Claims from the Mapuche indigenous community, often backed by violence, are growing by the minute in Argentina. They are also dividing society with a new issue arising this month – the controversial August 3 resolution by the country’s National Parks Administration (APN, in its Spanish acronym) anointing the Lanín volcano (or Pijan Mawiza) in Patagonia as "a sacred Mapuche site."
The controversial decision, made without consulting the Neuquén provincial administration headed by Governor Omar Gutiérrez, prompted strong pushback from both government allies and opposition critics.
Gutiérrez in particular came out all guns blazing to repudiate what he described as an " illegitimate and illegal outrage by the central administration, which thinks it can steamroller provincial autonomy," vowing to take the issue to court.
That threat eventually would not be needed – within 24 hours, the government had embarked on an embarrassing 24-hour U-turn.
Facing a wave of criticism, the national government immediately backtracked on the decision of its National Parks Administration (which falls under the Environment Ministry), but Gutiérrez in truth was not being entirely consistent either – only a few days earlier he had offered local Mapuche leaders "veto powers" over the future of a key pipeline intended to transport Vaca Muerta shale gas, some of which passes through territory which the indigenous community considers to be its own.
The “Protocol of Prior, Free and Informed Consultations” (CLPI, in its Spanish acronym), presented by Gutiérrez, converts the Mapuche community directly into "supervisors" of the public works and was harshly criticised by the companies investing in Vaca Muerta.
Gutiérrez’s gesture towards the Mapuches clashed with his fierce reaction to the APN Kirchnerite leadership’s decision to sign away Lanín as a sacred Mapuche site, a move he said was an attempt to "steamroller Neuquén autonomy."
The wave of criticism had its effect. A day later, an APN press communiqué proposed to summon the Neuquén provincial government and Patagonian indigenous communities for a panel of dialogue with its board of directors in the next few days with the intention of "dropping the current resolution and working jointly towards a new [resolution] which contemplates the federal spirit.”
Resolution 484 had declared the Lanín volcano a "sacred Mapuche site" and established its "political-religious" category.
“This Management Plan for the Lanín National Park presents an evaluation and integral treatment of the Lanín Volcano in function of a diversity of knowledge and spiritual, cultural, aesthetic, historic and social [among others] meanings which it inspires,” continued the resolution, adding: “The sacred places are recognised as a value of conservation for the communities and for the Protected Area and especially the Lanín Volcano as one of them.”
The resolution then referred to “the authorities of the Mapuche People, in the framework of their cosmovision, asking this National Parks Administration to recognise the Lanín Volcano (Pijan Mawiza) as a Sacred Natural Site.”
The resolution announced the establishment “of a mechanism jointly working with the Mapuche people to elaborate a management plan for the Sitio Natural Sagrado Volcán Lanín-Pijan Mawiza sacred natural site, defining the criteria for zoning and usage, the modalities for the intercultural management of the site and the allocation of the funding necessary to carry it out.”
Responding to the news, Mapuche leaders declared that “the values of the Pijañ Mawiza [volcano] are related to our way of life since we have always co-existed with it and the ecosystem which it feeds, united to the Mapuche national identity and necessary for important ceremonial and religious purposes.”
“It is already beyond dispute that human conduct is having dramatically negative effects on the diversity of life on this Planet while at the same time the languages, systems of belief, traditional values and the rich cultural diversity are in serious danger,” they maintained.
Governor Gutiérrez did not see it quite the same way.
"This is a unilateral decision without consultation, trampling on provincial autonomy and meddling with yet another initiative of centralisation,” he declared, anticipating that we will go through with “the corresponding administrative and legal procedure because this is an illegitimate and illegal action.”
The governor asserted: “The Lanín volcano is a symbol of Neuquén identity, forming part of our geography and cultural identity – it’s in our provincial coat of arms, the provincial anthem and our flag,” sentiments echoed and multiplied by the social networks.
Gutiérrez further commented: “This National Parks decision to declare the Lanín volcano a ‘sacred site’ unilaterally and without consultation ignores that natural resources are a provincial domain.”
Auditor-General and former opposition vice-presidential candidiate Miguel Ángel Pichetto also criticised "an illegitimate and illegal action," pointing out: "Once again sovereignty has been affected in a tourist paradise of our country. An imbecile action typical of this government. All Patagonia will soon be Mapuche."
Maximiliano Ferraro, who chairs the Civic Coalition wing of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition, blasted the resolution as "an attack on national sovereignty," setting a dangerous precedent.
"The Lanín volcano is a natural marvel and the heritage of all Argentines, not only some. The decision attacks national sovereignty and sets a dangerous precedent. NO to illegitimate tolls and illegal occupancy of land and vandalism in Patagonia," indicated the chairman of the party founded by Elisa Carrió.
Ex-president Mauricio Macri, meanwhile, tweeted that “the beautiful Lanín volcano belongs to all the Argentines, beyond any discussion,” accompanied by a photograph of the scenic landscape.
His critics, however, retorted that he did not defend another "natural marvel" like Lago Escondido (lying within the estate of his friend, the British tycoon Joe Lewis) with the same enthusiasm, pointing out Macri had visited it several times.
"Macri says that about the Lanín volcano because he wants it for his friends like Lago Escondido" commented the leftist deputy Miriam Bregman FIT/PTS-City), followed by numerous messages centred on the relationship between Macri and Lewis.
Macri’s view was echoed by the liberal deputy Ricardo López Murphy (Juntos por el Cambio-City) whose Twitter account affirmed: "I repudiate the resolution of the National Parks Administration to declare the Lanín volcano Mapuche territory. An absurd aberration typical of delirious Kirchnerism. The national territory belongs to all Argentines and IS DEFENDED, not surrendered. Enough of populism."
The U-turn prompted another volcanic reaction from Mapuche leaders, who targeted Environment Minister Juan Cabandié (the ministerial head of the National Parks Administration), slamming his “political fragility.”
The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén (CMN, in its Spanish acronym) rapped the national government for yielding to the "virulent reaction" of the Neuquén provincial government only 24 hours after its adoption.
"We deplore the political fragility of the national government and in particular Environment Minister Juan Cabandié, incapable of sustaining a political decision for 24 hours. The scant credibility and courage of his stewardship has caused a retreat in a decision so important for the Mapuche identity and cosmovision," a CMN communiqué pointed out.
It also responded to the harsh criticisms of Gutiérrez by inviting the governor "to acquaint himself with the proposal of the Lanín Volcano as a Sacred Natural Site for the Mapuche People and to involve himself in the organisation and projection of an intercultural administration of a volcano which is not only a provincial symbol but also represents an element regulating life."
The Mapuche leaders also repudiated "the media exposure of the issue," explaining that declaring Lanín a sacred site "will not close any doors."
"On the contrary, it opens up new doors by incorporating a new value for all of Argentine society to get to know and enjoy – to the landscape, the scientific and tourism can be added all the Mapuche cosmogonic potential which is unknown until now. Would anybody dare to oppose this added value when it is part of the identity of the region?" manifested the organisation.
"Both the national and provincial governments must urgently stop using the rights of the Mapuche people as barter and decide to exit the illegality of non-compliance with a constitutional norm which they are obliged to respect. From there we will make no more retreats because it is a disgrace how the governments and administrations follow one after the other and continue accumulating debts to the Mapuche people. We declare ourselves in a state of alert and mobilisation," concluded the text.