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Thousands of Argentine’s are demanding answers regarding the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, an activist for indigenous rights, who was last seen over a month ago. Maldonado went missing during a protest with the Mapuche community in the southern region of Patagonia where they were met by border police. Following the disappearance, violent clashes erupted between demonstrators and the police on September 1st in the capital city of Buenos Aries, leaving 23 people injured according to La Nación newspaper and 30 others detained until the following morning according to Télam news agency.
On the day of Maldonado’s disappearance, border police arrived in the southern region of Chubut in Patagonia to dismantle a roadblock that had been erected by Mapuche protesters on Route 40, the main road connecting the north to the south of the country. Maldonado, along with the group of activists, were blocking the road to demand the release of Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, who is wanted in Chile on terrorism charges. The border patrol that was responsible for evicting the protesters in Chubut has already been raided by authorities, but so far no information has been found regarding Maldonado’s disappearance. Authorities have continued to deny that Maldonado was ever detained in Chubut or that there is any evidence to support the claim that he was taken into custody. The government is allegedly investigating the situation as a forced disappearance.
The thousands of Argentines who protested last weekend gathered at the Plaza de Mayo square in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, pleading for the government to find Maldonado. A reporter from Al Jazeera said that those present at the protest called Maldonado’s disappearance “forced” and that “there are witnesses that have said that he was taken alive and that’s why they [thousands of protesters] are here today.” During the protest, Maldonado’s brother Sergio said “one month after Santiago’s forced disappearance, the state continues to deny it. The only people they have questioned are his friends and family.” Sergio continued to plead for an independent investigation into the disappearance that would include all officers working that day in the area of Chubut. Spoken with anger and disappointment, one protester said, “We can’t turn a blind eye to a forced disappearance that took place as part of a repressive action by law enforcement,” as stated by the New York Times.
A major point of anger amongst protesters is that the government is more concerned with protecting its officers than they are about finding out what really happened to Maldonado. According to the New York Times, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances has urged Argentine authorities to adopt an “integral and exhaustive strategy for the search and location” of Maldonado. Moreover, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations are calling for urgent attention to Maldonado’s disappearance from Argentine President Mauricio Macri. Jose Miguel Vivano, the Executive Director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch said, “When someone goes missing, no matter under which circumstances, time is of the essence,” according to the New York Times.
Argentina’s dark history of forced disappearances has led many Argentine’s to believe that Maldonado was either kidnapped or killed. There have been an estimated 30,000 people that have died or forcibly disappeared during the dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 according to Al Jazeera. Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s Security Minister, defended the government by saying that things have changed since the restoration of democracy in the early 80’s and that “the police are not the same as 40 years ago,” as stated by the BBC. Although the chances of Maldonado returning home are slim, one can only hope that Argentine authorities are able to regain the trust of its people by upholding their commitment to investigate the disappearance thoroughly and with transparency.