As the Santiago Maldonado case continues to dominate the national conversation, the media continues the 24/7 coverage of this case.
Political TV shows this weekend focused almost exclusively on interviewing the main actors involved in the case, while Infobae published the most relevant piece of news: images showing a Border Patrol (gendarmería) filming the operation where Maldonado was last allegedly seen, a revelation that directly contradicts an official report from the Border Patrol report, which had stated that there was no “visual record” of their actions on the day of Maldonado’s disappearance because they didn’t have the means to do so.
OK, let’s get to it.
BULLRICH GOES TO JORGE LANATA’S TV SHOW
While doing an interview on Jorge Lanata’s show Periodismo Para Todos, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich admitted that the Border Patrol is under investigation following the officers’ actions during the operation that was carried out on August 1st in order to clear a roadblock on Route 40 that was being staged by members of the Mapuche indigenous community. (Also, the place where Maldonado was last allegedly seen.)
Throughout the more than 40 days ever since Maldonado was reported missing, Bullrich drastically changed her rhetoric regarding the potential involvement of Border Patrol officers in his disappearance. Officers that, as Security Minister, she is ultimately in charge of.
Although early last month she rushed — without any conclusive proof — to say that the forces from the 35th squad weren’t responsible for Maldonado’s whereabouts, the fact that the investigation gradually ruled out most of the other theories led her to admit that their involvement is now a possibility – and that they are investigating it.
Bullrich, despite having been strongly criticized by members of the opposition and Maldonado’s family for the way in which she handled of the case, has been firmly confirmed in her post by the Macri administration.
“We are working on each and every officer,” the minister said on Lanata’s show.
“We began our investigation by analyzing the actions of all officers,” she said, but revealed that they eventually narrowed the scope to “those who were closer [to the protesters], those who can provide more accurate information.”
A NEW THEORY AND NEW INFORMATION ABOUT THE BORDER PATROL’S ACTIONS
On top of Bullrich’s statements, new information brought to light by the media today revealed that this investigation is in fact focusing on the actions of seven Border Patrol officials, out of the 40 who were involved in the entire operation. Why? Because they were the ones who went after the members of the Mapuche community who ended up crossing the Chubut river to escape them. Since this is a rather uneven terrain — full of bushes and trees — their actions can’t be accounted for by the other members of the squad.
Based on this information, Federal Judge Guido Otranto is considering the possibility that one of them might have beat up or shot Maldonado and left him in the river for the stream to take him away. This way, there could be one or more Border Patrol officers responsible, but the others wouldn’t know. The Macri administration yesterday provided the judge with its own findings over the squad’s actions.
Last Friday, Otranto ordered different other law enforcement offices — excluding the Border Patrol — to conduct a thorough search along the 800 kilometers of the Chubut river to determine if Maldonado’s body is there.
However, the head of the 35th squad, Fabián Mendez, was interviewed in another part of the show, and said that his forces were always at least 40 meters away from the protesters. “We were never close to having contact with a person,” he assured.
“We went to that location to clear the roadblock obeying Otranto’s judicial order,” he said. “He requested the path be cleared and we managed to do that without any inconveniences,” he added.
Regarding the filming of the operation, Méndez said that “we filmed what was necessary for the court.” However, this contradicts his squad’s — and therefore his own — official report, which had initially assured that there were no “filming records due a lack of technical means,” (i.e a camera.)
This flip-flop might have had to do with the fact that Infobae published on Saturday footage that showed an officer filming the first part of the operation in which, after clearing the roadblock, the forces enter the plot of land occupied by the Mapuches. Otranto told the media that “the filming stopped when an official was hit with a rock.”
A KEY WEEK FOR ANOTHER THEORY INVOLVING THE BORDER PATROL
The other line of investigation considering this possibility takes into account several witnesses from the Mapuche community, especially Matías Santana, who told Judge Otranto that he saw how three officials “beat up” Maldonado and then put him in a truck. Santana assured to have observed this through his binoculars — which he said he lost later — on top of his horse and from the other side of the Chubut river.
Following this theory, Otranto also ordered the recollection of DNA samples from the trucks the Border Patrol used in the operation to determine if Maldonado had indeed been there. The officials in charge of this found five hairs and a blood-stained rope. The evidence is being compared with objects taken from the shack where Maldonado slept the day before the operation.
When consulted about claims from Maldonado’s family and the Ombudsman, who said that Border Patrol illegally washed the trucks, Otranto said that “all parties will reach their own conclusions,” but “I understand this wasn’t the case.” “All evidence suggests that the trucks were loaded with stuff,” he said.
Otranto assured that “it’s essential to have the DNA [results] to see what happens.” “I believe they should be ready this week,” he said, adding that based on the results, he will determine whether to call the Border Patrol officers to testify as witnesses or suspects.
THE NEXT STEPS IN THE INVESTIGATION
While still talking to the press, Otranto insisted on the need for all people who in one way or another were part of the operation to testify before him. Members of the Mapuche community told Infobae that “there are, of course, more people who saw everything go down, but they don’t want to testify for now.”