A violent confrontation took place between police and citizens on Tuesday in the northern Argentine province of Jujuy during a demonstration against a reform of the local constitution that criminalizes certain forms of protest. The riots left between 50 and 70 people injured, mostly from the impact of stones and rubber bullets, according to Pablo Jure, director of the local emergency care service. More than 20 people were arrested, and at least 20 roadblocks were reported.
The massive demonstration of indigenous and social organizations in front of the provincial parliament turned violent when activists threw stones at the police infantry guard, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. The reform expressly prohibits street and road blockades, as well as any other disturbance to the right to free movement and improper occupation of public buildings in the province. Protesters denounce that this limits their right to protest. Although the modifications related to the land rights of indigenous peoples were contemplated in the text, they were suspended at the last minute.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement calling on Argentina to respect standards on the use of force and the right to freedom of expression. The IACHR reminded the State that the right to consultation and free, prior, and informed consent is fundamental to guaranteeing the participation of indigenous peoples in decisions that affect their rights. The commission affirmed that roadblocks are legitimate and protected forms of protest.
Both the governor of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales, and the Argentine president, Alberto Fernandez, accused each other of the disturbances. Morales blamed Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Kirchner for the extreme violence, while Fernandez demanded an immediate halt to the repression and accused Morales of having brought the province of Jujuy to this extreme situation by trying to impose a constitutional reform that does not respect the National Constitution.
The protest, which has involved thousands of representatives of almost 300 indigenous communities as well as teachers and state workers, is aimed at denouncing the elimination of their ancestral land rights. The province of Jujuy has a population of 800,000 inhabitants, and its economy is based on sugar and paper production, lithium exports, and tourism in the mountainous areas. Governor Morales announced that some articles related to land ownership would be reversed, but it was not made clear which were the modified texts.