It has been a month since Argentinian indigenous activist Santiago Maldonado was bundled into a government van. Amidst government denials, demonstrators–cognizant of the nation’s bleak history of state violence–want answers: evidence of Maldonado’s safety and whereabouts.
The streets of Argentina are boiling over with demonstrations, as thousands of locals demand that the government produce an indigenous activist last seen one month ago when border police forced a group of the indigenous Mapuche off of indigenous land in Patagonia — land unjustly owned by the Italian clothing company Benetton.
According to witnesses, 28-year-old Santiago Maldonado was forced into a van by government officials and disappeared, but so far the Argentinian government has denied any involvement. Argentinian demonstrators, including groups like Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo, are increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of Maldonado in light of the nation’s troubled history of state violence. The US-backed military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, which plagued Argentina from 1976 until 1983, killed, kidnapped, and disappeared at least 30,000. Backed by Ronald Reagan, Videla and his security apparatus went on to torture and murder thousands more in a right-wing military hellscape.
The case of Santiago Maldonado has revived memories of the Argentinian military junta, and suspicion among activists is growing that he has become President Mauricio Macri’s first disappeared victim—nearly 40 years after the end of General Videla’s rule. Despite how long it has been since they have had contact with Maldonado, his family does not believe that he is dead. They are demanding the state give them information on his whereabouts and are asking for his immediate return.
President Donald Trump is cozying up to Argentina’s Macri, so the prospect of the Trump administration changing attitudes in support of the rights of indigenous communities is, it is safe to say, nonexistent. In a joint statement issued by Trump and Macri, the U.S. government made it plain that it wishes to “deepen the close partnership between the United States and Argentina.” Examples of this partnership are U.S. support of Argentina’s role in the wider drug war, cooperation on border security, and a shared interest in targeting of Venezuela for ‘regime change.’
With so much on the line in Argentina, the people have decided that they will not return to the era of the U.S.-backed “Dirty War” — drawing an early line in the sand with their demand that Santiago Maldonado does not become another victim of the state’s military apparatus.
Top photo | Demonstrators hold photos of missing activist Santiago Maldonado, during a protest at Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. Human rights groups say Maldonado went missing a month ago, after Argentine border police captured him during an operation against Mapuche Indians who were blocking a highway in Argentina’s Patagonia. (AP/Natacha Pisarenko)