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ARGENTINA | 02-08-2019 11:03

'State is responsible' for Santiago Maldonado's death, says brother at protest

Brother of late artisan reiterates criticism of State and Gendarmerie officers, as protesters take to streets on the second anniversary of his death.

Reiterating his criticism of the government and the security forces, Sergio Maldonado declared yesterday that "the State is responsible" for his late brother's death, as the family marked the second anniversary of Santiago Maldonado's death.

Thousands took to the capital's streets around the Plaza de Mayo, joined by human rights organisations and the late artisan's family, to demand the Judiciary re-open the case and deliver the family justice.

"Really, they disappeared him for 77 days and the State is responsible for his death," Sergio Maldonado said in an interview with the C5N news channel, underlining the fact that the family still believe their original theory: that National Gendarmerie officers played a role in their relative's death.

He also accused President Mauricio Macri of "indifference" over his brother's death.

Santiago Maldonado, 28, went missing in August 2017, after a Gendarmerie (Border Guard) operation in Cushamen, in the southern province of Chubut, in which they evicted a building occupied by protesters. He had previously participated in a road block alongside a group of militant Mapuche activists, who were demanding the return of ancestral lands. 

Maldonado's disappearance sparked large and immediate protests, with thousands taking to the streets to demand his whereabouts be known in a series of demonstrations over a two-month period. For most demonstrators, the case evoked dark memories of the days of Argentina's last military dictatorship, in which thousands were 'disappeared' by members of the security forces and many were vocal in accusing the government of playing a role in the disappearance.

However, on October 17, 2017 – some 78 days later – Maldonado's body was discovered in low water in the nearby Chubut River, an area which had reportedly been searched previously. An autopsy later concluded that Maldonado had drowned and that the body had stayed underwater for at least 55 days. Experts recorded the cause of death as "drowning by immersion in the water of the Chubut River, contributed by hypothermia," adding that it was a "traumatic death." The specialists who inspected the body, who concluded that there were no signs of violence on the body.

Sergio Maldonado said the amount of demonstrators on the streets yesterday, to mark his the second anniversary of his brother's death, was an indication of the "support" that existed for the family's struggle, adding that their presence was a "message to the Government" that "impunity will not be allowed."

Yesterday's protest passed off without incident, in contrast to previous demonstrations in 2017 and 2018, which featured a heavy police presence.

The family had asked demonstrators "not to get involved in provocations" during the march, and requested a peaceful demonstration.

Sergio Maldonado said yesterday "it was clear" that those who acted with violence on previous occasions "were infiltrated agents of the Government," who he alleged had been inserted to harm the demonstration and discredit the family's claim.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International added its voice to calls for the case to be re-examined.

“It is inadmissible that, for the Argentine justice system, nobody is responsible for the death of Santiago Maldonado. The judicial authorities must ensure a thorough, impartial and independent investigation is carried out to determine the causes and context of his death,” the NGO said in a statement.

– TIMES/NA

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