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 impunity.

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