“¿Dónde está Santiago Maldonado?” or, in English, “Where is Santiago Maldonado?” is a phrase that you have most likely heard a lot recently if you are currently in Argentina. That is because, on July 31 of 2017, the 28-year-old man attended a protest to express his support for the “Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche” aggrupation, which fights for Native Argentines’ rights, in this case, to demand the liberation of their leader Facundo Jones Huala who was arrested in June. One day later, the National Gendarmerie got to the place and intercepted to evict the protesters. That was the last time anyone saw Santiago Maldonado. A witness that talked to La Nación said: “After gunshots from riot-control weapons and 9mm bullets by the Gendarmerie, we dispersed running and crossed the river. On the other side, I heard Santiago’s screams and I saw how the gendarmes surrounded and hit him. ”
So, why does this disappearance matter so much? Argentina suffered a period of military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 in which an estimated number of 30,000 people disappeared and/or got murdered. Given the situation, these cases would fit into the category of enforced disappearances, which happen when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.”, according to the UN. Therefore, lots of people are scared that Santiago Maldonado could be a victim of an enforced disappearance in an age of democracy in Argentina and that history could be repeating itself again.
However, not everyone seems to be on the same page about the importance of finding Santiago. Given that Argentina will go through the process of legislative elections for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate on October, the situation has got political. Lots of people who support of the actual presidency of Mauricio Macri, which has offered $500,000 to anyone who offers valid information about the man’s whereabouts, have shown a strong distaste for the responses given by people, as some tend to believe that they are not genuinely worried, but just want to “destabilize” the government. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is currently running for Senator and opposes Macri’s administration, has also taken social media to join the movement to find Santiago Maldonado, which of course has only made the situation even more political. Another point of controversy occurred when it was reported that certain primary and secondary school teachers were talking about the subject in their classrooms, as some claimed it was a case of “political indoctrination”.
Last Friday, a huge protest for the cause took place in Buenos Aires. Thousands joined in Plaza de Mayo to urge the State to find Santiago Maldonado and give the much-needed answers to the people. Once again, the Gendarmerie was involved and found itself fighting against the protesters, even taking 30 of them arrested, although they were later let go. Some very violent and sad episodes took place during the evening, which had people outraged:
si despues de ver esto no decis BULLRICH BASURA VOS SOS LA DICTADURA entonces replanteate tus prioridades, tu vida. y de paso, morite. pic.twitter.com/38TOFP76Mx
— Manu (@fuckthegorra) 2 de septiembre de 2017
The protest spread from Buenos Aires to the rest of the country and the world, reaching provinces such as Santa Fe and Córdoba and nations such as Uruguay, Spain, Brazil, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The UN and the OAS have both showed their concern and asked the government to take care of the matter immediately.
Being born and raised in Argentina myself, it is quite discouraging to see how people can even think there are “sides” in this issue. I believe we should all be worried about the whereabouts of Santiago Maldonado, who is as much of a citizen and person who deserves to have their rights protected as anyone else. No matter what political party you support, it is important that we unite at times like these to demand answers as this concern us all. For the sake of our society, I hope that this situation gets solved quickly and he appears alive as he should be and that one day we understand the real concept of unity that we need when it comes to human rights. Walls can be painted back, buildings can be fixed, but there are family members and friends who could be losing a loved one to an unfair situation, and we all must respect that.