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Ending Land Disputes in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

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Ending Land Disputes in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Prior to October, 2003 Puerto Iguazu, Argentina endured a two year struggle between municipal authorities and the illegal inhabitants of 2000 hectares of municipal land within the city. The homeless families who occupied the disputed land had come to Iguazu looking for work and dealt with continuous confrontational and repressive judicial intervention.  The situation eventually escalated into episodes of violent conflict between the occupants of the disputed land, their neighbors, and the authorities. The dispute also provoked serious socio-environmental problems as the occupation appeared to negatively affect the development of Iguazu’s tourist trade and the preservation of its environment.  Finally, in October, 2004 Municipal Authorities, the Social Pastoral of the Diocese of Iguazu, and the National Parks Administration called upon the Foundation for Democratic Change in Argentina (FCD – Fundación de Cambio Democrático) to help resolve the dispute.

FCD introduced the conflicting parties to a collaborative process called Dialogue Rounds. This process brought together representatives of the municipal authorities, of the occupants’ community organizations, of the National Parks Administration, of the Ministries of the province, of non-governmental organizations supporting sustainable land development, of the Aboriginal Guarani community of Mborore, and also private sector organizations for the first time to seek a resolution to the conflict. During the Dialogue Rounds, each party was able to express their views about the three basic issues of contention: how to manage the occupied territory; how to maintain sustainable agricultural development while protecting natural resources; and how to prevent conflicts caused by informal occupation of the land in the future. All parties directly involved in the conflict were willing to provide suggestions for resolution.  This collaborative process brought the conflicting parties together to express their differing opinions, perspectives and interests to end the conflict. A program of action was developed based on the collaborative opinions of all involved. Other stakeholders such as the National Front on Poverty (Frente Nacional por la Pobreza), the Tourism Chamber, the National Institute for Social Development, the Wildlife Foundation (Fundacion Vida Silvestre), the Iguazu Technological Institute, the Aripuca Tourist Complex, the Guira Oga Reservation, and the Colegio de Agrimensores were also invited to participate in the talks.

The first purchase agreements of the municipal lots took place in September 2004. These agreements were based on the consensus obtained by the Dialogue Rounds facilitated by FCD and the Misiones Association of Mediation. Two-hundred and thirty-five families (70% of whom were unemployed at the time) signed agreements to purchase the municipal lots at this time. The deeds were established upon the completion of a symbolic payment of 450 pesos for three-hundred square meters of land and under the condition that the owners were not permitted to sell the land for five years after purchase. 

Before the Dialogue Rounds, the conflicting parties had experienced hostile encounters marked by threats of expulsion, demolition, and violence. The occupants of the disputed land claimed that before the Dialogue Rounds they had been harassed by the authorities and had no opportunity for dialogue, to express their concerns, or resolve their problems. The previous approach to the situation had escalated the dispute and polarized the parties involved. Today, of the two-thousand disputed hectares, two hundred hectares have been assigned to the Mborore aboriginal tribe, seventy lots have been distributed between 400 people and the process of assigning land continues.

The City Council Resolutions Nº 97/04 of December 2004 declared the 2000 previously disputed hectares, a Multiple Use Reservoir, thereby regulating and restricting the uses of the land.  Land zoning was the first step towards tenure security for the occupants by formalizing the municipal territory boundary that had been the source of conflict. By incorporating the 2000 hectares of land into a legal framework, the resolution laid the groundwork for establishing land rights for the families which had been previously unavailable. FCD’s collaborative dialogue process was an innovative resolution to the land dispute. It gave the people of Iguazú, Argentina a voice to express their perspective of the situation and a way to resolve the conflict.

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