Pandemic. Myths, hypocrisy and racism in Argentina

After this pandemic, marginalized communities do not want to return to the old “normal” and continue to be oppressed, exploited and ignored.

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Familia Wichis de Tartagal, Provincia de Salta. En los últimos 5 meses, 18 niños han muerto por desnutrición.
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"Nobody is born hating another person because of the color of their skin"

Nelson Mandela


The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of the United Nations (1) was signed and ratified by the Argentine state. This implies that, as a Member State, it is committed to ensuring compliance. However, very few of these precepts are fulfilled.


Following the murder of African-American brother George Floyd, the Argentine media extensively published what happened and included various comments about the racism that exists in North America. However, very little is said about the always present, open, violent, offensive racism in Argentina and its many manifestations. 


Graphic media such as La Nación and Clarín, historical benchmarks of conservatism and representatives of the interests of local and transnational elites, with a marked tendency to support the economic policies of the different governments of the United States, openly express their racism, for example, calling the Mapuche claims for their territory "terrorism".


The most progressive trending media more linked to the current government, such as Page 12 and Tiempo Argentino, on many occasions conceal the harmful consequences of the advance of the various extractive industries which Argentina has adopted as state policy, also which have had substantiated effects of ethnocide and ecocide.


Interference in the public opinion of the media is inescapable. In all these cases, corporations which include written, virtual press, cable television channels, opinion-forming programs and journalists, represent corporate interests and help maintain the status quo by reinforcing the effectiveness of the racist state.


Except for alternative media, organizations, activists and conscious individuals, who strongly question these attitudes, the voices of indigenous peoples are completely ignored.


There is regular commentary of the "idiosyncrasies of being Argentinian", or it is often heard that "in Argentina there isn’t racism like there is in the United States".  Yet phrases with racist content circulate daily: "f…ing indians";" Indians are lazy," "you're behaving like a wild Indian." Not only have they been normalized by most people, they are often used by high-ranking officials.


Argentina has a population of 44 million inhabitants, (2) of which more than two million belong to the more than 30 indigenous communities that inhabit the country. Of the total population, about a third are dark skinned. However, this third is not represented in any of the government spheres throughout the country, as can be seen in the photo below. Government officials, as well as most employees, are of European descent.


Starting from 1945, the time of President Perón who promoted the first internal migrations to Buenos Aires, the aim was to provide labor for the economic model of exporting raw materials to Europe. Indigenous, mixed-race and peasants made up much of the industrial urban workforce. From then on, and because of the color of our skin, the Europeans descendants from Buenos Aires called us an “invasion from the zoo” and called other dark-skinned people who came to work "black heads."


Black is used to describe everything negative and disgusting. Black as pejorative, black as disqualification, never as value. "Those f….ing niggers," "I had a black day," "there was a black hand,” "a black destiny,” "black money.” Even in several tango lyrics the term “negro” (black) is used as a pejorative.


The existence of other cultures in the country is constantly denied.


For the first time in 1977, (4) the indigenous people of Abya Yala (continents of the Americas) participated in the Conference on Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations held in Geneva. European journalists were surprised by our presence because until that time, Argentine officials who traveled to Europe denied the existence of Original Peoples.


In the 90s, on the foundations established by the last military dictatorship, President Carlos Saúl Menem adopted the neoliberal policies aligned with predatory and polluting extractive industries. After the 2001 crisis it got worse. During the three periods of the Kirchner and Fernandez presidencies (2003-2015), the largest number of transgenic seeds were sanctioned and planted.  Millions of hectares were cleared to expand the agricultural frontier. The poison production model expelled hundreds of indigenous and peasant communities. Today more than 400 million liters of pesticides are spilled per year.


These policies were deepened by the subsequent right-wing neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri, and with it, the socio-environmental problems. 


In 2019, progressive neoliberalism wins the presidential elections. The government headed by Alberto Fernández continues today with the extractive production model as state policy.


