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Argentina: Indigenous Rights’ Activist Disappears After Repression

An Argentine activist disappeared during a protest that took place on August 1st, reports from fellow protesters tell that Santiago Maldonado, 28, was last seen being dragged away by Border Patrol agents.

Mira Craig-Morse

August 9, 2017
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Image from Diario Popular

The disappearance of Maldonado, who traveled from his home in El Bolsón to Chubut province to join the Mapuche Pu Lof community fighting against eviction and protesting the incarceration of Mapuche leader Jones Huala. Activist and human rights groups in Argentina and beyond are demanding an investigation into Maldonado’s disappearance and the government is struggling to meet demands for action as the days pass without word from the kidnapped activist.

The government of President Macri claims to know nothing of the disappearance and Security Minister Patricia Bullrich even stated that there was “no indicators” that Border Patrol agents were involved, though first-hand accounts from members of the Mapuche community who were with Maldonado the day he disappeared indicate otherwise. The Security Ministry has offered a $27,000 reward for any information on Maldonado’s whereabouts.

Protesters were forced to flee when around 100 agents of the Border Patrol broke through a roadblock and pursued protesters, shooting rubber and lead bullets, according to the Center for Legal and Social Studies. While many protesters were able to cross the Chubut river to avoid the violence, Maldonado was reportedly caught, though his family has not heard from him nor have they been able to find any trace of him since.

Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance is a frightening reminder of both the forced disappearances of thousands of people during the dictatorship in Argentina from 1976-1983, but also the continuing eviction and oppression of indigenous populations in Argentina and Chile. The Mapuche population, living mostly in south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including some of the beautiful lands of Patagonia, have been fighting against corporate land theft for centuries: much of the roughly 2.2 million acres of land owned by Italian textile company Benetton was taken in a bloody military campaign against the indigenous people living there in the late 19th century. Benetton is now the largest landowner in Patagonia, producing 10% of its wool from sheep grazing on the land taken from the Mapuche community.

In the early 2000s Mapuche families began returning to their ancestral lands, building small farms and houses on unoccupied portions of the property technically owned by Benetton. They gained international attention when police came and forcefully evicted them from the land, one such story leading to a legal case, which was brought to the world’s attention by Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, in which the judge sided with Benetton. The Mapuche, particularly under the leadership of Jones Huala, continue a sometimes violent struggle to regain their rightful homeland across lands in Chile and Argentina.

The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado is a terrible example of the state oppression against the struggles of indigenous peoples to preserve the land that is rightfully theirs, and prevent capitalist encroachment and abuse of land and people. The award-winning human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo condemn Maldonado’s disappearance as “state violence” and are organizing a protest on Friday to condemn the suppressive policies of Macri’s government and demand that Maldonado be returned, safe and alive. Aparación con Vida!

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