BUENOS AIRES – The death toll from clashes between police and Toba Indian protesters in the northern Argentine province of Formosa has risen to three after authorities said a second indigenous man was killed.
The violence erupted Tuesday near Colonia La Primavera, a town 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of the provincial capital, when police tried to clear a road that Indians had blockaded to demand the return of land.
Felix Diaz, the Toba leader who headed the protests, on Wednesday accused the police of having repelled the protest with the “intention of killing.”
“They never showed us a dispersal order. They didn’t even want to chat. They came with the intention of killing,” Diaz told the media.
“Knowing that there is a right that protects us regarding the lands from July 25, we’d been cutting the route up until (Tuesday). In those four months, we never had the chance to be visited by an official and (on Tuesday) what we always expected occurred: the violent eviction by the police,” Diaz said.
“The provincial government has a lot to do with this because it never answered our request for dialogue,” he said. “Justice in Formosa does not work.”
But provincial interior minister Jorge Gonzalez said that the clash came when around 100 police entered a camp very near the roadway and came upon a similar number of Tobas.
He said the Indians opened fire on the police, killing officer Heber Falcon, after which further violence occurred that resulted in the death of Toba activist Sixto Gomez.
Authorities on Thursday said that another Indian identified as Roberto Lopez, 52, also perished in the fighting.
Another Toba Indian is reportedly in a coma, while a police officer is hospitalized in serious condition.
More than two dozen Indians arrested over the clashes have been released in recent hours by order of Judge Santos Gabriel Garzon, judiciary officials said Thursday.
Garzon “ordered the release of 27 detainees (on Wednesday) and (Thursday morning) set free the last of the Indians, accused of groping a police woman,” the officials said.
Following the clash, the Toba Indians lifted their long-running blockade of a provincial road near Colonia La Primavera.
Members of that community had been barricading the road for four months to demand the return of lands they say belong to them and from which they were evicted by the Formosa government to make room for a college campus.
The National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism has investigated allegations of abuse of authority in connection with the conflict, while a federal court had ordered the Indians to end the roadblocks. EFE