Ancestral inhabitants of rural areas, forests and mountains, began to expand the settlements of the great urban centers, living in extremely poor conditions of overcrowded shantytowns.


Governments that by political and economic interests reinforce the stigmas


In a report for United Airlines magazine in 1995, Former President Carlos Menem said that "In Argentina we are all descendants of Europeans." But even he is not, because he is a descendant of Arabs.


In 2015, Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, (current vice-president) maintained in a speech on the national network that “All of us who are here got off the boats. We are children and grandchildren of immigrants, because that’s it; Argentina is a country of immigrants.”


In 2016, during the commemoration of 200 years of Argentine independence, former President Mauricio Macri expressed that "All Argentines come from Europe and are of that culture." He went even further and asserted, as if apologizing to the king, "how badly the patriots must have felt when making the decision to separate from Spain."


The current president, Alberto Fernández, on his first tour of Europe in late January 2020, expressed to the governments of France and Germany that “Europe is a huge continent. We are descendants of inhabitants of this continent and fundamentally they are the great investors in Argentina.”


In addition, the current Provincial Minister of Security of the government of the Province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni, famous for being arrogant and for repressing workers, said in early June when he was questioned about the police procedures he directs (5) “We act like professional police because we are not savage Indians who hang around with boleadoras ”(5). This same Minister suggested to his predecessor, former Minister Patricia Bullrich of the Macri government (who authorized the police to kill from behind when she was in office), to "beware of the Mapuches."


There exists a National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, (INADI) that was created in 1995/97. Supposedly it is independent, however the director is designated by the government in office, therefore, in the face of exhibitions of racism committed by the ruling party, INADI remains silent.


Racism and poverty


The capital city of Argentina (Buenos Aires) has been governed by the extreme right for more than 13 years. Mauricio Macri was its Head of Government until he won the presidential elections in 2015. His campaign slogan was and is "Buenos Aires Belongs to its People.”  It is the city that aims to look like Europe, except its Villas Miserias (shanty towns) are super populated with indigenous, mestizo and immigrants mostly dark skinned, who come to work or for medical treatment in the hospitals of the capital.


In its annual report on poverty, the Argentine Catholic University (6) mentioned that in Argentina 40% of the population is poor. According to the World Bank report on poverty in 2017, indigenous peoples are the poorest.


Many of the indigenous communities are concentrated in the provinces of Formosa, Chaco, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero and Tucumán. These provinces are characterized by having in common feudal modes of government, whose elites hoard political and economic power, with full interference in local justice. In the training the security forces receive, they learn about the "internal enemy"; in reference to the indigenous and impoverished peasants who manifest themselves in demonstrations for their rights.


In these provinces, economic insecurity and overt racism aggravate the situation of so many brothers and sisters.


Racism and education


There is a conscious and unconscious aspiration to have a white and "civilized" society. It is a prejudicial denial. The University of Buenos Aires (3) carried out genetic research and found that 58% of the population in Argentina has indigenous genes. There is definitely a problem in Argentine society: the unknown, the different, causes fear.


Education had a leading role in preventing knowledge of the cultural reality of our Abya Yala.


Domingo Faustino Sarmiento has been a central actor in promoting the education to which I refer. Sarmiento had studied in Europe and brought educational and military prototypes from there. He became president in 1868. He formed the military academy in 1869 and opened schools and implemented compulsory education throughout the country. Textbooks were based on the European conception of teaching. They only mentioned America as the continent where "primitive cultures had existed", prior to the existence of the "civilized Argentine Nation". Villages, towns, streets, schools, monuments, libraries, etc., bear his name throughout the country. In one of his well-known racist demonstrations and actions against the indigenous and mestizo gauchos, he states the following: (7)


"Will we succeed in exterminating the Indians? I feel supreme disgust for the savages of America, without being able to remedy it. Those people are nothing more than filthy Indians whom I’d send to hang right now if they showed up. Lautaro and Caupolicán (Mapuche leaders) are worthless, lousy Indians, because that's how they all are. Unable to make progress. Their extermination is providential and useful, sublime and great. They should be exterminated without even forgiving the little one, who already has instinctive hatred of civilized man”(4). Sarmiento’s racist ideology was a significant contribution to the formation of the fledgling Argentine state, and of course, also to its oligarchies which therefore justified the seizure of the territories that ancestrally belonged to the original peoples.


