Argentina: forcible disappearance of Santiago Maldonado puts Macri government against the ropes

On 1 August the Argentinian social activist Santiago Maldonado was abducted by the National Gendarmerie and has not been seen since. This case is linked to the repression of the land rights movement of the Mapuche indigenous people. It is part of a wider pattern of repression and attacks on social, economic and trade union rights carried out by the right-wing government of Macri.

The disappearance of Maldonado has generated an unprecedented wave of mobilisation, including a demonstration of half a million people in Buenos Aires on 1 September.

On 1 August, the National Gendarmerie, on the orders of a local judge in Esquel, removed a road blockade organised by the Mapuche community and their supporters in the southern province of Chubut. The Mapuche people have been struggling against repression by multinational companies involved in mining and cattle farming, and for their indigenous land rights. In this particular case their struggle is against the Italian multinational Benetton, which has become the country’s largest landowner, with 2.2 million acres of land (about half the size of Wales).

In the brutal repression against the road blockade on 1 August over 100 police agents were present, they were using tear gas, rubber and metal bullets, as well as burning the possessions of those present. The road blockade had been established to protest the arrest of Mapuche leader Facundo Jonas Huala, whom the Chilean state wants to extradite on charges of terrorism.

During the repression, the police officers illegally trespassed into the Chushamen Pu Lo Mapuche settlement. According to witnesses, trucks and personnel of Benetton were also involved in the operation, giving instructions and directing the actions of the Gendarmerie. This was not just an action of repression undertaken on the orders of a local judge. The Ministry of Security’s Chief of Staff, Pablo Noceti, was also present, having previously announced that “ we have nothing to negotiate with the members of the Ancestral Mapuche Resistance (MAP), we will identify and arrest them one by one”.

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It is worth mentioning that Noceti, the right hand man to Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich, was a close associate to general Videla, during the dictatorship. As a lawyer he gained prominence for his defence of those linked to the human rights abuses during the rule of the generals.

Witnesses claim to have heard how Santiago Maldonado was being arrested and bundled into a police van. He has not been seen since then. In a country where 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared during the dictatorship, this is an extremely sensitive issue. The way in which the national government has attempted to cover up the whole issue has only added to the rage which has built up over the Maldonado case.

Initially the state attempted to divert attention from its own role by making up a number of false leads as to the whereabouts of Maldonado. On 10 August however, it was forced to start a proper investigation. When a judge ordered searches in the Gendarmerie headquarters in Esquel and El Bolsón, they found that the vehicles used in the operation against the Mapuche had been cleaned so that no evidence could be recovered.

As the pressure mounted nationally, on 24 August for the first time the Judge in Esquel admitted that Maldonado’s case was an abduction. At this point the national government attempted to link the Mapuche organisations with terrorism. In public statements they linked them to terrorist and anarchist organisations, the Basque group ETA, Kurdish guerrillas, trotskyist and Kirchnerist “factions”, etc.

The responsibility for this disappearance goes right to the top of the Argentinean state and particularly that of Macri’s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who has also been active in organising the attempted cover up.

The demonstration on 1 September, which gathered half a million people in Buenos Aires and tens of thousands in demonstrations across the country, shows the depth of revulsion against the Macri government. The case of the disappearance of Maldonado has been like the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. It has brought together all the accumulated opposition against the policies of repression and attacks of this right wing government.

What we have here is clearly a case of the state apparatus being used by a right-wing government to defend the interests of a multinational company. Benetton became the country’s largest landowner in the 1990s (with interests in livestock, farming, prospecting, fossil fuel extraction, and logging) when it purchased land which had originally belonged to the Argentine Southern Land Company (ASCL). This company was created at the end of the 19th century by British capital, when land was basically given to foreign investors. This was in gratitude for their role in the “Conquest of the Desert”, the brutal campaign through which the Argentine state gained control over the border lands, which up until then had been controlled by different indigenous peoples. By the 1970s the company had come under the control of a group of Argentinean investors which eventually sold the land to Benetton in 1991.

The case of Santiago Maldonado is the tip of the iceberg in a struggle against capitalism and imperialism. This struggle can only be won with the participation of the powerful Argentine working class, this goes beyond the issue of land rights for indigenous communities. The questioning around the disappearance of Maldonado is also putting a question mark on the Macri government as a whole and the crisis ridden Argentine capitalism.

The comrades of the International Marxist Tendency in Argentina, the Corriente Socialista Militante, are actively participating in this struggle and have issued an appeal for international solidarity.

He was taken alive, alive we want him back!

Down with repression!

Down with the Macri government!

For the unity in struggle of the working people of Argentina!

Corriente Socialista Militante - Argentina