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Santiago Maldonado, the missing Argentine activist has been found dead

Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado, who disappeared during a protest in favour of indigenous rights, has been found dead. With congressional elections ahead, the case has shaken the country to its core.

After two months searching for him, Santiago Maldonado – the 28 year old activist who disappeared during a protest in favour of indigenous Mapuche rights against global fashion brand Benetton – has been found dead in the Chubut River in Argentina. At the beginning of October thousands of people took part in demonstrations in Plaza de Majo in Buenos Aires to ask the Argentinian authorities to shed light on Maldonado’s case. What actually happened to the young Argentinian still remains a mystery.

Mapuche Demonstration © Flickr
A Mapuche demonstration © Flickr

The Mapuche versus Benetton, a never-ending story

Mapuche tribes are claiming their right to land against the Italian textile company which owns the largest share of territory (900,000 hectares) allocated to a foreign company in Latin America.

In 1991, Benetton acquired thousands of hectares of the Mapuche’s ancestral lands in Patagonia from the Argentine Southern Land Company Limited. After expropriating Mapuche tribes, the company invested in 260,000 livestock animals to produce around 600,000 kilos of wool mainly destined for the European market. Benetton has also invested 80 million dollars in different activities such as the creation of security stations and the construction of a museum dedicated to Mapuche history.

Since the very beginning of Benetton’s investments, 200 people occupied part of the company’s property in name of the Mapuche protest. The indigenous tribes claim that their territories were sold without consulting them and seeking their prior consensus, and in violation of their right to land. They’ve also denounced forced evictions and violence during the occupation and demonstrations.

Who was Santiago Maldonado?

Santiago Maldonado was an Argentinian activist, not a member of the Mapuche tribe, who mysteriously disappeared in Patagonia during a demonstration against Benetton. Some witnesses said he was loaded onto a truck by Argentinian police. The government has denied this, even if his 44-year-old brother Sergio has no doubt about it.

Demonstration on Santiago Maldonado © Flickr
Demonstration asking for answers about Santiago Maldonado’s disappearance © Flickr

After congressional elections

International NGOs have expressed their concern about Maldonado’s case, also recommending that Argentine government to take urgent actions on it. Civil society organisations have invited it to carry out a transparent and impartial investigation. NGOs have also emphasised the importance of respecting the rights of Mapuche activists and all Argentinian citizens to protest peacefully, as well as the right of indigenous peoples to prior, free and informed consent and their right to land, as stated in the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organisation Convention.

Despite the accusations made against the Argentinian President Mauricio Macri for an alleged lack of transparency on the case, Maldonado’s disappearance hasn’t impacted the mid-term congressional elections that took place on the 22nd of October, in which Macri’s coalition scored a resounding victory. In the meantime, the Latin American League for Human Rights and different politicians in the region have called for an immediate clarification of the security forces’ role in Maldonado’s disappearance. The hope is that all this pressure coming from different national and international players can help shed light on the what happened to Santiago Maldonado, and why.

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