Santiago Maldonado has been missing for almost a month now. And as days go by, questions about his whereabouts multiply while answers remain elusive. The various lines of investigation being pursued seem to be hitting one wall after another, while society as a whole closely follows their progress on every step of the way, and people debate who is to blame for his disappearance.
The most recent developments in the case have to do with the appearance of more recent photographs of Maldonado, which could help making his identification easier; and with a statement from the Chilean section of Interpol which, upon a request from its Argentine counterpart, informed that no unidentified body matching the 28-year-old artisan’s description had arrived at any morgue in the Southern region of the neighboring country.
Let’s dissect them one by one.
New photos of Maldonado have surfaced in the last few hours. They were posted on Facebook about two weeks before Santiago’s disappearance by a friend of his named Marcos Ampuero, who referred to him as “the wizard.”
“[His] last day in Chile before going to Argentina, being taken and later disappeared by the Border Patrol. He left with a big smile and very thankful, and he left a backpack promising he would return for it. Turn up soon, wizard. We had a nice time that day,” says the caption written next to one of the images posted by Ampuero, who explained he met Maldonado two years ago when he gave him a job.
Ampuero was quickly interviewed by several Argentine media outlets, to which he described Maldonado’s personality and whether he had ties with the Mapuche indigenous community. “It’s not normal for him to disappear like that. He always went online every two days, he said it was for work. He would always get more tattooing jobs on Facebook, so he tried to answer every two days, except for when he had no internet access. But he would go online at least once a week,” Ampuero told La Nación. He added that Maldonado talked to his family once a week.
As for the reason why he was with the Mapuche community on the day that Border Patrol forces cleared the roadblock staged in Route 40, he said that Maldonado didn’t have a particular relationship with them, but was simply “prone to defending the causes he believed were worthy of defending.”
“Here in Chile, he camped for about two or three days and protested along the fishermen, and partook in other protests. He’s not a Mapuche, he just defends all kinds of causes, like the Mapuches do, and that’s why he went there to support them,” he said.
Ampuero assured that he has already provided all information he had to the Chilean Police: “I already gave them all the information and the pictures with the dates of our last conversation, when he was in [the city of] El Bolsón [in the Province of Chubut] they can’t make anything up, it’s all there with dates,” he wrote in the caption of another picture he uploaded to Facebook.
THE CHILE LEAD
Chile has started playing a larger role in the investigation during the past few days. This morning, the country’s Interpol section sent its Argentine counterpart a document informing that “no unidentified bodies” matching the 28-year-old artisan’s description have arrived to any morgue to the country’s Southern region.
However, the General Prosecutor of the city of Comodoro Rivadavia, Norberto Belver, confirmed that a line of investigation is seeking to determine if Maldonado is alive in Chile. Belver is the chief prosecutor in the region, including city of Esquel Federal Prosecutor Silvina Ávila, in charge of the investigation.
“Esquel is right next to Chile, we have a border that can be crossed anywhere. Knowing the place, there’s no need to cross through customs or Border Patrol posts. He went back and forth between here and Chile. The Mapuches work on the Argentine and Chilean side, it’s a single community,” he told TN.
Belver also said that on Sunday Maldonado’s case file will stop being under secrecy — meaning that his family will be able to access it — and that, in contrast with what his family assures, it hasn’t been proven that Maldonado was part of the roadblock. “There are a few things that make me doubt that,” he said.
Human rights organizations have called for marches throughout the country tomorrow — the one in Buenos Aires City will take place in Plaza de Mayo at 5 PM — , exactly one month after his disappearance.