Santiago Maldonado’s Disappearance Leads to Mass Demonstrations in Argentina


Thousands of Argentines marched through Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo on September 1, asking one question, “Where is Santiago Maldonado?” The 28-year-old activist went missing on  August 1 when armed police raided the Mapuche Pu Lof indigenous community in southern Patagonia.The Mapuche Pu Lof has continued to demand the return of their ancestral land from the private ownership of the Italian Benetton Group. Their occupation of this land has led tonumerous conflicts with border police and the gendarmerie, a voluntary guard force.

Numerous witnessesclaim that Maldonado was arrested and taken by the gendarmerie. Because this force operates directly under National Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and, by extension, under President Mauricio Macri, it raises serious questions about government involvement. The Argentine government contends that they are unaware of Santiago Maldonado’s location and did not arrest him or take him into custody.

The United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights and the Regional Office for South Americacalled on the Argentine government to conduct an investigation into Maldonado’s disappearance in accordance with international human rights standards. Latin America as a whole exhibits regional shortcomings in the protection of human rights activists as 122 individuals were killed in the region in 2015, amounting to 65 percent of the global total that year.

The September protestsexacerbated tensions between Macri and activists as police violently arrested protesters and journalists covering the event. Macri’s opponents viewed this as an attack on freedom of the press.

The situation isan unfortunate reminder of Argentina’s history of forced disappearances under the military dictatorship in the 1970s and has become a major political issue as midterm elections loom. Opponents of the right-wing Macri administration reject the government’s harsh stance on protests and activism and see Macri as closer to the authoritarian regime than many of his recent predecessors.

Former-President and Leader of the Opposition Cristina Fernandez de Kirchnerspoke out repeatedly against Maldonado’s disappearance, arguing that the crimes of the dictatorship must not be repeated while calling for Maldonado’s return. The activist’s disappearance has forced Argentina to grapple with the effects of the former military dictatorship and the forced disappearances perpetrated by the government,which still occur following the return to democratic rule.