Mapuche Fears Maldonado’s Disappearance Represents A Return To Dictatorship Oppression

The resistance of the Mapuche peoples in Argentina and Chile has recently been amplified by the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado and the arrest of Facundo Jones Huala. Maldonado was allegedly arrested on August 1 during a road block protest in the Chubut province of southern Argentina. He and his fellow demonstrators were protesting the imprisonment of Huala, who was arrested in May this year on charges of terrorism and illegal firearm possession.

Haula, who is a Mapuche leader, has been heavily involved in the resistance of Mapuche peoples against the governments of Chile and Argentina and asserts that Maldonado’s disappearance is a representation of the ongoing oppression of the Mapuche people by “para-police groups” in Patagonia. “All human rights are violated here, which forced us to harden our forms of resistance. We use whatever we have at hand. We use stones and sticks as self-defense against the paramilitary and para-police groups,” Haula said, in a telephone interview from his jail cell.

According to Haula, the main intention of the resistance leaders is the reclamation of cultural identity and land. As such, they are protesting the “non-recognition by the Argentine state of the ancestral possession of (Mapuche) lands and of the international principle of the self-determination.” To expand, the resistance was born “from poverty, discrimination and violence of the state, from where has emerged a generation of young militants who organize for the Mapuche struggle, a resistance that responds to the historical violence of the Argentine state.” However, the state has responded to the protests with newly introduced anti-terrorism laws, which are being used to criminalize the actions of Mapuche activists and silence their cries for recognition.

Meanwhile, just before his disappearance, Maldonado travelled to aid the Mapuche Pu Lof community in their resilient occupation of disputed land, which is officially owned by the Italian clothing company ‘Benetton,’ but the Mapuche claim that the land is ancestral territory to which they are rightfully entitled. Huala’s Mapuche Ancestral Resistance group has protested related to these territorial claims since 2015, with protests sometimes becoming violent. Furthermore, according to the human rights group, ‘Centre for Legal and Social Studies, “on the day Maldonado disappeared, about 100 agents from the Gendarmerie entered the indigenous community shooting rubber and lead bullets, taking no precautions to protect its members’ lives or integrity.”

Maldonado’s disappearance is very troubling to indigenous communities who have lived through the era of military dictatorship, which saw 30,000 people die or forcibly ‘disappear.’ In response, on Thursday, thousands gathered in Buenos Aires for a series of protests that were organized by the humanitarian group ‘Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo,’ a group of women whose children disappeared during the dictatorships of the 70’s and 80’s. “The disappearance of Santiago takes us back to dark times that we can’t allow ourselves to return to,” said a Plaza de Mayo representative.

In response, Argentine authorities deny any wrongdoing or involvement in Maldonado’s disappearance. Moreover, this week, a UN committee demanded urgent action to find Maldonado from the Argentinian government, who have now offered a $27,000 reward for his return, with the former President tweeting photos of Maldonado, captioned “Santiago must reappear. And he must reappear alive.” However, these measures have been criticized by many as being feeble, while Norma Rios, President of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, is adamant that “this is clearly the forced disappearance of a person by a state entity.”

Eleanor Goodbourn