The first Constitution for the Argentine Nation was written in 1853. In one of its paragraphs, it establishes a priority "Promote European immigration and convert Indians to Catholicism." Massacres of indigenous people ensued and those who survived were violently converted into the “Argentinian” culture and beliefs.  This paragraph was in force until the constitutional reform of 1994. After the pressure applied by indigenous organizations, it was eliminated, and the new constitution included Article 75, Subsection 17 which recognizes the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples to the Argentine state.




The history of racism in Argentina has its foundations in looting, death and dispossession starting from the independence of 1816.


Already with the European invasion in 1492, Christopher Columbus led the armed campaign known as the "Conquista", initiated by (with) the Catholic Church. The priests brought the "message of God" through their agent on earth, Pope Alexander VI. The Doctrine of the Discovery of 1493 through the Papal Bull “distributed” the continent in the following way: The monarchy (what is Spain today) will be the owner of everything that today is Mexico all the way to the southern tip except the east coast where Brazil is located today, which had already been "occupied by other Christians", the Portuguese. Subsequent Popes have refused to abolish this language in the Papal Bull up to the present.


A large population of Africans were brought to our Abya Yala and subjected to slavery. Much of it was eliminated in the wars for independence from the Spanish Crown and, regionally, in the war of the Triple Alliance (8) (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) against Paraguay during the years 1865 and 1870, under the presidency of General Mitre. During that war, it is estimated that 50% of the population in Paraguay was massacred. Around 250 thousand people including women, children and the elderly. (9) Many of them were indigenous people. This was one of the most heinous crimes against humanity committed against the people of the newly formed Paraguayan state, all in the name of the English empire.


Today, in our country, indigenous people, mestizos, Afro descendants, immigrants from neighboring countries and immigrants who have arrived in the last decades from West Africa – are all called “blacks”. The government of Ciudad Autónoma, run by the right wing Rodríguez Larreta, has a particular hostility toward the West African immigrants that gets expressed in persecution and repression by the metropolitan police.


The pandemic and racism


In the last two months and in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, travel is restricted for fear of contagion. Repressive police forces responding to feudal-type governments that govern the northern provinces of Argentina (the provinces of Formosa, Chaco, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero and Tucumán,) have violently attacked defenseless indigenous communities. 


The eviction from their ancestral territories, repression, violence and shootings of defenders of their rights is a constant in those regions.


In the Chaco province, because they were hungry and couldn’t leave their homes to work, two brothers from the Qom people went out to hunt a deer to eat.  They were hunting on private lands that belonged to their ancestors. They were shot at by landowners and private guards, were seriously injured, yet no one was held accountable or arrested.


Also in the Chaco Province, at the beginning of June, while shouting “infected Indians!”, the police violently broke into the house of another Qom family, hitting two young men and a 16-year-old girl, sexually abusing her. They were taken to the police station where they were further beaten and tortured. The police doused them with alcohol threatening to set them on fire.


COVID-19 spreads in Buenos Aires in the Villas Miserias because of the overcrowding in which people live, poor housing, lack of drinking water, etc. The same occurs in other provinces where indigenous communities are living in Villas Miserias. It is worth mentioning that the virus was brought from Europe by those who always travel to that continent.  An indigenous leader said sarcastically: "We have no airport here to go to Europe that any of us knows of.”


Repression and racism


In the last 15 years across the country, more than 20 indigenous people have been killed by the police, Army Border Patrol, landowners and private guards, with no arrests for these murders today. In the last few years, in the Province of Salta, at least 17 boys and girls have died from malnutrition, due to the dismal conditions in which they live. Their territories have been occupied by private individuals and companies that cut down the forests to plant transgenic soybeans and other produce. All this, with the complicity of the current Governor Saenz and the former Governor Urtubey who now lives in Spain.


