Julian: I think one of the most interesting cases we're working on now is a case in Iguazu, Misiones, which is the very northeastern province of Argentina and we're working on a land occupation conflict there, which, depending on where you're standing, is an environmental conflict, is a political conflict, is a social conflict, you know, if you ask the ocupantes, it's got nothing to do with environmental conflict, if you ask the National Park Service, it's very much an environmental conflict and if you are a political scientist, like me or some of my colleagues, it's very much a political conflict.
So there's a large piece of land just south of the Iguazu, and Iguazu is trapped on two sides by rivers and on the third side by the National Park and on it's fourth side there is a piece of land about 2,000 hectares in area and Iguazu is full and it has to grow, and it can only grow down into this 2,000 hectares. And they've had this land for seven or eight years and generally what has happened is that political "friends" get nice pieces of land in this 2,000 hectares extra-officially. In other words, the mayor or the head of the town council might say, here's a nice spot, why don't you go ahead and take it and it usually has to do with political favors in the end, and so after awhile, the housing demand in Iguazu grows and people are trying to get into the 2,000 hectares and there is a plan developing but it's never implemented from the part of the municipality, and the bishop one day stands up in the middle of town and says, "You all should go occupy this land," speaking to poorer people, "because if you don't go occupy it now, the mayor is going to give it away to all of his friends. So, why don't you go occupy the 2,000 hectares?" And so people do, and it becomes this tremendous occupation and the 2,000 hectares, which is the only plot of land into which Iguazu can grow, is eventually taken over by squatters.
Gachi: And it's also a part of this international green corridor. So that's why, from a conservation perspective, it's also a very strategic place.
Julian: It's a piece of what they call [Spanish] which means jungle of the [Spanish]. Gachi: Interior Atlantic forest.
Julian: That's right, that's what it's called. Interior Atlantic forest. And it's incredibly bio-diverse and it connects these different tracts of protected land in Paraguay and in Argentina. And there's two sections. One is an urban section which is a typical Latin American urban expansion where poor people go and basically setup shop in maybe 10x30-meter lots. 15x40 sometimes. And they setup and it looks fairly chaotic, although there is a certain amount of local organization that goes on, so when you're walking through these neighborhoods it looks like there's houses just anywhere. But when a surveyor comes and actually starts cutting the land into little plots, it turns out these people are fairly self-organized into these 10x30 or 15x30 plots of land, they just have their houses on different points.
So there's a certain amount of organization that goes on organically and there are a certain amount of rules they establish and norms between them. So there's the urban section and then there's the rural section. And in the urban section there may be close to - I don't know - three or four thousand people. And in the rural section which is the bulk of the 2,000 hectares - 1,200 hectares or so - is occupied by less than 1,000 people. But they call themselves rural workers and they have these three hectare plots of land and they clear-cut their little land and they burn the piece that they clear-cut, and then they make it suitable for agriculture - for a few years anyway, and so the municipality wants their land back and they sue several of the squatters individually to get it back. The squatters collectively sue the municipality because they are worried
Gachi: Well, they are really lack of power. They have a very strong, well they used to have, a very strong leader. Very negative one from our perspective that was in some way taking them to all this confrontation and was getting money to pay lawyers. Because actually he run for mayor too and he lost. So this is very interesting in terms of how this is a conflict in which politicians in our undeveloped country are using the very poor people when they go to elections. I don't know what would have happened if he really wins election.
Julian: It would have been very interesting. The reason he - he lost but by very little, and the reason he had so many votes is because he - this is the gentleman who took second place in the mayor's race, the way he got so many votes was by giving out pieces of land that did not belong to him to squatters. So the bishop said, go take over the land, and the sort of very concrete mechanism for people to go and occupy was that this guy would go around writing little slips of paper saying, "This land is yours "
Gachi: Requesting for money
Julian: "This plot is yours after you vote for me and get all your friends to vote for me. If I become mayor I will give you the title to this land." So he did that left, right, and center and basically populated the 2,000 hectares with this sort of crony-istic network, what we call [Spanish word]. And he got a lot of votes. And he also got a lot of votes for the provincial government, because he was running on the provincial ticket, whereas the guy who won was running on a slightly different ticket. Then you have a situation in which, despite the fact that there's incredible amounts of deforestation going on and an illegal occupation in terms of the laws that are on the books, the provincial government has a man on the inside, the second-place finisher, who they are supporting with their political capital and occasionally their financial capital and in fact he won himself a post in the provincial government - a small post but symbolic because that way the local ocupantes - the local squatters -- would see him as an arm of the provincial government. In the meantime, the municipal government is broke and is at odds with the provincial government and is very at odds with the individual who took second in the mayor's race. Talk about a divisive election. That was extremely divisive.
Gachi: Democracy is not about a collaboration. At all. That's our big deal. In terms of our work, we were looking to these land occupation conflicts. We were really excited about trying to do something with them. So what we did was develop a strategy in which we requested some money from the WWF, to make a workshop there in Iguazu.
Julian: That's the World Wildlife Fund to not be confused with other organizations of similar letters.
Gachi: Okay, so we invited to this workshop, and we get the money and we invited the people who were in some way representatives of people who were in some way main stakeholders of this conflict. So we brought people from the church, all the grassroots organizations supporting the landless, we brought people from the National Park, and the ministry of ecology, and from some environmental NGOs - because we knew these were people who never talk among them. So we're putting them in a workshop in a beautiful place for five days. It would be an interesting lab in terms of what would happen. We offer this as a training program for conflict resolution tools, and of course everybody wants to be trained in how to improve conflict negotiation or whatever. So we were lucky, and the people really came, and it was very interesting what happened during the workshop because the woman representing the National Park was organizing a demonstration against, how do you say, squatters? And Iguazu is a main tourist place in Argentina, so it's a main concern, and having all those people within ten minutes of our beautiful falls where all the tourists are coming. So they were organizing some demonstrations in the streets in order to pull down all those people and push the mayor to do something. And he was in the workshop, and she realized after two days this was not going to be a good strategy. We were doing some interesting role plays between the church representatives and the authorities' representatives and the landless representatives and we could see how they were like switching the meanings of how these conflicts were in some way constructed previously in their mind.
So when we finished with this workshop on cooperative processes, cooperative planning processes, they requested some help to deal with this conflict. So we requested, which conflict would you like to take that is interesting for you, we could talk and work on? And they took this one and when we finished, two or three of them went to mayor and request the mayor to come to Buenos Aires and request our help. So that was how we entered the conflict and then we have this first stage, this need assessment stage in which we really try to analyze and see if some kind of process could be really useful and what we did was try to commit what we thought were the main conveners in order to be successful. So we put together the mayor, and the legislative branch of the county, and the church. And the three of them were convening the process. So we were having enough confidence. Anyway, there was like, previously to the formal first meeting, there was a lot of work we have done in order to prepare all the people for the dialogue. We spend like three months working with them trying to build some confidence in the process, and in our team, and trying to feel what it was that they need in order to participate, and to build trust. And then to help the most poor ones to get organized in order to come to this kind of process and help them build some capability in how to talk, because this is nothing that they are used to.