The country is in shock. The question asked by millions of people in Argentina since August 1st, “Where is Santiago Maldonado?”, has now been answered in the worst possible way.
After more than two months since the 28-year-old activist went missing during a Border Patrol raid, the Maldonado family has just confirmed that the body found in the Chubut river on Tuesday afternoon belongs to Santiago Maldonado.
His brother Sergio spoke to the press early this evening outside the judicial morgue in Buenos Aires.
“We looked at his body and recognized the tattoos,” he said. “We are certain that it’s Santiago.”
His statements come after three days of extreme anxiety and uncertainty as millions – specially his family – dealt with the grief of not knowing the identity of the body.
Santiago’s body was found on Tuesday at noon by Coast Guard (Prefectura) divers approximately 300 meters away from where the violent raid took place more than two months ago. According to Esquel judicial sources, his body was found trapped under water, tangled in the roots of the willow trees that grow on both sides of the river, in the Mapuche community of Pu Lof, in the Chubut department of Cushamen.
Divers were combing the area for the third time since his disappearance on Tuesday, except this time the search was conducted approximately 300 meters upstream from where the previous two searches took place.
The body was found between 12 and 1 PM on Tuesday and news of the grim discovery broke around 4 PM, sending shockwaves throughout the country.
High ranking officials in the national government, including Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj, immediately traveled to Chubut after learning that divers had come across a man’s body and confirmed that investigators were working on a quick identification. In the meantime, all government officials – including President Mauricio Macri – remained silent and called for everyone to be prudent and not jump to conclusions before he was officially identified.
Maldonado’s disappearance sparked a serious political crisis in the Macri administration that was echoed by most major international news outlets after witnesses during the August 1st raid insisted that he had gone missing after being taken by Border Patrol officers. This triggered an immediate response in the local population after inevitable comparisons with the dark legacy of the last dictatorship, that disappeared close to 30,000 people. All of a sudden, the fate of Santiago Maldonado became a mandatory talking point in every household in Argentina as the mystery surrounding his location continued, mostly fueled by conspiracy theories, fake news and contradictory statements coming from every party involved in the case.
At the same time, the Macri administration was accused by the political opposition, including former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of being complicit in his disappearance as thousands of people around the country marched calling for his safe return. The Macri administration, however, insisted that even though witnesses in the Mapuche community said that Maldonado had been taken by the Border Patrol, no evidence existed that he was ever arrested and called for caution before jumping to conclusions.
The massive influx of information (and misinformation) related to the case coming from the media, investigators and the government during the months-long investigation was such that we here at The Bubble began doing a news roundup everyday to make sure that readers were kept in the loop as the news cycle continued to spin out of control.
With only two days before the midterm elections, investigators now must determine when he died, what caused his death and whether foul play was involved.
What happened to Santiago Maldonado?