When the Mapuche began to claim their territorial rights on the southern border with Chile in 2018, there was an agreement between the conservative governments of Macri and Piñera of Chile to organize smear campaigns and repress their leaders. Two Mapuche people were shot from behind by the police. Although the perpetrators are known, today they are free. A young man who supported the Mapuche was also kidnapped by the Army Border Patrol and after a month was found dead in the river.


A recent study by several universities throughout the country in Argentina, including the University of Buenos Aires, La Plata and Córdoba, expressed concern about the exacerbation of racism in Argentina, mainly against indigenous peoples. In some of the text of their study they reference that: (9)


Unfortunately, in the context of COVID 19 and the preventive and mandatory social isolation measures of Decree 297/2020, various conditions of racism, discrimination, verbal and physical violence have been exacerbated towards indigenous peoples.  Arbitrary actions and abuses have taken place by the citizenry, large landowners, and officials and/or security forces of various public agencies involving extremely conflictive and traumatic encounters in some cases.”


Dr. Diana Lenton, professor at the University of Buenos Aires, UBA, states that: “Racism is a pseudo-scientific ideology that classifies people according to their visible physical features and attributes different capacities, ideological, moral inclinations and rights, thus legitimizing the exploitation and subjugation of one another. In countries like Argentina, which is the product of the European invasion and later of processes of internal expansionism, racism played a fundamental role in legitimizing the power and property of the ruling classes, by justifying the annihilation and reduction to the servitude of the original peoples".


Dr. Silvina Ramírez, professor of Law at the University of Buenos Aires, UBA states that: “Historically, the majority of western and hegemonic Argentine society has subordinated indigenous peoples, despising and marginalizing them.”


The health of the Argentine indigenous peoples is diminishing. There is no medical assistance, there are only small health posts with almost no staff. Doctors don’t want to go to work because they are not paid a fair wage.




In conclusion, many indigenous leaders believe that genocide is continuing against them and is a premeditated plan by the different governments to make us disappear.


However, despite all these manifestations of brazen racism, there is some optimism for the future. The original peoples and a large part of society including young people from social movements, progressive parties, peasant farmers, academics, workers, left-wing parties, environmental groups, the women's movement, are becoming aware of, and fighting against systemic racism, other forms of discrimination, the contamination of the environment, the detriment of wealth disparities, and they are starting to say ENOUGH to so much injustice.


We are part of the Abya Yala continent and together with sisters and brothers from other countries from whom we are divided only by colonially imposed borders, we are in a global embrace to liberate ourselves. After this pandemic, marginalized communities do not want to return to the old “normal” and continue to be oppressed, exploited and ignored. “We have set out to build a new society based on respect for diversity, balance, harmony with nature, and all lives on this planet.”


Wichis family from Tartagal, Province of Salta. In the last 5 months, 18 children have died from malnutrition.


President Macri meets with the governors of 24 provinces after taking office in December 2015


Alberto Fernández assumes the presidency in Argentina on December 10, 2019. Here he is with his ministers and cabinet




1 The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is one of the main international human rights treaties. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 21, 1965 and entered into force on January 4, 1969.


2 Censo Nacional de Población, Hogares y Viviendas 2010.


3 Mapa genético Argentino. Universidad de Buenos Aires.


4 Ginebra. 1977.


5 Balls with rope that the Mapuche used to hunt


6  Observatorio de la deuda social argentina. UCA.2019.


7 Diario El Progreso, 27/09/1844. Diario El Nacional 25/11/ 1876.


8 BBC.News Mundo. 8/2019


9 http://antropologia.institutos.filouba

The expression "racial discrimination" shall denote any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, lineage or national or ethnic origin that has the objective or result of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, under conditions of equality, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural spheres or in any other sphere of public life.


English translation assistance by Kimberly Rosa
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