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Court: Argentine State Bears 'Responsibility' for 1924 Indigenous Massacre


FILE - Members of the Qom and Moqoit indigenous communities and others march as a trial opens for the massacre of indigenous people protesting living and working conditions on cotton plantations back in 1924, in Resistencia, in the Argentina province of C

An Argentine court on Thursday found the state responsible for the massacre of more than 400 indigenous people almost a century ago and ordered remedial measures.

In July 1924, Argentine police and settlers mowed down hundreds of indigenous people protesting inhumane living and working conditions on cotton plantations in the northern region of Chaco.

As many as 500 members of the Qom and Moqoit communities were killed. They lived in conditions of semi-slavery on the so-called Napapli reservation on land settled by immigrant farmers from Europe.

A federal judge has previously ruled the mass killing a crime against humanity, but no classic criminal trial had been held given the lack of defendants -- who are long dead.

Until Thursday, no guilt has ever been officially assigned.

After a month of hearings in a so-called "truth trial," a verdict was delivered Thursday by a court in Resistencia in Spanish as well as the languages of the Qom and Moqoit.

It said that the "responsibility of the state" had been proven in "crimes against humanity" that had taken place in the context of an "indigenous genocide."

Judge Zunilda Niremperger ordered "historic reparations," which did not include financial compensation.

Among the measures are to include the massacre in the school syllabus and continuing forensic efforts to find the remains of victims.

A memorial was erected in 2020.

The plaintiffs had not sought economic redress, but the judgment could in theory pave the way for civil action.

Raquel Esquivel, a Qom descendent, told AFP it was high time that "indigenous voices are heard."

"It's important that the truth be told," she told AFP by telephone from Machagai, a small town near the Napalpi reserve some 1,000 kilometers north of Buenos Aires.

This was the first court case to delve into the persecution of indigenous peoples in Argentina.

According to the accounts of survivors of the 1924 massacre, the dead included many children and elderly.

"The wounded who could not escape were killed in the cruelest way possible," the court found -- many were mutilated and buried in mass graves.

Only about a million of Argentina's 45 million inhabitants today are members or descendants of the original 39 indigenous groups, according to census data.

Historians say the settlement of Argentina by immigrants left its indigenous peoples on the verge of extermination.

One of the most brutal episodes, known as The Desert Campaign, saw at least 14,000 indigenous people killed between 1878 and 1885 in the effort to incorporate Patagonia into the rest of Argentina.

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