05/11/05: Benetton ends Patagonia dispute donating land
Italian textile tycoon Luciano Benetton announced Wednesday the donation of 7.500
“We’ve opted for a concrete quality and quantity contribution”, said the businessman.
The Benetton group will cede the land to be distributed among Indian communities, to the provincial government of Chubut in Argentine Patagonia January 2006. The group which acquired 900.000 hectares of land in Patagonia has been involuntarily involved in a long historic dispute dating back to colonial times between the Mapuche nation and the Argentine government.
However Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel has consistently claimed that the Benetton group “usurped” territory from the Mapuche Indian.
“You have taken advantage of your money and the complicity of an unscrupulous judge to deprive land from humble Mapuche families”, said the Argentine human rights campaigner who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980.
A contentious involving 385 hectares out of a total 900.000 purchased to the Argentine government was favourable to the Benetton group. Mr. Perez Esquivel argues that the Mapuches are the “legitimate proprietors, even when they don’t have the documents crediting possession”. Benetton invited Perez Esquivel to talk about the issue and rejected the “feudal lord” adjective used by the human rights activist. “Our investment in Patagonia represents a challenge for us which will contribute to develop the region and create jobs for its inhabitants”, said Mr. Benetton. “We believe in economic rules, in enterprises, innovation and favouring development, not in feudal rights”.
The Benetton group purchased the land originally belonging to three families in 1991, but in 2003 a family of Mapuche Indians occupied 400 hectares claiming they belonged to their ancestors. The court ruled eviction of the Mapuches but also triggered the controversy with Perez Esquivel. The Mapuche nation number a million most of them living in Chile and an estimated 60.000 in Argentina. Since Europeans arrived in Patagonia the Mapuches have been persecuted and their land forcibly disputed when not confiscated even as recent as during the Pinochet dictatorship. The Benetton episode on the Argentine side partly compensates losses but not legitimate rights as Mapuches demand.