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MIL – Press Release – 20th October, 2017
On the 18th of October, a dead body was found upstream of the Chubut river in Argentina. On the 20th of October, an autopsy confirmed that the body is that of Santiago Maldonado, an Argentine backpacker and activist who went missing after he took part in a protest with the local indigenous Mapuche community on disputed Benetton-owned land.
Eyewitnesses report that Santiago Maldonado was last seen as he was taken away by the local Gendarmerie (military police). The area where Santiago’s body was found has, according to the local community, been thoroughly searched on three previous occasions. The police have denied detaining Mr Maldonado.
The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado has provoked outrage and dismay both in Argentina and abroad, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in Buenos Aires to mark the one month anniversary of his disappearance on September 1st. International pressure had been building on Argentinian president Mauricio Macri to hold a thorough and independent investigation into the disappearance, with urgent action being called for by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and a United Nations committee.
Reynaldo Mariqueo of Mapuche International Link, a UK-based NGO founded by Mapuche refugees from Chile, said “The announcement today has confirmed our worst fears. It is looking increasingly likely that the police have been implicated in the murder of this young Argentinian activist.”
“At every step the security forces have obstructed attempts to conduct a proper investigation into his disappearance, and Argentina’s security minister Patricia Bullrich has failed to hold the police accountable by instead choosing to defame Santiago Maldonado and his family. Indigenous Mapuche have lived on this land for centuries, and have been facing an escalation in persecution and oppression with increasing attacks by security forces. The finding of Santiago’s body is a tragedy, but it is also the logical consequence of the police’s increasingly hostile attitude towards indigenous people, an attitude that is sanctioned by the Macri government, and by security minister Bullrich in particular.”
The Mapuche community ‘Pu Lof en Resistencia’ in the county of Cushamen, southern Argentina were protesting when Maldonado was allegedly taken by the police. The demonstrators were calling for the release from prison of their lonko (chief) Facundo Jones Huala, and against the multinational Benetton, which purchased nearly a million hectares of ancestral Mapuche land in 1991.
The circumstances surrounding Maldonado’s death has disturbing echoes of the dictatorship where over 30,000 people vanished or were killed at the hands of the security forces during the bloody military regime between 1976-83.
Security minister, Patricia Bullrich, has been heavily criticised for attempting to blame the disappearance on the Mapuche Community and then for allowing the investigation to be led by the national gendarmerie – the same group that raided the Mapuche camp initially.
Throughout the case, Santiago Maldonado’s family have been subjected to invasive media practices. The Macri administration was criticised for failing to liaise with the family throughout the investigation and members of his government have claimed that Maldonado was hiding in Chile.
The case has been utilised by Argentina’s far right, who claim that the struggle for the rights of indigenous people and the activities of the leftwing groups (brutally crushed during the dictatorship) are acts of terrorism that should be sanctioned violently.
Argentina faces midterm elections this Sunday, with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado having played a key role in election campaigning by Argentina’s centre-left opposition and former president, Cristina Kirchner. It remains unclear what impact the appearance of Santiago Maldonado’s body will have on the electoral prospects of Macri’s government.
Contact: Carole Concha Bell 07794540433
For more on the Mapuche situation in Chile & Argentina: