Photo via Letra P

Santiago Maldonado disappeared 50 days ago and the investigation to find him hasn’t made any significant progress. The last unfruitful attempt to find any evidence that might help to get the search on track took place yesterday, when roughly 300 law enforcement officials conducted a massive search for traces of the 28-year-old tattoo artist in the Mapuche indigenous community – which they refer to as Pu Lof – where he was last allegedly seen.

The operation began at 6 AM and lasted 14 hours. Besides the officials going through every inch of the community’s 1260 hectares, tactic scuba divers looked for him in the part of the Chubut river that goes through the Pu Lof and 26 search dogs tried to determine whether he had been buried somewhere in there. All they found was a backpack that could be his, according to different descriptions, and will be analyzed to see if it that is the case. But nothing else.

Judge Guido Otranto also ordered that law enforcement raid the seven shacks where the Mapuches sleep in when they are in the community. Officials seized backpacks, cellphones, clothes and jackets, which will also be analyzed to rule out that any of them belonged to him.

La Nación recalls that there was a moment of tensions when Santiago’s brother, Sergio Maldonado, arrived to the community to be present during the operation with his lawyer, Verónica Heredia. Maldonado has been extremely critical of the way in which Judge Otranto has been leading the investigation. Last week, the formally requested he be removed from it.

Otranto initially denied the entry to Maldonado and all other parties in the case. He only caved hours later, when observers from human rights organizations and lawyers from Border Patrol arrived to the community.

“You say my brother drowned and order a search 40 days later,” Maldonado told otranto from the entry gate to the Pu Lof. “You’ll never be promoted to a court of appeals. Your head will roll,” said Maldonado, who also called the operation a “sham.”

During the search, Otranto also ordered the detention of Elizabeth Loncopan for “disobeying authority” during a frustrated search on August 16. According to Loncopan’s lawyer, María del Carmen Verdú, she was accused of obstructing justice because back then she “refused to identify herself” and “cooperate with the operation.” She was taken to Esquel and released a few hours later.