The body recovered from a river bed in southern Argentina is that of a missing activist who disappeared two months ago during a police operation, his brother confirmed on Friday. Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old tattoo artist, was last seen being detained by paramilitary police as they moved to disperse a protest march by the Mapuche indigenous group in the Patagonia Chubut province, on August first.
The case has embroiled President Mauricio Macri’s government in a political storm and revived dark memories of the country’s years of dictatorship and the forced disappearances of opponents.
Macri spoke with the activist’s mother late Friday, Justice Minister German Garavano told TN television. But shortly thereafter, Maldonado’s sister-in-law Andrea Antico told C5N the family was critical of the call because “it’s a bit too late.”
“We cannot believe it. It’s so shameless to call today after 80 days. It was wrong and now we’re even more disappointed,” she added.
Maldonado’s elder brother Sergio said the body has now been identified, and that the family blamed authorities for his death.
“We were able to look at the body, what we recognized were Santiago’s tattoos, so we are convinced that it is him,” he said, speaking at the gates of the morgue in Buenos Aires where an autopsy was due to be performed.
“The autopsy will take place in a few days and we will get further confirmation.”
Both government and opposition parties had earlier suspended campaigning for legislative elections on Sunday.
Sergio Maldonado, brother of Santiago Maldonado, says police murdered the late activist. After Maldonado’s identify was confirmed, dozens of people spontaneously gathered at the medical examiner’s office, where they lit candles and left flowers and messages of encouragement for the family.
Leftists congregated at the capital’s main square Plaza de Mayo to demand justice. On social media, the hashtag “Es Santiago” (“I am Santiago”) led Argentina’s Twitter trends.
Prosecutor Silvia Avila said the body, found 300 meters from where Maldonado was last seen, was wearing clothing that bore a resemblance to Maldonado’s.
The Maldonado family’s lawyer, Victoria Heredia, said that the body was found in a place where it “was visible to the naked eye. We don’t understand why it should appear in an area that had already been swept three times.”
The body was found entangled in roots in the bed of a river that traverses ancestral lands sold to Italian businessman Luciano Benetton but which is claimed by the Mapuche indigenous people.
However the judge of the case denied that particular area had been swept and this because as an in depth report from Clarin newspaper explained, the Mapuches are divided as to how address security forces, which they do not trust. Furthermore during the recovery of the body, Mapuches with sticks and knives were present all the time, and it now seems that they were aware of the situation but did not want any forces intruding in what they consider their lands.
“This does not acquit the police. They are still responsible,” said Sergio Maldonado after confirming the body was his brother’s.
The government initially rejected any police responsibility, but later acknowledged that some individual police officers could be involved.
“Whoever is responsible, they will have to assume the consequences of their actions, whether they are part of the police or someone else,” said minister Garavano.