Iguazu Occupation Conflicts

Julian Portilla

Mediator and Facilitator for Fundación Cambio Democrático, Buenos Aires, Argentina, a Member of Partners for Democratic Change International

Gachi Tapia

Executive Director of Fundación Cambio Democrático, Buenos Aires, Argentina, a Member of Partners for Democratic Change International

Interviewed by Guy Burgess, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Julian: I'm laughing now not because I think it's funny that he was killed, but this thing adds a whole different dynamic to the situation than was there before, or maybe it just brings up the dynamic that was there all along [phone interruption] So, there's this murder and on the one hand it's a terrible tragedy because it sort of brings to light the underlying dynamic that I think has been there all along, of violence and power struggle. On the other hand, it's also an opportunity because a lot of people were scared by this. I don't think people thought it would come to this, and now that it's come to this, I think -- and this is maybe a little bit idealistic, but it's also fairly empirical from talking to people -- I think they are frightened that things could go on this way. So while it's a major set-back in terms of flying in the face of this sort of collaborative dynamic that we've been trying to setup, it's also such a crisis point. Now nobody can ignore the situation and nobody can possibly want to move on like this. I say that somewhat ingenuously, because there are always people who are profiting from more disorder in the 2,000 hectares and there are always some people - mainly traffickers of all varieties. But it's really bringing to light a lot of things and the province can't stay out of the 2,000 hectares as they were, sort of officially, until now. And I think people are really reflecting on how they want to relate to each other within the 2,000 hectares so I think we have an opportunity to move forward. And right when it happens, the media calls us, everybody calls us. We're in Buenos Aires, we're very far away, and they say, "What are you going to do? What's the ??? going to do? What's your dialogue going to do?" which I think speaks to how "in the system" we have become. I remember speaking with Louise Diamond who said you have to be careful not to become a part of the conflict dynamic, but we are.

Gachi: There's no way.

Julian: But we're there. We're in this. [Interruption] So we're a political force in the system now, there's no getting around that - we're in the system. And we also have certain values that we bring to that system which have to do with a certain amount of representation and democratic leadership principles, which ends up having us work a lot with the grassroots behind these leaders. So we go to the bases of these leaders, and we really have this kind of "good cop/bad cop" strategy sometimes, where one will criticize an autocratic leader and then one will talk about how hard it is to be a leader and how people need to support that leader by telling them exactly what they need and by demanding information from that leader; having a two-way street. So now we're in this new leadership crisis

Gachi: But I think the turning point for the crisis was that we help to organize a census, in a way in which the people really got confidence so the outcome was to be very clear on who were the really people that need the land because they're poor and landless and who were the people that were speculating there, they were not just the poor landless. Which actually were this leader's friends. And this brought so much confidence on the poor people in the process, which when we finish this census and we did it with the help of the university, the university brought their social workers in order to do this in a very transparent way. And when we finish we make a big presentation for everybody so they could see how we had all these outcomes of who were who, who was doing what, and then the people that was trapped by this negative leader who was not able to come and census themselves because they were threatening who could have done it, they said, "We want to come here. We want to be in the dialogue. We really want to get rid of this guy." So I'm not sure how much we can prevent this kind of crisis if we are doing what we do, and in some way, sometimes what I feel is that you have to put a little more conflict in order to transform the conflict and not just to contain or avoid it. This could not have happened if we hadn't put there all this information, this access to information to the people, this transparency and the skills, you know, to bring them some voice and make them understand that they could really work with the authorities and get some land, and projects and whatever. So this is something that I think that we are learning. We don't have to be afraid of bringing more conflict, because sometimes that's the way in which it has to be.

Julian: I mean, hopefully nobody dies from it, but I think that's right.

Gachi: Yes, it's really - I don't have a word in English - but moving to us. All of us were really shocked by this situation because we were not expecting it. But as soon as we get more involved and we analyze it, I think it's maybe one of the natural consequence. Actually this is a way in which these people relate each other; the lack of institutions, the judge is not there, they couldn't go to the justice system. So they took justice into their owns and they're just shooting themselves Fortunately, we have just one person dead. But the violence was there when we arrived. Julian: Long story short, it takes a long time and it's a tremendous process of education and it's a constant almost overseeing I mean it sounds a little patronizing, but really making sure the link between the leader and the grassroots is there and that there is a real information flow between the leadership and the grassroots, which means we're constantly working outside of the main meetings in the 2,000 hectares, with these different leaders. And ultimately the biggest conflict is not between the municipality and the ocupantes, but between the ocupantes themselves.

Gachi: No, not only that, but this is also an opportunity because the provincial government who was not willing to help because of the political confrontation is now being blamed by everybody. "You should have been here because you have the power, the institutions to bring a different context." So I think in that way it's also an opportunity because people is in some way saying, "We are the victims of your political deals, confrontations, whatever. We pay the prices for you fighting guys - the powerful guys." Now this is there, this is obvious, this is in the media, so now the governor couldn't say, "Hey. ??? Don't support that guy." Because he is, you know, responsible. Julian: The last thing I would say is just a note about corruption, which has very much to do with the political fights that they're having, that Gachi's talking about. It's just a constant pattern of these client-patron relationships where these authoritarian structures are looking to benefit themselves rather than their base, and there's a certain risk when you bring people together to try to have positive communication or constructive communication and a dialogue - that there will be a small dialogue table formed in parallel to the big one, this big large transparent effort that we're putting together, the risk is that when you improve relationships just a little bit that these 5 or 6 or 8 main players - I guess they're fewer actually, I guess there's 5 main players, 4 or 5 main players - would get together and make political deals behind the scenes now that they're having to deal with each other in the big dialogue anyway, that they would have their own small dialogue that is very untransparent and come up with some arrangement that probably may not benefit their people. So you're constantly riding this line of, how friendly do we want people to be, how friendly is too friendly? That's a challenge I suppose. But the idea is to create enough transparency so that that couldn't happen. It's very tricky in that sense. So that's where we are in that process and we'll let you know next year.