Argentina: protests over 'disappeared' activist

Tens of thousands of Argentines held protests across the country Sept. 1, demanding answers one month after the disappearance of an indigenous rights activist. Demonstrators held photos of Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen when border police evicted a group of indigenous Mapuche from lands in the southern Patagonia region owned by Italian clothing company Benetton. In Buenos Aires, protesters converged on the Plaza de Mayo, iconic for its role in the struggle to demand justice for the "disappeared" under the military dictatorship. The Buenos Aires march ended in running street battles with the riot police.

Maldonado's family says border police detained him when he and others were blocking a road in Cushamen, Chubut province, demanding the release of jailed Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, who is wanted in Chile on "terrorism" charges stemming from protests over land rights. The Mapuche homeland is divided by the international border, and their territories have been reduced by land-grabbing on either side.

Witnesses say they saw the police shove Maldonado, 28, into a van and drive away. The government has investigated the border patrol unit that was responsible for the operation in Chubut, but has not found any information regarding Maldonado's whereabouts. Activists are calling the case the "first disappearance" under President Mauricio Macri. Rights groups estimate that some 30,000 people were killed or forcibly disappeared during Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship. (NYT, Sept. 2; Al Jazeera, TeleSur, Sept. 1; BBC News, Aug. 27)

Pope Francis meets family of disappeared activist

On his trip to his native Argentina, Pope Francis met with family members of disappeared activists Santiago Maldonado, and pledged that he would join them in their quest to uncover the truth about the young man's fate. Santiago, who had spent seven months backpacking around Argentina, disappeared on Aug. 1 in Pu-Lof, Cushamen municipality, shortly after he was arrested during a demonstration in support of the local indigenous Mapuche community. His body was found in the Río Chubut on Oct. 19, caught in the branches of willow trees, apparently drowned. (TeleSur, Dec. 6)

Days after the body was found, angry protesters in Santiago attacked the Argentine embassy, breaking windows and damaging a vehicle. The incident caused diplomatic tensions between Buenos Aires and Chile. (La Gaceta, Oct. 24)