By: Agustina Kloosterboer
Santiago Maldonado, an Argentinian citizen was last seen during a confrontation between border police officers and supporters of a Mapuche indigenous community. The dispute arose from the displacement of these supporters from an area in the Argentinian Patagonia. The country, currently revolutionized, remembers the dark disappearances under Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970’s. The “Dirty War” was a period during which military and security forces and right-wing death squads in the form of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance hunted down and killed left-wing guerrillas, political dissidents, and anyone believed to be associated with socialism. During this time, there were around 30,000 disappearances.
It was not until 2003 that the government began bringing justice against those involved. Former President Néstor Kirchner challenged the country’s amnesty laws that were protecting hundreds of military officers from prosecution for the kidnapping, torture and killing of opponents. Under his presidency, the Argentine Congress finally revoked these amnesty laws. Two years later, in 2005, the Argentinian Supreme Court ruled these laws unconstitutional. At that point, the government re-opened prosecution of war crimes.
Today, the country fears that police officers are once again responsible for certain acts – the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado being one of them. What led Argentinian citizens to believe that there is a connection between oppression by police and Santiago’s disappearance are the basic facts of the case. While Santiago was not believed to be an activist, he did join a protest by the Mapuche supporters that was cutting the highway that connects Argentina with Chile. This action commenced in order to demand the freedom of Facundo Jones Huala – who was detained last June and whose extradition is claimed by Chile.
Within one day of Santiago’s arrival to the site, the Argentine National Gendarmerie stopped the protest following an order by Federal Judge Guido Otranto, who was recently recused from the case. Witnesses assure sources that the Argentine National Gendarmerie used violence – including rubber and lead bullets – which led the protesters to have to swim across the Chubut River. The last time Santiago was seen, he was hanging on to a tree. Santiago had not crossed the river. Witnesses recall hearing the following phrases: “Estás detenido” and “Ya está, ya está”. These phrases translate to “You are detained” and “It’s over, it’s over.”
The Argentine government is currently dealing with serious pressure from the general public and the media, which lead President Mauricio Macri to offer a large reward for any information regarding this disappearance. The theories behind Santiago’s disappearance are abundant—one theory being that it is a political campaign tactic by Former President Cristina Kirchner.