On Monday, April 25th, at least fifteen members of the Qom community (of the Toba people) began a hunger strike in Buenos Aires because, they claim, the Argentine Government has not upheld promises it has made in the past, largely related to land. In addition to the hunger strike, more than 150 community members along with other supporters have been protesting and blocking traffic at an intersection in the capital city for the past four days. Joining the demonstrators in their claims is a growing chorus of support both nationally and internationally.The Qom community has been fighting to get certain land rights recognized for many years. In November of 2010, that fight took a deadly turn. On November 23rd, 2010, violence erupted during protests in the Qom community of Formosa over land. Ultimately, two individuals died – one Indigenous and one police officer – while dozens of others were injured and houses were burned. The conflict resulted in dozens of individuals from the Qom community heading to Buenos Aires in protest. The individuals began camping in a plaza in the capital city and have been there ever since.
On December 30th, 2010, the Argentine Government reached a deal with the Qom community and said they would resolve the land issue – which involve around 1,300 hectares in the province of Formosa – and that they would investigate the violence that had occurred just a month earlier.
Despite the agreement, many of the Qom community members continued to camp in Buenos Aires until the government fulfilled its promises. As Felix Diaz, the leader of the Qom community, put it, “We want to solve the problem, we do not want to become a part of the landscape of the city.” Diaz went on to state that the community has made several requests to the President to have a meeting, but that, thus far, they have gone unanswered.
The Argentinian Government has said very little about the protests, which have disrupted traffic all week long. Until today (April 28th), the only comment in the Argentinian media comes from Minister Jorge González, who stated that, “This is a very small group of people from the community, with whom dialogue is impossible, which is what needs to be given priority.” Today, however, Vice-President Julio Cobos told the communities that if they stop their protests, the Rights and Guarantees Committee of the Senate would listen to their land claims.
The Vice-President’s comments come two days after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (part of the Organization of American States) granted precautionary measures requested by the community. Specifically, they told the Argentine Government to take the measures necessary to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the Toba people and, additionally, to ensure the safe return of the community’s leader and family.
Other voices have begun speaking out on behalf of the Qom community. For instance, Amnesty International released a statement urging the Argentine Government to respond to the demands of the community. Additionally, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, expressed his solidarity with the movement and commented that it was a tragedy that the Government wasn’t responding to the violation of human rights that was occurring. The Church has also expressed its solidarity with the Qom community and urged for action from the State. And finally, actress and singer, Nacha Guevara, who campaigned for current President Cristina Fernandez, reached out to her and asked her to meet with the community, also stating that the land issue was one of basic human rights.