Responsible tourism issues

The diversity of landscapes in the world's 8th largest country – from searing north to ice-bound south – combines with a sometimes turbulent social fabric to present a variety of challenges to authorities juggling economics with ethics. On the plus side, Argentina has built a fine network of national parks and reserves that provide a magnificent resource for responsible tourism in Argentina. A 2011 law now restricts foreign investors buying other rural land, keeping it in local hands rather than enriching global speculators. And key figures behind murderous human rights abuses in the 1960s and 70s are also, finally, being brought to justice. There is still more to be done, however, with regards to environmental degradation including deforestation, boosting negligible efforts with renewable energy, and improving treatment of Argentina's indigenous peoples. Hopefully, Argentina will find the will – and money – to act, despite ongoing economic woes.

People & culture

This land is our land

Since the 19th century, many of Argentina's diversity of indigenous peoples have suffered discrimination, intimidation and violence, sometimes in the name of 'economic progress', other times due to sheer prejudice. Thankfully, there are signs that their claims to basic human and land rights are beginning to be heard by Argentina's authorities. “We don’t want to be considered as strangers in our own country, poor or useless. We want to live without discrimination. We don’t want bloodshed, we just want to reclaim our community,” is how Félix Díaz, leader of the Qom indigenous community in the province of Formosa, described the situation to Amnesty International.

With regard to land rights, the interests of native populations have often come into conflict with industry, particularly large-scale agriculture and mining. The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples has criticised the lack of consultation with the communities over development projects and the exploitation of natural resources in territory they consider their own.

This has prompted direct action as the only way to be heard. In 2010, for example, Qom activists blocked the 86 National Route for four months in protest against the building of a National University on what they considered their ancestral lands. Police violently broke up the protest, resulting in at least two deaths. In 2008, a leader of the Pueblo Diaguita community in Tucumán province was shot dead while trying to prevent the removal of his people from their territory by a major landowner. And in 2012, several members of the Nogalito community in Tucumán were beaten and threatened with death by individuals seeking to take over their land.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded Argentina stop such violence, while the country's Supreme Court also ordered the government and the National Institution of Indigenous Rights (INAI) to work together to map disputed territories and to guarantee the right to indigenous populations to proper consultations.

Both Argentina’s Constitution and international human rights law recognise the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands. Further, in 2006, the National Congress passed a law that ordered the suspension of evictions of all indigenous peoples until the ancestral lands had been mapped through a survey. Despite this, mappings are not taking place and violent evictions continue. "The land is our life. From it we obtain the food and medicines we need. It provides us with the natural resources to make our houses, for our livelihoods. Without the land, we the indigenous people will lose our spiritual roots," says Félix Diaz. Indigenous voices must be heard.

Source: Amnesty International

What you can do
Take part in tourism which helps boost the welfare of indigenous population – and enriches your own vacation too. Stay in locally-owned accommodation, trek with native guides, shop in artisan markets and participate in traditional festivals and events.

Cleaning up after the dirty war

2012 saw the first sentence passed against a civilian for human rights abuses committed in the so-called 'Dirty War' of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Argentina was under oppressive military rule. Former minister Jaime Smart and 22 former military officials were found guilty of involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of social activists at six illegal detention centers in Buenos Aires. Smart – Minister of Interior of the state of Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1979 – was sentenced to life in prison.

“These convictions are yet another sign that Argentina is dealing with its tragic past and bringing truth and justice to society,” said Mariela Belski, Executive Director at Amnesty International Argentina. “The challenge that remains is that all those who were involved or participated in the killing, torture and disappearance or thousands of people during Argentina’s military rule, including civilians, are brought to justice.”
During the 'Dirty War' – which followed similar dictatorships in the 1950s and 60s – security forces abducted an estimated 30,000 people, many of whom are still unaccounted for and believed murdered. Widespread and systematic human rights violations were committed, including torture and extrajudicial executions on a grand scale. A number of high level officials, including former military presidents Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone have been convicted for their involvement in these human rights crimes.

While Argentina continues to make significant progress prosecuting those involved in killings and torture during the country’s so-called “Dirty War” – spurred by the demands of children who lost their parents – there remain outstanding human rights concerns about proper freedom of expression (e.g. ceasing government prosecution of outspoken publications and protecting journalistic sources), allegations of continuing torture in custody and women’s rights.

