On August 1, 2017, in a massive operation, the National Gendarmerie (police) of Argentina illegally invaded the Pu Lof Mapuche community in Cushamen in Chubut Province. They entered the community firing their guns, and burned the belongings of the inhabitants.
Among those who fled the brutal attack was Santiago Maldonado, a young artisan and anarchist. He had come to stand in solidarity with the community that was mobilizing to demand the liberation of their Weichafe or spiritual leader, Facundo Jones Huala.
According to testimonies, Santiago made it to the banks of the Chubut river but was unable to cross over. He was detained there by the gendarmes who were following him. He was never heard from again. Over the next many weeks, the river was dragged four times but no clues were found. Then, 78 days after the attack, his body was found floating in the river.
To this day, it is not known when and under what circumstances Maldonando died. All that is known is that he drowned.
The case of Santiago Maldonado has all the ingredients of a forced disappearance. There was the attack by the security forces and the failure of the justice system that waited months to do anything in the investigation. Additionally there was a clear political angle with then Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich publicly defending the gendarmerie.
Three years after the forced disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, the case does not have a judge. No one has been detained and no progress has been made in identifying the guilty.
The only positive step so far has been the national government denouncing a former functionary of the Ministry of Security led by Bullrich, alleging that they were responsible for ordering the illegal repression when Maldonado disappeared.
His family has been demanding that the case be taken up by investigators independent of the Argentine judiciary, a proposal that was supported by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. For Santiago’s friends and family, the impunity in this case “guarantees” that similar incidents will occur. And in fact, they have.
“Impunity will only guarantee the repetition of the incidents. And each incident has a name and last name: Luis Espinoza in Tucumán Province, Facundo Castro Astudillo in the Buenos Aires Province,” said the family members of Santiago Maldonado, in a communique.
Two more disappeared in “democractic” Argentina
Since March 19 of this year, when the national government announced the quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 20 cases of extrajudicial assassinations by trigger-happy cops have occurred in the country. There have been two cases of forced disappearances.
The first was Luis Espinoza, a worker from the province of Tucumán. Espinoza was trying to defend his brother who was being beaten by the police when he was shot in the back. He subsequently went missing.
In Espinoza’s case, the pact of silence that marks the actions of Argentine security forces was broken, and his body was found.
This has not been the case with young Facundo Astudillo Castro who has been missing since April 30. The Buenos Aires police is believed to be implicated in his disappearance. Many doubts remain regarding the actions of the police. Castro had left his city of Pedro Luro to go to Bahía Blanco, but never reached.
The case was filed a few weeks after his disappearance and the first searches were done a month and a half later. That was when his family found out that several police officers had seen him on the highway. Their testimonies began to contradict each other.
Days later, three people declared that they had seen Facundo as he was being detained by the police and put into their vehicle. The same week, a personal belonging of Facundo was found in a police station. This is the strongest bit of evidence that indicates that the youth was disappeared by the police.
Though everything points to the police, but Facundo has still not appeared. Facundo’s mother, Cristina Castro, says the prosecutor of the case, Santiago Ulpiano Martínez is “diverting the case” and shielding the uniformed officers.
“We all know that this prosecutor should not be in charge of my son’s case, I think he wants to divert the investigation. It hurts a lot that this is happening in Argentina,” she said, while also criticizing the Minister of Security of the province, Sergio Berni.
“I see a corrupt Argentina, a judicial system that does not want to do anything and a Security Minister wh shuts up and does not tell the truth,” she said.