Argentina: Mapuche Community and NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili in Conflict over Land

A long-running case involving Manu Ginobili of the NBA (National Basketball Association) and the Mapuche community of Paichil Antriao (located in Argentina) made its way back into the Argentine press this week. The human rights organization, Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Pueblos Indígenas (OHDPI), announced that it will assist in the defense of the Mapuche community against a lawsuit filed by Ginobili over 11 hectares (27 acres) of land located in Villa La Angostura. The initial lawsuit was filed in 2007 and, after being suspended for some time, appears to be moving forward again.

The case in question involves a piece of land that Ginobili purchased in 2004 for US$30 million. Although nothing has been constructed on the land, according to reports, Ginobili has long had plans to build a home and luxury hotel on the property. The land, however, has been locked in a legal battle since shortly after its purchase. Specifically, the Mapuche community of Paichil Antriao lives on that land and claims that they were, in fact, given title to the lands in question back in 1902. Over the years, according to the Community, that title has been disrespected and the Mapuche people have been forced to move further and further to the outskirts of the land that was once theirs.

Ginobili has stated that he was not aware of the Mapuche community’s claims to the lands, but in 2007, in order to resolve any legal issues surrounding the land, Ginobili filed a lawsuit in the Argentine courts and was effectively seeking a declaration that his title was legitimate and no one else had any claims to the land. The suit quickly gained prominence in the media because Ginobili’s lawyers used an antiquated argument, asserting that the Mapuche people never existed in Argentina (only in Chile) and, therefore, they essentially have no status as Indigenous peoples under Argentina’s laws and cannot claim the lands to be their own. The lawyers went so far as refusing to name the Mapuche community in the court documents, in part because they did not want to take any actions that indicated the community had legal standing. As Juan Manuel Salgado, the Director of OHDPI,  put it, “Manu Ginobili may have been acting in good faith [when he purchased the lands], but he received very poor advice [from his legal counsel].”

It appears that the lawsuit filed in 2007 has never been fully resolved and, only recently, came back before the courts. In early 2011, an appellate court effectively ordered that the Mapuche community of Paichil Antriao be added to the lawsuit. Then, in April of 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States issued a declaration on the conflict. The Commission granted “precuationary measures” to the community and instructed Argentina to, among other things, take steps to allow the Mapuche people to reach sacred sites on the land and to protect the lives of those in the community who had been displaced due to the conflict.

The Commission’s order was responding to, in part, the fact that in 2009 a number of Mapuche individuals were evicted from the land and had their homes destroyed. Since that time, there have been further allegations of police mistreatment of the Mapuche people who call the land in question their home. In total, according to the Community’s leaders, more than 30 families were living on the land at the time of Ginobili’s purchase, and all have been affected by this dispute in one way or another.

Although the case is back in court, thus far, Manu Ginobili has declined to speak publicly on the issue.

See the articles linked in this story and additional Indigenous headlines by clicking here (updated daily).

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