Over the last couple of weeks, Argentina has been the centre of attention in South America for the strange disappearance of a young man called Santiago Maldonado in the Argentinian Patagonia.
Who is Santiago Maldonado?
Maldonado is a 28 years’ old artisan from Buenos Aires, who recently moved to the Argentinian Patagonia, more specifically to the city ‘’El Bolsón’’, near Bariloche, in the Province Río Negro.
What happened to Maldonado?
Maldonado was last seen on August 1st during a Gendarmerie (Border Patrol) operation against the Pu Lof Mapuche community in the Chubut department of Cushamen.
According to few witnesses, he was taken by the Gendarmería and has not been seen ever since. His family has admitted that he arrived at the Mapuche settlement in order to learn more about the Mapuche’s struggle and situation, a day before his disappearance.
What was Santiago doing there?
Maldonado was attending a protest on the famous Argentinian Route 40, against the detention of the Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, who has been imprisoned for over a month now, when around forty Gendarmerie officials disintegrated the demonstration, in a violent matter, according to some witnesses.
The Ministry of Security of The Nation, headed by Patricia Bullrich, stated that there is no evidence linking the National Gendarmerie to the taking of Maldonado, in fact, she has denied that there have been witnesses who have declared such things.
Why is the Mapuche cause involved?
The Mapuche cause is involved because they have established a permanent settlement in a plot of lands that, according to the Mapuche community, has belonged to their people for hundreds of years, but, according to the Argentinian State the lands belong to the Italian Benetton group, who has bought them during the 90’s.
Some members of the Mapuche community have distanced themselves from the peaceful right to protest, and instead, they have resorted to violent protesting methods, and have created a group called ‘’Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche RAM’’ (in Spanish), or ‘’Ancestral Mapuche Resistance’’.
However, Santiago’s family denies he belongs to the ‘RAM’ group and claims he was only there to understand better and show solidarity to the Mapuche cause.
On August 8th, the Argentinian Government released a statement through the Ministry of Security, stating that they are offering a reward of $500,000 Argentinian Pesos (almost USD$28,000), for information on the whereabouts of Maldonado.
On August 11th, ten days after Santiago’s disappearance, the Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, finally broke his silence about the situation. However, he only said that ‘’the government is working in order to understand what has happened’’.
Moreover, the Judge pointed to this case, Guido Otranto has not been able to find a definite clue to help him conclude what has happened to Maldonado. According to some reports, stains of blood and some hairs have been found in the area where Maldonado was last seen, but nothing is definitive.
And, even though some witnesses say they saw officers take the young man into an official van and take him away, the Security Minister has been very protective of the Gendarmerie and during a session in the National Senate, Bullrich denied any signs of ‘forced disappearance’ like Maldonado’s family and witnesses claim it happened, therefore not much information has been released in regards to this mysterious disappearance.
Everybody is looking for Santiago Maldonado
This week, activists from social movements, human rights defenders, representatives from Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Relatives of Detained Missing Persons and Hijos Capital have gathered in the famous Plaza de Mayo, holding photographs of Santiago Maldonado and asking for his prompt return.
Even ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has tweeted asking Maldonado to return alive.
Argentina collects martyrs
When talking about missing persons, Argentinians tend to remember darker times in their history, when the dictatorship (approximately from 1974 to 1985) systematically kidnapped, tortured and killed many thousands of their citizens. So, when National Security Forces are involved in this type of situation like the one of Santiago Maldonado -even the slightest involvement- immediately becomes suspicious.