BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine police was investigating whether a dead body found on Tuesday in the southern Chubut River belongs to a young Argentine, Santiago Maldonado, who went missing on Aug. 1 while reportedly participating in a pro-indigenous protest.
The body was found in the Chubut River located within the territory occupied by the Mapuche indigenous community Lof Cushamen, in the locality of Esquel, Chubut province, police sources told EFE.
The corpse was discovered during the search operation ordered by Judge Gustavo Lleral, who is investigating the disappearance of the 28-year-old Maldonado.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Esquel said in a statement that the dead body was discovered approximately 300 meters upstream from the “epicenter” of the protest, in which the missing man was last seen.
The statement added that “there is still no certain detail of the identity of the body found” and a report from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team is still pending.
According to local media, the body with dark clothes was found hooked to branches of a willow tree in the river heading towards Esquel thanks to the work of specialized divers from the Naval Prefecture, accompanied by canines from the division Cinotecnia.
Sources from the government of President Mauricio Macri told EFE that a delegation led by the Secretary of Human Rights, Claudio Avruj, and members of the Justice and Security Ministry went to observe the scene.
Avruj said that the delegation went there because they wanted to “accompany the family” and look into what was happening, but also revealed on his Twitter account that as the delegation entered the Mapuche community of Lof Cushamen, they were “insulted, intimidated and attacked” by a group of hooded men.
The relatives of Maldonado, members of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights as well as court personnel also went to the area where the body, which was already transferred to a morgue, was found.
According to witnesses, Maldonado was last seen on Aug. 1 when he was fleeing a counter-protest raid carried out by the Argentine National Gendarmerie agents after reportedly participating in the protest in Esquel.
The Maldonado family and human rights organizations believed that the Gendarmerie agents were the ones responsible for his disappearance.
However, the prosecution labeled the incident as “enforced disappearance.”
Since Maldonado was reported missing, the Macri government has expressed its commitment to find the missing young man and has worked closely with the Justice to solve the case.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the Argentine government to clarify the incident while the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances demanded that the government adopt “all necessary measures” to locate Maldonado.
For its part, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights approved a precautionary measure on Aug. 23 to protect the rights of the victim.
Amid the controversy, an Argentine court accepted in mid-September an appeal against the first judge of the case, Guido Otranto, which was presented by Maldonado’s family upon believing that Judge Otranto was not being neutral while treating the case.
Judge Lleral, who showed exclusive dedication to the case, was then appointed to replace Otranto.
That decision came shortly after Otranto said in an interview that the most probable cause of Maldonado’s disappearance was that the young man drowned in a river when he fled the agents, a hypothesis which did not convince Maldonado’s family.