The Church and the cry of the native peoples

Renew the alliance with the native peoples: this is the commitment of the Church. This is underlined by Monsignor Luis Antonio Scozzina, bishop of the Diocese of Nueva Orán (suffragan of the Archdiocese of Salta) and president of the Episcopal Commission for Aboriginal Pastoral Care, before the microphones of Vatican Radio – Vatican News.

The dialogue is motivated by the rejection of the National Aboriginal Pastoral Team, ENDEPA, to the bill that seeks to repeal Law 26160. This ruleenacted in 2006, declares an emergency “in matters of possession and ownership of the lands traditionally occupied by indigenous communities originating in the country, whose legal status has been registered in the National Registry of Indigenous Communities or competent provincial body or those pre-existing”.

The repeal bill was presented on May 12 by Deputy Victoria Villarruel. In a video published on his Twitter account, Villarruel pointed out that “they request that the emergency over the usurpations carried out by the Mapuches be ended and we are requesting the repeal of this law based on an emergency that does not exist today and that has only served as an umbrella so that, through the commission of crimes, rights are created”.

ENDEPA issued a repudiation statement to this initiative, in which he stated, among other issues, that “the Argentine Nation is satisfied with a bloody history, of death towards the Indigenous Peoples and none of the promoters of this project will ever be able to explain how private titles were obtained over the Communities with no other explanation than the killing and violent eviction of the Indigenous Peoples, added to a right of conquest, assumed as inherited from the Spanish crown when Argentina was constituted as an independent nation.

Recognize territory, respect rights

Scozzina recalls an issue linked to legislation and the protection of native rights: since 1994, the reformed Argentine Constitution recognizes the pre-existence of native peoples. Therefore, it does justice to a right that, for a long time, was denied, ignored and even violated, a right that peoples have to live on their land, first, and, secondly, to be recognized as actors civil and ecclesial, affirms the prelate.

Regarding the law in question, he considers that it had a mandate to comply with the protection of the territory of the original peoples, giving them the possibility of community ownership of the land. This, he explains, generates a source of conflict: many communities have been claiming this right for many years. In different places, other companies took possession of them.

The reason for the rejection -says Scozzina- lies in the fact that, despite the fact that 15 years have passed, this law needs to be extended and comply with the registration of the peoples in its territory. “This is the most objective aspect, the most legal”, deepened Scozzina.

Justice in the light of the Gospel

The bishop specifies that, for more than 40 years, ENDEPA has been working tirelessly with the native peoples, claiming their rights, recognizing their culture. He assumes a “respectful attitude of listening and dialogue, conversion to justice and love of solidarity”, as he describes ENDEPA website.

ENDEPA shares – its website reads – life, faith and spirituality, mutually enriching itself with the contribution of cultures, contributing to universal brotherhood, accompanying the self-management process and the organization of communities, contributing to raising awareness so that there is a fairer Argentine society based on the acceptance of the diversity of Peoples and Cultures where Human Rights and in particular the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are made effective, assuming this multicultural reality recognized by the Constitution and national and international laws and the Constitutions and provincial laws.

ENDEPA supports the fight for the conservation of forests, the environment and sustainable development to achieve decent living standards; In addition, it sensitizes and commits the Church to the reality and diversity of the Indigenous Peoples in Argentina, with an ecumenical and interreligious spirit.

Alluding to the recognition of the diversity that makes up the Argentine social fabric, Monsignor Scozzina asserts that this situation is confirmed in the National Census, the results of which were released on Thursday, May 19 by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (Indec).

“We need to do justice in a very broad sense: to history, to the peoples, acknowledging a debt that the Argentine people owe to their communities,” says Scozzina.

“We cannot allow globalization to become a ‘new type of colonialism’”

Scozzina cites point 14 of Dear Amazon, in which the Holy Father uses two strong words (injustice and crime) to name undertakings that do not respect the right of indigenous peoples to territory and its demarcation, to self-determination and prior consent. When some companies thirsty for easy profits appropriate the territories and even privatize drinking water -says the Pontiff-, or when the authorities give free rein to logging, mining or oil projects and other activities that devastate the forests and they pollute the environment, unduly transform economic relations and become an instrument that kills.

“Recourses are often used that are far from ethical, such as penalizing protests and even taking the lives of indigenous people who oppose the projects, intentionally causing forest fires, or bribing politicians and the indigenous people themselves.”

“A new awareness of the recognition of diversity”

Asked about the ways to heal the historical debt of Argentina with the indigenous peoples, Monsignor Scozzina shares a significant episode: a community of the Diocese of Nueva Orán managed, through a lawsuit against the government, to claim the right to be return the land to them.

“The peoples, the communities, together with the Creoles, who are sharing the territory, reached certain agreements. Obviously it is a commitment that the State has: to provide the conditions so that they also have the right to own their property, not individually, but collectively, as they claim it. We want to accompany this claim and, above all, renew this reality that the Argentine Church is called to be close to the weakest, the most unprotected. In this, we believe that we have to become aware, not only the political class but also all Christian communities, of this diversity”.

The importance of visibility

In his final message before our microphones, the bishop returns to the meaning of “Dear Amazon” in this matter and maintains that the Pope has given us a great challenge, that all our Churches assume this alliance with the original communities in our beloved Latin America.

“It is a really very important moment for the life of our continent, in the sphere of the Ecclesial Assembly, of the recognition of civil and ecclesial subjects, and also of walking trying to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus”, he concludes.

The Church and the cry of the native peoples