The Santiago Maldonado case seems to have reached a stalemate in the past few days. All probes ordered by Federal Judge Guido Otranto have produced no results and the absence of firm leads more than 50 days since his disappearance makes us wonder if we’ll ever know what really happened that day.
After different law enforcement forces conducted an unsuccessful search for traces of the 28-year-old tattoo artist in the Mapuche indigenous community where he was last allegedly seen, there are no relevant probes looming in the near future, which is discouraging.
A task force continues to look for him throughout the 800 kilometer-long Chubut River — they have been doing it for almost two weeks and yet haven’t found anything — and the Border Patrol officials who took part in the operation conducted on August 1 keep testifying about their involvement in the events before the judge.
However, Otranto continues to assure that there’s no evidence that can lead him to think that the Force itself or any of its officers could have been behind Maldonado’s disappearance, much to the despair of his family and members of the Mapuche community, who claim otherwise.
However, Border Patrol officials have been providing several statements regarding their actions that directly contradict most things that high-ranking officials of the force initially said. In the past few days, we learned that officers threw rocks at the protesters in the community and that at least one rubber bullet was shot. And yesterday, a police officer from the Río Negro province provided new information to his superiors which, if true, would prove that the force lied about not having used firearms during the operation.
The officer, whose identity hasn’t been disclosed, told his superiors that during a search operation aimed at finding traces of Maldonado in the Mapuche community that took place on August 16, he found 9mm and FAL rifle bullet casings, but that Federal Prosecutor Silvina Ávila refused to consider them as evidence because “it wasn’t what they were looking for.”
“The search dog [I was guiding] led me to a wire that was attached to what it could be a tear gas can. Around it, there were 9mm and FAL rifle bullet casings,” the officer said.
The person went on to say that he or she informed the prosecutor about the discovery, but that she refused to have them picked up, dismissed it and chose not to include the official document as evidence, arguing that they were “only looking for traces of Maldonado.”
During the weekend, Corporal Andrés Ahumada said that he was carrying a firearm when he entered the community. This directly contradicts the force’s initial version, which assured this hadn’t been the case. Ahumada’s lawyer justified his actions by saying that he drove a truck during the operation and that “it’s an obligation for drivers to carry a firearm to provide safety to those who are unarmed.”
“Drivers have to carry their gun and the force is investigating both the officers who carried guns and those who had to carry one but didn’t,” the lawyer added.
However, Ahumada didn’t clarify whether he shot his gun or if there was someone else carrying one. Should the Río Negro officer testimony prove to be true, several things should be determined: if the guns from which those bullets came from belonged to Border Patrol officers and if so, why they used them and why they would feel the need to use an automatic weapon.
According to Página 12, sources close to Judge Otranto said that the statement is false. It would also have to be determined if this is the case, and why the officer would lie.
A Friend of Maldonado’s Presses Criminal Charges Against Otranto as Members of the Mapuche Community Occupy Esquel’s Courthouse
Judge Otranto probably never expected to be in the national spotlight. Yet, he is. The country closely follows every step of the investigation, and no one seems to be satisfied with the way in which he has been handling it. Government officials – behind close doors -, Maldonado’s family and members of the Mapuche community have taken turns to criticize him, arguing he hasn’t been efficient at his job.
Last week, Maldonado’s family formally requested Otranto be removed from the case. Today, the stack of legal documents against him grew bigger. Ariel Garzi, a friend of Maldonado’s who had testified in the case (he claimed that the day after he disappeared he called his phone and someone picked up for 22 seconds but hung up, and when he called again the phone had been turned off) pressed criminal charges against him. He accused him of not fulfilling the duties of a public official, cover up and omission to promote the pursue and punishment of criminals.
A few hours later, members of the Mapuche community occupied Esquel’s courthouse and assured they wouldn’t leave until Otranto resigned. At the time this article was being written, they were still in there, as police officers had been placed outside the premises, awaiting orders.