Argentinian minister quits in protest over detention of indigenous leaders
A minister for indigenous rights, who had called a hunger strike before his resignation, was placed under house arrest Thursday after a week of protests over his detention of indigenous leaders in the southern province of Santa Fe.
“We won’t let this administration continue to abuse the indigenous communities,” said the minister, Alvaro García. “We won’t stand for this. We need to be able to exercise our rights.”
Argentina, after the protest by indigenous leaders, said that the minister would be taken into custody, as an illegal detainee and not as a minister “in the capacity of a legislator” to a lawmaking body.
“What happened this week at Santa Fe isn’t so much about an issue of the right of indigenous communities to establish contact with the government of their choice or to access public services,” said Cecilia Soto, a coordinator with the human rights group Mapungubwe.
Garcia’s detention came in response to indigenous protesters’ efforts to gather information about the whereabouts of jailed indigenous leaders in the province of Santa Fe. After an international outcry, he had publicly denounced the authorities for denying information to indigenous protesters, calling them illegal detainees.
Garcia and his assistant minister of indigenous affairs, María Inés Pérez, have been under house arrest since Monday. Activists said that they were arrested before dawn Thursday in a protest meeting, and taken to the nearby provincial police station to be handed over to the military.
At a news conference, García said he understood the criticism and that he was trying to “defend my conscience,” but that the authorities would not allow him to work as a lawmaker or be able to access services for his constituents.
In addition to the hunger strike, activists gathered at a protest tent, where they handed García and Pérez letters demanding immediate and unconditional release from house arrest.
“These men, and women, have been incarcerated for more than two months without charges, with no access to legal representation, and with no guarantee that they will have any family visit, to see their children or to see doctors, or that they will have access to any medical care,” said Soto.
She also accused the government of “the use of its police force to force indigenous people to accept what many see as unacceptable.”