MONTEVIDEO – The Uruguayan descendants of the Charrua, an indigenous people nearly exterminated shortly after that South American country achieved its independence, are demanding constitutional recognition and rights over their ancestral lands.
Martin Delgado, president of the 1,000-member Council of the Charrua Nation, or Conacha, its main representative body, told EFE that his organization was engaged in several disputes with the Uruguayan government.
One of them involves Conacha’s efforts to pressure Montevideo to ratify the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169, a legally binding international instrument pertaining to the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
Article 14 of that convention states that “the rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognized.”
Additionally, in appropriate cases, measures must be taken “to safeguard the right of the peoples concerned to use lands not exclusively occupied by them, but to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional activities.”
Conacha has set its sights on roughly 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of land north of the Rio Negro that straddle the present-day northwestern provinces of Tacuarembo, Salto and Paysandu, Delgado said.
The territory, he said, would be used to protect that indigenous people’s burial grounds and “millenary patrimony,” as well as to promote a renewal of this culture by bringing in people of Charrua descent, a group that in the latest census was found to account for 5 percent of Uruguay’s population of roughly 3.3 million.
Talks with the Uruguayan government “progressed a bit” in September 2014 when the country’s then-foreign minister and current secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, recognized the Uruguayan state’s responsibility for an extermination campaign against the Charruas that began in 1831, six years after the country declared its independence, Delgado said.
The requirement for Uruguay to cede sovereignty over that territory, a move that would have to be enacted into law if the country were to ratify the ILO convention, is one of the biggest obstacles to the talks, Delgado said.
Nelson Loustaunau, the Foreign Ministry’s head of international relations assistance, said for his part that a possible move to ratify the convention had “stalled” because the government and various social actors had determined that Uruguay lacked the characteristics of other regional countries that have taken that step.