Santiago Maldonado has been missing for three weeks now, ever since Border Patrol forces (gendarmería) forcefully cleared a roadblock staged by members of the Mapuche indigenous community in the southern Province of Chubut and, according to witnesses and his family among others, he was taken by the patrolmen and never seen again.
With every day that passes, uncertainty grows, and with it, the many theories about the reasons for his disappearance. Some of them are can be far fetched. The most recent comes from TV show “La Cornisa,” hosted by journalist Luis Majul. And going by the evidence introduced to the viewers, it all sounds like quite a stretch.
On its Sunday show, one of the journalists working on the show alongside Majul aired an interview with a man from Chubut named Evaristo Jones, who claimed to have information about the case. And what he said was as weird as you expect it to be.
Jones is the caretaker of a plot of land owned — at least in the eyes of the Argentine state — by Italian businessman Luciano Benetton. However, the Mapuche indigenous community claims that the land has belonged to their people and has occupied it for hundreds of years.
According to Jones, on July 21, “a group of two to four people” who allegedly belonged to the Ancestral Mapuche Resistance (RAM) — a resistance group within the indigenous community that has resorted to violent methods to try to reach their goals of independence — entered his house, which is in the disputed land and serves as an observation post. Their goal was to burn it down with the intention to send a clear message: The land is theirs and they won’t leave without a fight.
Jones said that in order to defend himself, he grabbed a knife he had within reach and swung it, allegedly hitting one of these people. “I grabbed the knife that was on the counter and faced one of the two men that came in first. They ran over me without saying a word and then I swung at one of them to defend myself. I’m almost certain that I injured him,” he argued.
The interview with Jones connects to the disappearance of Maldonado as the injured unknown assailant could have been Maldonado himself.
In line with the whole tone of the interview, he went on to say that “nothing is certain,” considering that he didn’t “see if they were injured or not” or didn’t hear anyone moaning about it. When questioned if one of them could have been Maldonado and the stabbing could have killed him, he said: “Actually, I have no idea because I don’t know how deep the cut was. If it was that deep he probably wouldn’t have gone very far.”
The only thing he seemed certain of is that the intruders were from RAM, because they wrote the acronym on one of the post’s outside walls — “where they burnt my stuff” — one of their more frequent M.Os.
The journalists in the show highlighted that these events took place on the same day Maldonado’s cell phone last registered activity, 11 days before he was last seen. The debate about whether it’s ethical to run a story that is basically a person saying he swung a knife at someone who entered his house, is for a separate article.
Meanwhile, the search for Maldonado continues, and with it the rifts between Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and Maldonado’s family members. The family, supported by national and international human rights organizations, argue the government’s forces are not doing everything they should to find him.
Last Wednesday, Maldonado’s brother, Sergio, sent out a message condemning the government’s miscommunication about the disappearance: “The Security Minister is denying Santiago’s forceful disappearance and is refusing to provide information about the operation that the security forces she’s in charge of carried out.”
“That lack of acknowledgement generates despair and impotence in the family. We want to know his whereabouts and who is responsible for what happens. The suspicion about Santiago and the people he has ties with are re-victimizing him, same as it’s happening with our family. It’s been more than 15 days and the judicial and political authorities continue to drive the spotlight away from where it should, guaranteeing the impunity of the security forces and prompting fear in society as a whole,” reads a part of the message.
Today, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights accepted a request to compel the government to “conduct all corresponding investigations to find Maldonado and offer all legal protections.”
In a radio interview, IACHR head Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli said that “a few days ago, the Commission received a request to issue an injunction and reports of a forceful disappearance.”
“After analyzing the information we determined to send a notification to the national government,” Praeli concluded.
In the meantime, Maldonado remains missing.