Peña

As its customary, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña spoke before the Lower House today to present a new report of the Macri administration’s current state of affairs, but predictably, much of the interaction between him and the deputies present revolved around the issue that has the entire country talking: the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, who went missing on August 1 after allegedly being taken by Border Patrol officers.

Every time a member of the Kirchnerite Victory Front (FpV) caucus had the chance to spoke before the microphone, they all asked Peña for the whereabouts of the 28-year-old artisan who was living in the city of El Bolsón, in the Rio Negro Province and was involved in a Mapuche protest when he disappeared.

“I want to be clear – and I’m also speaking on the President’s behalf – that we are the first ones interested in having Santiago Maldonado reappear. That is the first priority that has to unite all of us. We are working by the side of the judge and the prosecutor since the first minute, with all the tools that the government can make use of in order to get an answer to the question that all of us Argentines are asking ourselves,” Peña said, in reference to the phrase “Where is Santiago Maldonado?” which has dominated the streets and social media in the last few weeks.

However, the Cabinet Chief went on to accuse deputies in the opposition camp of insinuating that there are “similarities” between the Macri administration and last dictatorship, which ended in 30,000 people disappeared and many more tortured. “There is no basis for that and such a claim can only be explained through political motivations. We ask you to be careful and for everyone to work within the country’s institutions,” he argued.

Peña then made reference to the hypothesis boosted by the witnesses who say he was taken away, Maldonado’s family and the opposition, which assures that Border Patrol officers took the artisan after clearing a roadblock staged by members of the Mapuche indigenous community. The Cabinet Chief said that the government will be “as tough as it has to be with any person working for the government who may have broken the law even a bit, particularly through the use of public force.”

Even though the case file is being investigated as a forceful disappearance, Peña said that “there are no firm elements in the case that can confirm” that this is accurate, but that nothing can be ruled out. “From the first moment, the Border Patrol was removed [from the investigation]. There are no concrete elements to consider that it was a forceful disappearance,” he said.

When consulted about why President Macri hasn’t met with representatives from human rights organizations about the Maldonado case, he said: “the President also rules through his ministers. On August 16 there was a meeting that lasted more than three hours. Despite the attacks, we will continue to do our job.” “It’s not true that we are authoritarian,” he said to conclude the exchange about the subject.

During the few times that Peña managed to change the subject, he discussed the economy and said that Argentina “has managed to escape the crisis zone.”

“This economic growth is here to stay. It’s sustainable, solid, federal and will accelerate in the months and years to come,” he added. To back up his claims, he touted the recent Indec statistics agency’s figures showing that the economic output has grown for the fifth month in a row and assured that the number of people getting mortgages has grown remarkably, to such an extent that in August, “there’s one being granted every minute.”