Why Argentina’s elites are waging war against Milagro Sala


Milagro Sala, leader of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association (Organización Barrial Túpac Amaru), with Pope Francis PHOTO/Democratic Underground
Vijay Prashad (left) with Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, Milagro Sala’s lawyer PHOTO/Luciana Balbuena

The leader of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association is a symbol of the fight against the old order.

Far to Argentina’s northwest, near the borders with Chile and Bolivia, sits the province of Jujuy. Here, until a few years ago, a major political force of the poor and indigenous had emerged. It is called the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association (Organización Barrial Túpac Amaru). The name—Tupac Amaru—itself sends shudders across the hemisphere. Both Tupac Amaru I (1545–1572) and Tupac Amaru II (1738-1781) fought off the Spanish, the first as the last king of the Incas and the second as a rebel against the colonial state. Tupac Amaru II was captured after a massive uprising, and then drawn and quartered in the bloodiest way. In the name Tupac Amaru, you have therefore both the rebellion and the hatred of the oligarchy against the poor and the indigenous. The Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association, which edged closer and closer to power in Jujuy, had to be—therefore—broken into bits.

The leader of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association is the charismatic Milagro Sala (age 55). She emerged into leadership through her work in trade unions, in the Peronist movement, and in the movement of the indigenous. Over the past 10 years, politicians of the Radical Civic Union—which governs Jujuy—have attempted to undermine and destroy the base created by Sala and the Tupac Amaru group. They have accused members of the group—and Sala specifically—of attempted assassinations and of corruption. When Gerardo Morales—of the Radical Civic Union—was elected governor in 2015, he alleged that the Association would conduct acts of violence in the province. When Sala denied this, and when the Association started a demonstration in Jujuy, Morales had Sala arrested. This was the start of her ordeal.

Dictatorship of White Men

On a sunny September day in Buenos Aires, I met Sala’s lawyer Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who gave me her view of the case and its implications. The accusations by the State against Sala quickly escalated—from the protest to corruption to allegations that she had organised assassination attempts. The accusations are wild and maddening. In 2018, the criminal court in Jujuy threw out the accusation that Sala had ordered the failed assassination of Alberto Cardozo in 2007. When Sala heard the court’s decision, she said that it is a “small glimmer of hope.” That Sala spoke of hope is key. In prison, she had attempted to kill herself a number of times. Now, thanks to the intercession of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and a United Nations expert commission on human rights, she is under house arrest. Other accusations remain alive and well. They pile up around her, suffocating her.

Alcorta is a sharp and feisty lawyer. She has no time for half measures. Argentina, she told me, is a “dictatorship of white men.” They have gone after this woman, this indigenous woman, with a keen sense of vengeance. The very harshness of the attack on Sala has stilled her organisation. There have been no protests in Jujuy for the past three years, largely because of the repression. The arrest of Sala, Gómez Alcorta told me, sends a message across Argentina that the protests of the indigenous will not be tolerated.

We Are Hostages

Over the past few years, protests by various indigenous communities across Argentina have increased. In Patagonia, for instance, militants from the Mapuche community have fought to defend and reclaim their land. During the presidency of Mauricio Macri, who will likely lose the election in October, promises have been made to agribusiness and mining firms for the exploitation of lands contested by the Mapuche. Macri’s government has delivered harsh repression against the activists. The deaths of Santiago Maldonado and of Rafael Nahuel are seen as the deadliest illustrations of this crackdown. Both Maldonado and Nahuel died defending Mapuche lands, the former with the Pu Lofen Resistencia community against Luciano Benetton (of the Italian clothing company) and the latter with the Lafken Winkul Mapu community.

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