The brother of Santiago Maldonado publicly denounced the federal government yesterday after more than 300 troops from the Special Group of Federal Operations (GEOF) were sent into the countryside around Cushamen to “look for him” — 47 days after the solidarity activist went missing during a police raid.
The heavily-armed GEOF, which specialises in counter-terror and anti-narco enforcement, entered the region at 5am with helicopters, drones and sniffer dogs under the orders of judge Guido Otranto, the very man who originally ordered the raid on July 31st which led to Santiago’s disappearance.
Locals and activists have long held that the police themselves are likely responsible for the death of Santiago, who was visiting friends in a community of landless workers who had occupied land just outside the town when a raid swept through the area, burning down homes. As the group ran to escape, Santiago was separated from them. Witnesses say they heard police shout “we have one” and a commotion near one of the vans shortly after.
Right-wing sources have since spread repeated falsehoods about Santiago and the the Mapuche community, suggesting that that he was a dangerous militant and that the Mapuche could themselves have been responsible for Santiago’s disappearance, while Otranto has suggested he probably drowned in the river.
Speaking from Route 40, at the entrance to the community where the raid was taking place, Sergio Maldonado said the action was “all a charade, a setting for the media.” Calling the police a bunch of criminals, he added:
My fear is that they’ll go in there, throw my brother’s body somewhere and make up one of their many excuses. The judge’s statements have been crazy — what are you saying? That my brother is dead? If you think my brother drowned (in the river while trying to escape), why did they not look there before? What have they been doing all this time? They give different stories all the time. The judge is a disgrace.
The timing of Oranto’s raid has been heavily questioned, as if the judge really believes Santiago drowned then a search should have been conducted within 15 days, otherwise any trail would have gone cold and be impossible for dogs to track.
The Mapuche community has been repeatedly raided by police toughs since landless workers set up home on what had been their ancestral land before it was bought up by European clothes firm Benneton. The violent incursions have led to numerous injuries and extensive destruction of property.