Wichi community. Wichi children continue to die of malnutrition or causes linked to the lack of water and food in isolated regions in Salta, one of the poorest regions of the country. At the same time, this region is also affected by deforestation conducted by private businesses taking over their land and limiting their access to food and water. An attorney-general is currently investigating the deaths of a number of Wichi children, apparently of malnutrition, and whether the authorities were culpable of negligence in these deaths. In addition, the Inter- American Commission of Human Rights has also demanded the Argentine government to give an account on specific actions taken to prevent further deaths.

    Updated September 2022

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