As Santiago Maldonado’s whereabouts remain a mystery, the demand for his reappearance further dominate the country’s news cycles, social media and the general conversation in the country.
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich knew this too well this weekend after making the rounds on the most viewed political TV shows in Argentina and, after being questioned hard about the actions of the armed forces she leads, she didn’t even rule out leaving her post if Maldonado is not found. Journalist Jorge Lanata again made his way to the Esquel prison, in the Chubut province, to interview Mapuche Ancestral Resistance group leader Facundo Jones Huala for the second time.
In the social media landscape, hundreds of thousands of users demanded his appearance with a campaign in which users mentioned their names, location and what they were doing at the moment, while asking where he was; and even football teams displayed banners echoing the claim before their matches, even though the Argentine Football Association (AFA) had forbidden them from doing so, in accordance to its policy of not weighing in on political or religious matters.
Let’s take a closer look at all this in detail.
An increasingly embattled Security Minister yesterday night finally answered a question that gets louder as the days go by: whether she will leave her post should Maldonado continue to be disappeared.
“We are in a fighting situation and if the President believes we have to step down, we will,” she told host of TV show La Cornisa, Luis Majul. The minister had been asked the same question the day by TV host Mirtha Legrand, who invited her to her show. Back then, Bullrich avoided answering the question.
However, and as she has done since day one, Bullrich went on to reassure that she has the uttermost conviction that Border Patrol (gendarmería) is not responsible for Maldonado’s disappearance, although she clarified that this would ultimately be determined by the judge investigating the case.
Numerous human rights organizations as well as political leaders from the opposition hold the government responsible for Maldonado’s disappearance — with some even saying that the Macri administration is behind it and covering it up — and have demanded Bullrich step down. President Mauricio Macri, however, hasn’t made any mention that he would ask Bullrich to tender her resignation if the investigation continues.
At the same time but on a different network, the host of the TV show Periodismo Para Todos, journalist Jorge Lanata, made his way to the Esquel prison to have a second interview with Facundo Jones Huala, the leader of the Mapuche Ancestral Resistance group (RAM), a group within the indigenous community that has resorted to violent methods to protest for lands they claim they have a historical right to own. Maldonado was staying with members of the community in a plot of land that — in the eyes of the government — they were occupying, when Border Patrol officers conducted the operation where he was last allegedly seen.
Huala, currently in prison for burning down private property and awaiting extradition to Chile, focused more on the situation of the community he’s part of, rather than Maldonado’s disappearance. He made a brief reference to it in two opportunities, assuring in both that the Border Patrol was behind it. Huala was not present at the scene of the events, as he has been in prison since June this year.
The imprisoned leader made the first reference to Maldonado ten minutes into the interview, when Lanata confronted him about the RAM’s violent protest methods. He defended the group’s actions saying that they had never caused any deaths, and counter-attacked by arguing that the Border Patrol had taken Maldonado. “People saw that. And now the identity of a protected witness is no longer secret because Bullrich outed him,” he said, in reference to Ariel Garzi, an alleged friend of Maldonado who was considered a protected witness after he claimed he had called Maldonado’s phone a day after his disappearance, and someone picked up the phone for 22 seconds. The line, however, stayed silent.
When facing was being grilled by the Senate last week over Maldonado’s disappearance, she mentioned his name, which prompted him to fear for his safety and request protection.
Huala once again mentioned Maldonado at the end of the interview, when he claimed that the government has been “conducting similar practices” to the one that ended in his disappearance for a while now. It’s not surprising that the conversation didn’t revolve around this issue, considering that Huala said in a prior interview that it helped bring the community’s crusade to the national stage. “It has made our problems visible,” he argued.
The rest of the conversation, which wasn’t edited at Huala’s request, revolved around the Mapuche’s claims, but long passages were taken over by ideological arguments and Huala’s criticism to the Macri administration and the institution of the government in general. (That when they were not busy telling each other how little respect they had for the other’s ideas.)
The demand for his appearance also took over social media and even reached the football stadiums. In the last couple days, hundreds of thousands of users have rallied behind a campaign in which they would describe their actions only to later wonder where Maldonado was.
Nicolás Guzmán, arquero suplente de la selección Argentina al llegar a Ezeiza. Dónde está Santiago Maldonado? pic.twitter.com/TZsHvpa8LE
— Eli Gomez Alcorta (@EliGAlcorta) August 28, 2017
Desde la tranquera en Pu Lof Cushamen ¿Dónde está Santiago Maldonado? pic.twitter.com/mb3nzjjsfU
— Myriam Bregman (@myriambregman) August 27, 2017
— Juliana di Tullio (@ditulliojuli) August 26, 2017
Even though the Argentine Football Association is against all kinds of political or religious statements during sports events, San Lorenzo and Temperley football clubs decided to challenge the rule and displayed banners demanding his appearance before their matches.
In the meantime, the investigation itself hasn’t showed any real progress. All eyes are currently set on a DNA test that will compare a blood sample from Santiago’s mother, Stella Maris Peloso, with blood found in a house in Epuyén, where a man claimed to have stabbed a member of the RAM in the context of an attack to his house that took place on July 16. The results are set to be available in 20 days. In the meantime, no hypothesis is getting clearer and Maldonado remains missing.