On August 1, 2017, activist Santiago Maldonado was detained by Argentine police at an indigenous rights rally in Patagonia and has not been seen since. According to José Miguel Vivanco of the Human Rights Watch Organization (2017), Maldonado was visiting a Mapuche Indigenous community to stand in solidarity with their opposition to the extradition of an indigenous leader. Although the National Security Minister, Patricia Bullrich, reported that there was no police involvement with the disappearance, several Mapuche witnesses claim that Maldonado was arrested by the Gendarmerie–a federal security force (BBC News, 2017).
Mapuche communities in Argentina and neighboring Chile have been fighting for lands rights. A member of the Mapuche community explains to a reporter for Al Jazeera that documents were falsified in order to confiscate land that was given to the communities (Bo, 2017). This land in question is owned by the Italian-based Fashion Company known as Benetton Group. The company’s security forces have reportedly committed acts of “violence and repression” against the Mapuche community currently inhabiting the land, causing many indigenous rights supporters to gather in solidarity with the Mapuche (Amnesty International, 2017). The Benetton group owns a large portion of land in the Chubut province, the place in which Maldonado attended the indigenous rights rally, and where he disappeared.
Disappearances in Argentina are a particularly chilling topic, especially given Argentina’s Dirty War, in which about 30,000 suspected left-wing Argentinians became victims of forced disappearances by the Argentinian military dictatorship from 1976 until 1983. Bullrich states that the police are different than they were during the ruthless dictatorship 40 years ago (Capture Tv, 2017). Though this may be true, it is disturbing to see this pattern continue after years of reform and democracy. Now, rather than remain silent in fear of military retaliation, marches are being held by the public demanding the safe return of Maldonado. Hundreds of protesters gathered in Buenos Aires in the beginning of August 2017, then later in La Plata, just south of the capital. Many of the protesters held posters with Maldonado’s face, demanding he be returned alive. His father, Enrique Maldonado, spoke with Argentina’s la nación newspaper expressing his hope for his son’s safe return. “I cannot look at my son’s face on a flag or mural… Where is he? What did they do to him? This is what we are waiting for” (Himitian, 2017).
The United Nations Commission on Enforced Disappearances along with other human rights organizations are urging the Argentinian government to investigate what happened to Maldonado. Bullrich claims that the government is actively searching for Maldonado, but there is no sign that he was detained. Despite Bullrich’s statement, prosecutors say that evidence was found at a Gendarmerie base, and is being evaluated as part of the investigation (Miguel Vivanco, 2017).
There are many possible explanations for Maldonado’s disappearance. Perhaps Maldonado is in hiding. Perhaps it is a case of police brutality that the government genuinely is not aware of, or a case of police brutality that the government is trying to cover up. Maybe Maldonado was arrested due to reasons not admitted to the public. There are even extreme rumors that a protester from the Mapuche community killed him. Regardless of what truly happened to Maldonado, he has become a martyr for human and indigenous rights activists, and a victim of possible government repression. Wherever Maldonado may be, his family and the people of Argentina continue to hope that he will resurface alive (c5n, 2017).
Amnesty International. (2017). Argentina: Violent Repressions of Mapuche Peoples. Mexico City, MX: Amnesty International.
BBC News. (2017, Aug. 27). Where is Santiago Maldonado? Argentina Searches for Missing
Protester. BBC. Retrieved from www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-41066685
Bo, T. (2017, Aug. 30). Argentina’s indigenous Mapuche fight for ancestral lands. Al Jazeera.
[c5n]. (2017, Aug. 28). 27 días sin Santiago Maldonado [Video File]. Retrieved from
[Capture Tv]. (2017, Aug. 22). Patricia Bullrich – Senador Godoy Discusión En El Senado Por
Santiago Maldonado [Video File]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv9XQ5izZ9s
Himitian, E. (2017, Aug. 26). Enrique Maldonado: “¿Dónde está mi hijo? Sólo queremos que
aparezca”. La Nación. Retrieved from http://www.lanacion.com.ar/2056752-enrique-maldonado-donde-esta-mi-hijo-solo-queremos-que-aparezca
Miguel Vivanco, J. (2017, Aug. 16). Disappearance of Protestor in Argentina. Human Rights
Watch. Retrieved from www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/16/disappearance-protestor-argentina