Argentina declares the death of 500 indigenous people in the Napalpí massacre a “crime against humanity”

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The plane used during the Napalpí massacre, photographed by the team of ethnologist Lehmann Nitsche, in 1924.Cahiers des Amériques. Figures de l’Entre

The indigenous massacre of Napalpí finally has an official history. An unprecedented truth trial in Latin America has considered this Thursday a “crime against humanity” that occurred “in the framework of a genocide” the death, on July 19, 1924, of between 400 and 500 Qom and Moqoit indigenous people. police hands. The ruling, signed in Resistencia, Chaco (northern Argentina), holds the State responsible and establishes eight measures of historical reparation. It has been a long road for the indigenous communities of the region, who for almost a century had to listen to the version that the massacre was the result of a clash between tribes.

During the trial, which began on April 19 without any defendants -98 years later, there are no living perpetrators left- declared Rosa Grilo, a Qom woman who was a girl when the police attacked her community and today is the only survivor of that barbarity. Chaco was in 1924 a region of Creole outpost, where the big landowners occupied by blood and fire the most productive lands of the native peoples. Napalpí was a reduction, as the state-run labor camps were called, where the Indians produced cotton under a bondage regime. The massacre was the official response to a strike by 1,000 workers fed up with not being paid for their work.

The police and military “arrived riding horses, they settled down a short distance from the camp and from there they fired their rifles and carbines, all at the same time and at close range for the space of an hour. Immediately, due to the impact of the shooting, an estimated four hundred to five hundred members of the Qom and Moqoit ethnic groups fell dead, including girls and boys, women, some of them pregnant, men, elderly men and women, “says the ruling, signed by Judge Zunilda Nirempreger. “In some cases, several members of the same family lost their lives. The wounded who remained at the scene and could not escape in time were killed in the cruelest possible ways. There were mutilations, exhibitions and burials in mass graves”, adds the text.

Rosa Grilo, survivor of the Napalpí massacre, during an interview for El País in 2022.Photo: Roly Ruiz / El País | Video: EPV

“The account of the events is very descriptive and comprehensive of the sequence of the massacre and its context,” says prosecutor Diego Vigay, one of the people who has worked hardest to make this truth trial possible. “When we started the investigation in 2014, we asked ourselves the question of whether the truth included why the massacre was carried out, what the interests were. The sentence is valuable in that sense. In the trial, investigators spoke of other massacres and that put the sentence within the framework of a process of genocide against indigenous communities, ”he explains.

The truth trial made it clear that the state was responsible for the massacre. “The perpetration of the massacre, due to its own complexity, required the prior conception of a plan,” says the ruling, “which involved exhaustive coordination, logistical organization, distribution of roles, mobilization of various contingents of troops, their transfer and concentration for several days before, a large quantity of weapons and ammunition, their camping and food, in addition to the support of a small plane that carried out at least intelligence and observation tasks.”

Once the families on strike were murdered, an official history was built where the victims became perpetrators. “In order to deny and cover up the massacre, the events were presented as an alleged confrontation between ethnic groups and subsequent disbandment. The official press reproduced the version provided by the police officers and officials of the Government of the territory, which was later endorsed by the local justice, in a process in which only the troops and civilians who participated in the aggression declared, but no indigenous people”, he reconstructs. the text.

General view of the Cultural Center of Memory, in Buenos Aires, during one of the sessions of the truth trial for the Napalpí massacre.
General view of the Cultural Center of Memory, in Buenos Aires, during one of the sessions of the truth trial for the Napalpí massacre.LUIS ROBAYO (AFP)

The truth must now be told in Chaco schools, as ordered by the judge. There will also be a museum of memory in what was the headquarters of the reduction, in a rural town that today is called Colonia Aborígen and that will change its name, and international organizations will be informed of the result of the investigation. The trial for the truth has been the end of a long road that has Rosa Grilo, the only survivor, as its visible face. And also to the Napalpí Foundation as promoter. In 1998, when no one was talking about the massacre and the communities hid his story, Juan Chico, a Qom descendant, began to wonder about the memory of his parents and grandparents. Chico investigated and in 2008 published a book that opened the history of the Napalpí massacre to society. “It has been a very tense, exhausting process and getting to this is very emotionally relaxing, knowing that at least something was done,” says David García, a member of the Foundation.

Juan Chico could not see the result of his work because he died last year as a victim of the coronavirus, but he left a Foundation running. “We have to educate ourselves to be able to address the sentence, because there are interesting lines, such as reparation and public policies in education. We must work to repair some damage”, says David García. Now the reconstruction work begins.

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