Argentina: Indigenous rights’ activist disappears after repression

August 12, 2017
A poster of indigenous rights' activist Santiago Maldonado, whose whereabouts are unknown..

Activist and human rights groups are demanding an investigation into the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado. He has been missing since August 1, when he was last seen being dragged away by Border Patrol agents.

The government of President Mauricio Macri claims to know nothing of the disappearance. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said there were “no indicators” that Border Patrol agents were involved in Maldonado’s disappearance.

However, first-hand accounts from members of the Mapuche community who were with Maldonado the day he disappeared indicate otherwise.

Maldonado had travelled from his home in El Bolson to the Patagonian province of Chubut to join the Mapuche Pu Lof community fighting against eviction and protesting the incarceration of Mapuche leader Jones Huala.

Protesters were forced to flee when about 100 agents of the Border Patrol broke through a roadblock and pursued protesters, shooting rubber and lead bullets, according to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies.

While many protesters were able to cross the Chubut River to avoid the violence, Maldonado was reportedly caught. His family has not heard from him since nor have they been able to find any trace of him.

Maldonado’s disappearance is a frightening reminder of both the forced disappearances of thousands of people during the dictatorship in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, and the continuing eviction and oppression of indigenous populations in Argentina and Chile.

The Mapuche population, living mostly in south-central Chile and south-western Argentina, which includes 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 in the late 19th century. Benetton is now the largest landowner in Patagonia, producing 10% of its wool from sheep grazing on 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 forcefully evicted them from the land, one such story leading to a legal case that was brought to the world’s attention by Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, in which the judge sided with Benetton.

The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado is a terrible example of state oppression against the struggles of indigenous peoples to preserve land that is rightfully theirs and prevent capitalist encroachment and abuse of land and people.

[Abridged from Left Voice.]

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