Source: Amnesty International
Source: Human Rights Watch
Source: The Guardian

What you can do:
Get informed on human rights in Argentina and be open to listening to what locals have to say on the subject. Give financial support to campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International Human Rights Watch.

Wildlife & environment

The unkindest cut of all?

While much attention is focused on the impact of economic cuts in Argentina, the country is paying far less notice to the catastrophic loss of its forests, driven by the short-term demands of agriculture rather than the long-term needs of the environment.

According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Argentina has lost at least 70 million hectares of forest in the last century, with over 16 million hectares of tree cover decimated between 1980 and 2000 alone. Since 1914, two-thirds of Argentina's native forests have been destroyed. 

The clearing of forests to provide grazing for cattle has long been cited as a major cause of mass deforestation in Argentina, damaging swathes of the Espinal shrubland forest and the Chaco region. But vegetarians have nothing to feel smug about. Research by WWF also points major blame at soya cultivation, with deforestation due to expanding soybean cultivation posing a serious threat to environmental jewels such as the Yungas 'cloud forest' as well as, again, the Chaco region - one of the largest forest biomes in South America.

Argentina's desire to boost its economy in the face of financial crises is understandable at one level. But the setting of aggressive targets to further expand soybean production for export crazily puts short-term gain before long-term sustainability, not just for Argentina but for the whole planet.

What you can do:
Eat less beef - and soya products – from Argentina. Support organisations such as WWF that are campaigning to protect vulnerable environments from the impact of large-scale agriculture driven by exports that also add climate-harming food miles.

Water woe

Increasing industrial pollution and the demands of a growing population are threatening many areas of Argentina with a crisis in the supply of safe drinking water. Matters are made worse by broader economic woes that encourage companies to cut corners when it comes to cleaning up water before pumping it into rivers, while municipalities rarely have the resources they need to properly treat water. Many once important aquifers are now too polluted to use.

Increased demand has also led to major problems. Buenos Aires has depleted the aquifers that once supplied the city, and now relies on the Rio de La Plata to supply its growing population's water needs. However, this river is shared with Uruguay – and is also suffering from increasing pollution, particularly from factories along the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers.

Mining is a major industry in Argentina – the country is the world's second-largest producer of boron, for example. But the boost mining gives to the nation's GDP has to be balanced with the environmental harm it causes in many areas – including to water supplies. Toxic mine dust often ends up covering precious glaciers, which are not only natural wonders for visitors to admire but also key suppliers of fresh water. This dust accelerates melting, contributing to global climate change. Mining operations also consume vast amounts of precious water, contaminating it in the process. And while humans can try to work out ways to clean drinking water – if there is any left - animals desperate to drink in the parched environment are often forced to drink contaminated water.

What you can do:
Don't waste water! And support environmental organisations such as Greenpeace which are leading campaigns against irresponsible mining.

Responsible tourism tips

Support the national parks systems and don’t resent the entry fees. As long as local people, from government to grassroots, can see that conservation equates with burgeoning coffers, they will have another reason to protect the land and the species that live there. Whale watching is now a big pull for Patagonia. There are many issues around whale watching, but there are good opportunities to do well-managed whale-watching trips from ports on the Península Valdés or just watch from the shore. Punta Norte Orca Research is a conservation organisation based in the area, and is a member of the responsible World Cetacean Alliance, which promotes responsible whale watching worldwide. There are strict laws in wilderness areas like Patagonia about lighting fires. Be careful too with cigarette butts if you smoke. A 2011 fire on the Chilean side burned over 40,000 acres of wilderness, took weeks to contain, and destroyed a vast swathe of flora and fauna. The cause? An illegal campfire. Waste disposal is also a big issue, especially in remote areas, where an accommodation owner might have to travel for hours to get rid of waste, so take your rubbish with you if you can. Use a refillable water bottle, avoid plastic bags and watch your waste. If you have space to bring rubbish in your luggage, then you have space to take it away. You may come across places – museums, national parks plus popular tourist places like tango clubs or estancias offering BBQs – that operate a two-tier price system, with prices for tourists in US$ and another price for Argentinians in pesos. This does not necessarily mean you are being charged more! The peso is often in such an unstable state of fluctuating value, many businesses are just keen to be paid in a more stable currency to cover costs and maintain long-term viability.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Juanedc] [This land is our land : Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social] [Cleaning up after the dirty war: Gelpgim22 (Sergio Moises Panei Pitrau)] [The unkindest cut of all?: User:Alfonso"]