Elizabeth Gomez, Argentinian minister quits in protest over detention of indigenous leaders

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The high-profile detention of several indigenous women leaders in Argentina this week has prompted Argentina’s Minister for Women, Gender and Diversity, Elizabeth Gomez, to resign in protest on Friday, according to state news agency Telam.

The women, from the Mapuche nation, were detained Tuesday by Argentinian security forces amid clashes over their community’s occupation of private and public lands, Telam reported.

“The situation is very concerning. Seven indigenous women, one of them the spiritual leader of the community, have been detained for more than 48 hours,” said Gomez in an interview with local radio station AM750 on Thursday. Her portfolio includes advancing rights for women and indigenous minorities.

The following day, Gomez resigned.

Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez has accepted Gomez’s resignation, presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti said, Telam reported.

Federal Police line up along a road as they work to remove Mapuche Indigenous people from land they have been occupying for years near Villa Mascardi, Argentina, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.

On Tuesday, federal police had conducted an operation to clear lands in the Rio Negro province of members of the Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu indigenous community, according to Telam.

Community members had occupied the areas while demonstrating for better treatment of indigenous groups in the country – part of a longtime struggle by the Mapuche for recognition of their language and cultural heritage, as well as for better economic treatment from the government.

After clashes broke out between security forces and the demonstrators, seven women were detained, Telam reported.

Four were later transferred to prison in Buenos Aires province — some 1500 kilometers away from where they had been arrested, according to the agency. According to Argentina’s Security Ministry, they were transferred because the local penitentiary in Rio Negro province is at capacity.

A spokesperson for the penitentiary system told CNN on Friday that the four women remain in their custody but did not specify if any have been formally charged.

Police fire tear gas a they work to evict Mapuche Indigenous people from land they have been occupying for years near Villa Mascardi, Argentina, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.

In her resignation letter, published by Telam, Gomez said the actions of the police “are incompatible with the values I defend as a political project.”

“Personally, I believe these actions crossed a line, and as a consequence I must step aside so that another person may take on the important responsibility to lead this Ministry,” the letter, cited by Telam, said.

Public works minister Gabriel Katopodis has lamented Gomez’s decision to resign, saying that the government “loses a very capable official,” in a statement to Telam.

The Mapuche nation once spanned large swathes of territory in the Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia region. Historically, their territory has been shrunk by cattle ranchers and shepherds looking for pastures in the fertile plains of northern Patagonia.

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