Further to the ACNS report in the mailing of November 1996 about the land rights campaign by the Wichi and Chorote Indians of the Northern Argentine Chaco, Bishop Patrick Harris, Bishop of Southwell and a former Bishop of Northern Argentina, sent this report update to ACNS.
"In October 1996, I was part of the British Delegation to the Argentine British Conference. These conferences have been held each year since 1990 and are made up of Parliamentarians, business people, representatives of the Arts and of academic institutions and the Church. These non-Governmental Conferences have the objective of building up relationships between the two countries in the aftermath of the Falklands War.
"This particular Conference was held in Salta, which is the centre for the Diocese of Northern Argentina, which has been at the forefront of the encouragement of the Indian Tribal Peoples in their search for rights over the land they have inhabited since time immemorial.
"It was in August and September of last year that the Indian Tribal Peoples of the area occupied an International Bridge over the River Pilcomayo with the objective of forcing the Government to cede Land Rights. An Undertaking was given in September by the Minister of the Government of Salta to bring forward the necessary documentation within 30 days. Those 30 days expired during the time of the Argentine British Conference in Salta.
"As a former Bishop of Northern Argentina and with intimate knowledge of this long standing request for Land Rights, I was able to raise the issue personally with the Governor of Salta and also to visit the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Salta who is equally committed to the cause of the Indian Tribal Peoples. Furthermore, I was able to raise the matter at the Conference and ensure that in the final communique, reference was made to the subject.
"In spite of this international pressure, still the Land Rights have not been granted to the Indian Tribal People. Apart from my own correspondence with the Argentine Ambassador in London on the subject, the Anglican Communion Representative at the United Nations, Bishop James Ottley, has also made representation.
"The resistance of the Salta Provincial Government to act is difficult to understand, especially in the light of the fact that the President of the Republic, Carlos Menem, was personally involved in the handing over of Land Rights to another Indian Group, the Mapuches of Chubut on 25 October.
"It is urgent that continued pressure be brought upon the Salta Provincial Government to act according to the Argentine Constitution, the declared position of the President and in response to their own commitment through the Minister of the Government of Salta, apart from on the basis of basic human rights."