“Santiago worked in solidarity together with the people”

Interview with Verónica Heredia, lawyer of Santiago Maldonado´s family

Mobilization in Montevideo for Santiago Maldonado. Photo: M. Tomasini

It´s been a year since Santiago Maldonado disappeared and was subsequently found dead. Maldonado was an Argentinian young man who worked in solidarity with the Mapuche people, struggling to recover their ancestral lands that were acquired by business magnate Luciano Benetton.

On August 1st, 2017, Maldonado disappeared after the Argentinian security forces violently repressed demonstrators at the Pu Lof community in Cushamen, on the shores of Chubut River, where he was demonstrating together with several Mapuche people who were blockading Route 40, to demand the release of their political and spiritual leader, Facundo Jones Huala. “Santiago worked in solidarity together with the people who are claiming their right to land and life”, said Verónica Heredia, lawyer of the Maldonado family, in an interview with Real World Radio.

Two and a half months after his forced disappearance, Santiago´s body appeared upriver on October 17th. Experts determined that he died by drowning and hypothermia, while the Maldonado family is demanding an “independent and impartial” investigation. The plaintiffs also denounced a media campaign against them, based on systematic attacks and “fake news”, and also denounced that they were the ones investigated, instead of looking for state responsibility.

“It´s been a year since Santiago disappeared, and we have more questions than answers. There is no judicial or political will to investigate what happened”, said Heredia. “If Santiago´s body was always there, why wasn´t it found during searches in August and September”, she added.

Santiago Maldonado´s disappearance and death gave more visibility to the conflict of the Argentinian and Chilean States with the native peoples of Patagonia.

In the past months, several witnesses who saw Santiago in the last minutes before disappearing, such as Lucas Pilquimán (known as “Witness E”) and Nicasio Luna testified before the court, but their interventions were not duly notified to the plaintiff´s lawyer.

The judicial case did not make any progress in terms of finding the masterminds and perpetrators. The investigation is not focusing on state responsibilities, but on tapping the phones of Santiago´s brother, Sergio Maldonado. For this reason, at a hearing on July 30, the Maldonado family´s lawyer challenged the prosecutor Silvina Ávila, since the “representative of the Public Prosecution Office focused on investigating the family”, said Heredia to RWR.

So far, the judicial authorities have not investigated the illegal actions of the Gendarmerie in Mapuche territory, with the “hunting” operation carried out, including rubber and lead bullets. They also never investigated the inexplicable presence in the area of Pablo Noceti, Chief of Staff of the Argentinian Security Ministry, hours before the forces repressed the demonstrators.

The lawyer also criticized the examination to be conducted by the National Industrial Technology Institute (INTI) about the ID card found next to Maldonado´s body on the shores of the Chubut River to confirm how long he was under water, because the engineer in charge told them that they were going to “replicate the conditions” in which he was found “although we don´t know what his condition was during 78 days”.

The anniversary of Maldonado´s disappearance takes place only a week after Argentinian President Mauricio Macri issued a decree to militarize borders and authorized the Armed Forces to act inside the territory, together with Police Forces, legitimizing the idea of a “domestic enemy”. About this measure, Heredia said: “We see with growing concern these measures to legalize domestic militarization. What happened in Pu Lof in 2017 was the prelude of what was coming”.

This August 1st there will be a mobilization in Buenos Aires at 5pm and a statement will be read. More information (in Spanish): Justicia por Santiago.


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