Death of indigenous Argentine children prompts plea against indifference

Salta, Argentina, Feb 6, 2020 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- The head of an indigenous ministry team in Argentina has called on Catholics not to be indifferent to the plight of suffering indigenous people, but to make an effort at outreach, encounter, and prayer.

“The indigenous reality is alien and distant, especially for those who live in the big cities, due to the great diversity and expanse of the national territory,” said Deacon Eduardo Bertea, a member of the indigenous pastoral team for the Diocese of Orán in Salta, Argentina.

Bertea spoke to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner, after local media outlet Infobae reported last week the deaths of six children from the Wichí ethnic community due to poverty and malnutrition. The Wichí are an indigenous group in the Salta province in the country's north.

Responding to the news, Salta governor Gustavo Adolfo Ruberto Sáenz declared a “social and health emergency” for six months, to prioritize initiatives in the areas of comprehensive health, identifying emergency cases, and undertaking actions to reverse this situation, according to local reports.

One of the major challenges facing the Wichí people is a lack of access to clean drinking water.

Government minister Ricardo Villada told local media that the government is working to assemble food packages, establish a water purification plant, and arrange for the construction of rainwater collection cisterns.

Deacon Bertea, who has 30 years of experience ministering to indigenous peoples, explained that the rainy season threatens the Wichís annually.

“The infrastructure is very shaky: there are bad roads, unreliable communications, no access to safe drinking water and unreliable health services. But this is nothing new, it happens every year,” he said.

Wichí communities face threats from new genetically modified crops, as farmland encroaches on their territories, Bertea said.

“They live under the constant threat of being evicted from their homes because the still don't hold the title to these lands,” he explained.

Many of these communities also face discrimination and cultural separation from much of society, he added.

The Diocese of Salta’s indigenous people ministry seeks to promote the dignity of the Wichís and similar communities, the deacon explained.

“It seeks their recognition as children of God, going beyond government welfare,” he said, adding that the ministry seeks to “promote the recognition of the fundamental rights of these communities, for example water, a vital element; access to land and its natural resources; and that the indigenous are not treated as the object of welfare benefits, but that they're listened to, that it's a two-way conversation.”

Bertea invited Catholics in Argentina to get to know indigenous communities and to “recognize them as brothers, in imitation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as she did with the indigenous Juan Diego.”

“All Christians are called to listen to the [indigenous peoples], to have an attentive ear and an open heart…to listen to their cries, their claims, their wisdom,” he said.


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