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What happened on the bank of the river Chubut?

That’s the question that the film “El camino de Santiago”, released on August 7th, will seek to answer. Who is responsible for the disappearance and subsequent death of the young Argentinian Santiago Maldonado who disappeared during a display of solidarity with the Mapuche people? On August 1st, one year after the event, many questions remain unanswered.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 Maylín Vidal

 

That day, members of law enforcement suppressed the Mapuche community Pu Lof Resistance, in Cushamen, Chubut province.

Santiago, 28, who lived in the Patagonian region of Bolsón, was in Cushamen to support the Mapuche, who since March 2015 have been occupying land that belongs to the Italian group Benetton, almost a million hectares in total. The young man never returned home.

The questions continue unanswered, and while the Maldonado case is no longer front-page news, his parents and brothers have continued to fight for justice and truth, to understand how events unfolded, how he came to be discovered 78 days later, drowned and floating in the river Chubut, very close to where he had last been seen.

Santiago was the victim of an incident that continues to have repercussions today, with echoes in another recent case, the death of another young Mapuche man, Rafael Nahuel.

It’s an open case still being investigated, and which implicates the gendarmerie. As yet, however, no answers are forthcoming, and Nahuel’s family do not want his death to go unpunished.

Maldonado’s family endured two months of anguish, in an episode made doubly difficult by the fact that the judge in charge of the case was the very same who had ordered the eviction. He was later removed from the role.

Foto: Pixabay

Thousands of people took to the streets to voice their anger at Santiago’s disappearance, to demand the resignation of the Minister for Security P

atricia Bullrich and to take aim at the government for its conduct.

Maldonado’s name began to flood the streets, while photos of him were reproduced both inside and outside the country. A young man had disappeared in Argentinian Patagonia after governmental repression and his whereabouts were unknown. After more than a month of examination of the body found in the cold waters of the river, the autopsy declared that death had occurred by asphyxiation due to submersion, partly caused by hypothermia, though how long the body had remained in the location is still unclear.

Also unclear is how and when death occurred. What is clear to many, however, is that he died while fleeing bullets fired during the eviction operation.

Now the media is beginning to re-examine the facts of the case – motives, expertise, theories about whether the body was moved – of the young man devoted to tattoos who went to support the Mapuche people of Cushamen who, by order of a judge, were repressed on Route 40.

Photo: Pixabay

A sensitive film by the renowned filmmaker Tristán Bauer (Blessed by fire) and Florencia Kirchner premieres on the 7th of August. “What happened on the bank of the Chubut river?” the director wonders in “El camino de Santiago”, which describes the struggles of the indigenous peoples.

There is also a book that describes an in-depth investigation by the journalist Sebastián Premici, who has gathered numerous documents, and who highlights flaws and delays in the investigation, among other aspects.

Speaking with Prensa Latina, the author of “Santiago Maldonado, a State crime” underlined that he began his investigation into the young man’s forced disappearance as soon as he heard that there had been repression and a disappearance in Patagonia. Premici and his colleague Valeria di Crose covered the case from the agency Cadena del Sur, and before long, he says, “we began to delve into the subject; there was an initial question that motivated us: what was the context that had led to this suppression, or how had the government legitimised it?”

“We found that there was a group of entrepreneurs in Patagonia, well-known, among them Benetton, concentrated within the conservative rural societies of the region, who demanded strong governmental action to evict the indigenous peoples,” the author says.

He also covered the case for Página 12, and produced a documentary for Cadenas del Sur entitled “Resistencia a desaparecer” (Resisting disappearance).

Photo: Pixabay

It was a daily endeavour from August last year that culminated in the opportunity to analyse thousands of pages from the two main files, the habeas corpus and the forced disappearance, as well as to review videos, photos and documents obtained from intelligence agencies and the gendarmerie, he told Prensa Latina.

The journalist visited Chubut at least four times, conducted interviews with lawyers, public prosecutors and anthropologists to carry out his investigation.

According to its author, “through analysis of documents from the gendarmerie itself, the book breaks down, almost by the second, the governmental operation to illegally suppress the Mapuche community.”

I was able to reconstruct how there was no roadblock that would have justified an act of suppression, and how the gendarmerie provoked members of the community in order to repress them, to elicit a reaction.

Where Maldonado went down to the river, some people were armed with shotguns, and some people fired them, since the first judge assigned to the case refused to gather evidence such as the 9mm bullets near the river. All of this has been reconstructed in the book, says Premici. In his view ‘there was an illegal repression, and responsibility for Maldonado’s death lies with the gendarmerie’. In recent declarations to the newspaper Página 12 Verónica Heredia, the lawyer representing the Maldonado family, signalled that the lawsuit has not yet begun.

“As we said on the 1st of November, given the conditions and the place where Santiago’s body was found, in a river which was thirty centimetres deep when he disappeared, and even if he couldn’t swim, we can’t understand how he drowned,” she stated.  (PL)

(Translated by Kit Sedgwick – translation@kitsedgwick.com)

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