COLOMBIA REFLECTION. Disappearances in democracy: supporting Santiago Maldonado from Colombia.



19 September 2017

COLOMBIA REFLECTION. Disappearances in
democracy: supporting Santiago Maldonado from Colombia

By Marcos Knoblauch

Many people are missing here. And we lack many stories and truths.
Throughout the world on the 30th of August, hundreds of thousands of victims of
enforced disappearances are remembered. On this date the demand for justice
and, above all, the search for truth is kept alive.

More than a month ago Santiago Maldonado was last seen during a
repressive police operation against demonstrators in a town in the southwest of
Argentina. An indigenous Mapuche community has for many years maintained a
process of defense and reclamation of their ancestral territory of the
community, a process to which Santiago had joined in solidarity. The forced
disappearance of Santiago Maldonado has generated strong demands from local and
international human rights organizations. On September 1, some 200,000 people marched to
the emblematic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires
 demanding from the State the appearance
of the young man alive. According to an Amnesty International statement, “during the morning
of August 1, 2017, about 100 members of the Argentine National Guard (GNA), a
security force of a military nature, entered irregularly and violently into the
territory of the  Mapuche Pu Lof in Resistencia community […] According
to the community, the GNA fired lead and rubber bullets and burned objects
belonging to the families. “Santiago Maldonado was last seen there and
some witnesses indicate that they saw the GNA hitting a bound man and throw him
into a vehicle.

Protest in Buenos Aires 

Peaple gather at the historic PLaza de Mayo in Buenas Aires protesting
the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado. Foto: Flikr – luzencor

In the countries of the Southern Cone, the enforced disappearance of
persons was a systematic practice in the various processes of military and
civic-military dictatorships. In Argentina the figure reaches 30,000 people
missing, in Chile the official record counts about 3,500 people and several
hundred people in Uruguay. According to a recent study, in the last 45 years
more than 60,000 people have been forcefully disappeared in Colombia. Unlike
most cases in the Southern Cone, in Colombia all enforced disappearances of
people occurred in the context of democracy.

Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas occupy a similar place in
history epically narrated from white peoples lense . In Argentina, towards the
end of the 19th century, according to the white and colonial academic
chronicle, a heroic campaign celebrated as “the conquest of the
desert” consolidated the dominance of the Argentine State and the white man
over the supposedly deserted territories.

Recent history tells the story of the arrival – which often occurred at
the invitation of political and related economic actors – of large foreign
companies and mining and oil exploration projects. In the 1990s, at a time of
neoliberal boom, the Italian group Benetton bought some 900,000 hectares in
Patagonia for the raising of sheep for the production of wool and textiles.
This territory comprises a large amount of Mapuche ancestral land. To
understand the dimensions, the size of the Benetton lands is similar to the
Colombian Department of Sucre and is the same size as Puerto Rico. Since then,
the Italian group has had good relations with provincial and national
governments and enjoyed police and judicial protection. According to Mapuche leader Soraya Maicoño, “these lands had
been delivered to the Lonko (head of a Mapuche community) Nahuelquir more than
a hundred years ago. Later they belonged to the English colony, due to an
agreement with the Argentine State in exchange for arms, and in 1992 the government
of Carlos Menem sold a part of those lands to Benetton, who ran a fence and
occupied more and more of these pasture lands”. The Argentine Constitution
allows the reclamation of lands by indigenous peoples, but Benetton rejects the ancestral right that the mapuches
appeal to and assures that they came from Chile.

In Colombia, with more than half a century of armed conflict, society
has suffered and still suffers from the enforced disappearance of
people, aggravated by impunity and the absence of truth. The National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH)
developed a deep and complex investigation that resulted in a report
 that systematizes and
reveals, for the first time, a solid and chilling figure: 60,630 people were
forcefully disappeared between 1970 and 2015.

 Man looks to the pictures of people

A man looks for recognizable faces on a banner with photographs and
details of disappeared persons. Photo: Caldwell Manners 

In today’s democratic Argentina that continues to confront and put on
trial the minds and perpetrators of the horrors committed during the somber
times of the civil-military dictatorship, the practices of enforced
disappearance of people are repeated in different scenarios. Silence,
concealment of people’s whereabouts and denial of information form together
with the acquiescent political and judicial forces the elements that support

Governments change yet the state-business links that are oppressive to
peasant farmers and indigenous communities persist and are strengthened. The
political scenario seems to change, but governments only protect large
businesses and plunder communities from their sole source of livelihood, leaving
them with a mountain of promises of development. The history of
vindication of indigenous and peasant farmers lands in our America are united
and the struggles are interconnected.

We lack many people and many truths. A few days after the International
Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, and more than a month after his
disappearance, the CPT-Colombia team is in solidarity with the family and
friends of Santiago Maldonado and with all the Argentine people, demanding from
the Argentine State an answer to the question: where is #SantiagoMaldonado? 

Full online version –> here

Sign Amnesty International’s campaign demanding the Argentine state return
Santiago Maldonado

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