Benetton Offers Land to Argentine Indians
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina − Italian clothing retailer Benetton offered Monday to give Mapuche Indians a portion of its vast lands in Argentina's Patagonia, which the Indians have sought to claim as ancestral lands.
In a goodwill gesture, Benetton has offered to donate 6,178 acres of its nearly 2.2 million acres to Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has backed indigenous birthright claims to the lands.
"Luciano Benetton has announced in a letter to Adolfo Perez Esquivel... that he will put at his disposal 2,500 hectares of good-quality, productive Patagonian land... which he may use as he sees fit to benefit local indigenous groups," Benetton said in a press release.
Perez Esquivel was not immediately available to comment on whether he had accepted the donation.
Relations between Benetton and the Mapuche community have been poor since an Argentine judge in May ordered a Mapuche family to leave the Patagonian farm it occupied in 2002, after a Benetton unit proved ownership of the land.
Mapuches trying to eke out a living off the land have occupied several estates in Argentina and Chile in recent years as part of a campaign for land rights.
A Benetton spokeswoman said the lands being offered near the city of Esquel -- 1,240 miles south of Buenos Aires -- were not the plots affected by May's court ruling.
Benetton owns vast tracts of farmland in southern Argentina, where it rears sheep to provide wool for its garments. The company says it employs 600 people.
"This step represents a concrete gesture, with an eye to opening a realistic dialogue and mediation on the question of Patagonian lands," Benetton's statement said.