People were beaten, houses were burned, antique furniture burned, books were lost forever. Hurricane Gendarmerie went through the town of Cushamen last Monday causing devastation in the name of the Benetton fashion corporation, and one person is still missing — anarchist solidarity activist Santiago Maldonado.
Santiago, who lives in El Bolson, is more usually seen in Rio Library but has friends in Cushamen and had been visiting when he was caught up in a raid which saw over 100 police ride into town and savagely repress the local population.
Indigenous law specialist Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta reported in a statement that Santiago went missing shortly after shots rang out as the raid, ostensibly to protect a local railroad from being blocked, became more violent:
When the gendarmes fired shots they all ran, including Santiago. They ran to the same side to hide among the vegetation and there are those who saw where Santiago hid. But between the shots and the assaults, a second later they lost sight of him and heard an officer shout “We have one.” Then they approached a Gendarmerie van, opened the back doors and several personnel surrounded the doors to block the view.
From that moment nothing else is known of Santiago and the community, along with Santiago’s mother and brother, have put in a legal bid to force the Gendarmerie to offer up some answers on his whereabouts.
Santiago is just the latest in a long line of people beaten up and detained by local law enforcement in recent months. Cushamen has become a focus point for landless Mapuche workers who have set up the Pu Lof community on unused rural tracts around the town which Benetton holds the deeds for, and has seen an explosion of violence from authorities, which are intent on breaking the recuperation movement.
Last June reports circulated about a mass raid against homes on the Benetton-owned site, which Mapuche have lived on for more than 1,400 years, breaking up houses in some of the 100 mostly rural communities which dot the region. Another series of raids in January saw serious injuries to many local residents, including from point-blank use of rubber bullets which led to the shattering of one man’s jaw (CN: Serious wounding in pics).
According to community members, the repression on Monday was worse than last January. Local resident Vanessa said:
They burned an entire house, burned the things that a Mapuche family who came from the coast of Chubut had brought with them. They had just moved, there were things that were covered with nylon for safekeeping in the climate which were 500 years old, all burned along with tents and clothes and books — and a store of organic seeds.
Campaigners say the seeds are a key detail to understanding why there has been so much persecution — Mapuche still preserve their seeds without genetic modification which stops multinationals from selling their own tailored stock and creating a dependence on copyrighted versions.
The land is part of a 9,000km estate owned by Benetton subsidiary Compañía de Tierras Sud Argentino — an area roughly the size of Cyprus.