Now that the investigation surrounding Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance is focused solely on the events that took place after the Border Patrol cleared the roadblock set up on Route 40 by the Mapuche indigenous community, previously unknown information regarding some of the actions taken by BP officers close to the Chubut river, where they chased the protesters, began to appear.
Yesterday, an officer called Neri Robledo admitted to having hit a protester “with a rock” when he was swimming across the river to escape the raid, but said the strike “wasn’t deadly” because he saw that “once he reached the other side, the person stood up and insulted him.”
Now another official has come forward and acknowledged that he shot his “anti-mutiny” shotgun — which shoots rubber bullets — in the direction of a protester. The official, whose identity remains unknown, said that he had strayed from the rest of his squar when he took the shot, but that he aimed at the floor and didn’t hit the protester.
Once again, these new revelations further contradict everything that Border Patrol officers have said so far, as they repeated over and over again that at no point they directly clashed with the protesters who staged the roadblock that day. In an interview that aired on Periodismo Para Todos, the head of the squad that conducted the operation, Fabián Mendez, said that the forces he commanded were always at least 40 meters away from the protesters.
- Read more: Maldonado Case: Border Patrol Officer Admits to Have Injured ‘Someone’ at Operation and Other Updates
Based on this new information, the government seems to have pivoted and started a new strategy to convince the court — and, especially, the public opinion — that they, as the government, had nothing to do with anything that may have happened to Maldonado. There may have been rogue officers who were behind it, but the Border Patrol as an institution — and therefore the government it represents — wasn’t an accomplice if this ends up being the case.
The Macri administration continued to cement this strategy yesterday, after the results of a DNA test revealed that there’s no genetic trace of Maldonado in the five pick-up trucks that the Border Patrol used during the operation. Should this had not been the case, it would have been quite unlikely for BD high ranking officials to keep silent for such a long time, implicating the institution.
That’s why, according to La Nación’s Joaquín Morales Solá, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich requested yesterday that the case is no longer being investigated as a forced disappearance, as this legal figure can only be applied to “the disappearance of a person by a government institution or by someone working with the government’s complicity.”
In an interview with La Nación, Bullrich said that “there may have been misconduct [by one or more officers], but that’s extremely far from being a forced disappearance. We were immediately accused of being behind everything, we were insulted, compared to the worst things that happened in Argentine history [the last dictatorship] and we are proving with a lot of hard work that that’s not the case.”
Regarding officer Robledo’s actions, the minister said that “we still can’t assure that what he did had consequences.” But even though she said that what he did was “completely against the rules and will have consequences,” he won’t be separated from the force — at least for now — because she doesn’t want to “stigmatize” him.
However, regardless of the way in which the investigation will progress, at least a small sector of the population has already made up its mind about who is responsible for Maldonado’s disappearance: the Macri administration, with the complicity of Federal Judge Guido Otranto and Prosecutor Silvina Ávila.
This was made clear yesterday when a group of protesters clashed with bodyguards assigned to protect the two judicial officers when they left their workplace, after questioning border patrol officers.
“Otranto, basura, vos sos la dictadura,” (“Otranto, you are trash, you are the dictatorship“) screamed the protesters during the clash, echoing the chant that some sectors of the population who are opposed to the Macri administration usually entone when protesting this government.