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ARGENTINA | 01-08-2018 11:16

Maldonado: One year on, questions still remain about young man's death

A court is investigating the case as a "forced disappearance followed by death", a charge that places responsibility for what happened to Maldonado with the Border Patrol officers who carried out the operative on August 1, 2017.

One year ago, 28-year-old artisan Santiago Maldonado disappeared during a Border Patrol operative in the southern Chubut province.

The young man had been participating in a road block alongside a group of militant Mapuches to demand the return of ancestral lands formally owned by the Italian clothing designer Luciano Benetton. 

For some, the discovery of Maldonado's body in the Chubut River 78 days later raised more questions than answers. For the Mauricio Macri government, eager to tone down the public outcry over the disappearance just days before the 2017 mid-terms elections, it was the other away around. 

As it stands, the Judiciary is investigating the case as a "forced disappearance followed by death", a charge that places responsibility for what happened to Maldonado with the Border Patrol officers who carried out the operative on August 1, 2017.

Human rights groups and political factions on the left, as well as others tied to Argentina's former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, will today march on Plaza de Mayo to demand justice for Santiago Maldonado. His brother Sergio, the public face of the campaign, will address the crowd. Later in the evening, a film "El camino de Santiago" (Santiago's Path) will premiere in Buenos Aires. One of the documentary's screenwriters is Fernández de Kirchner's daughter, Florencia.

WHAT HAPPENED TO SANTIAGO?

"We stand by the hypothesis of forced disappearance followed by death, based on certainties and unresolved doubts", the Maldonado family's lawyer Veronica Heredia told the Times in May.

"Our certainties are that he was present at [the Mapuche community] Pulof on August 1, 2017; that more than 100 officers entered the community illegally, firing shots; and that [the protesters] ran to the Chubut River", she said.

While autopsy reports indicated Santiago Maldonado’s body showed no signs of physical injury, and that it had large amounts of water in its lungs, Judge Gustavo Lleral has not closed the investigation, as the cause of death has not been precisely determined.

The excessively politicised search for Santiago Maldonado, who was missing for 78 days, came to a climax less than 48 hours before Argentines held midterm elections in October last year. Though campaigning was suspended before the vote, the results pushed coverage of the case to the sidelines, after two months of media storm. 

NOTHING TO SEE HERE

The Mauricio Macri administration has continued to insist the case is all but closed. 

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich in April told Radio 10’s El Ángel programme that Judge Lleral should now “help us to change the charges surrounding this episode”. In more recent interviews, she has turned to questioning Maldonado's integrity, for instance by comparing the 28-year-old's participation in the August 1 Mapuche road block with the strike activities of the powerful union family, the Moyanos.

For their part, the family and their lawyer insist the government is "deliberately" trying to stymie the investigation.

"This is a situation that forms part of the phenomenon of forced disappearances in which the State is investigating itself and instead of opening up to the investigative process it deliberately inflicts pressure to shut the case down, claiming that what happened was anything but a forced disappearance", Heredia said.

LOOKING BACK ON THE MALDONADO CASE

Robert Cox: Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance is a moral challenge for the government
Marcelo Garcia: The media and Maldonado: ‘play music instead’ sounds about right
James Neilson: Maldonado meets Gentile

-TIMES

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