Santiago Maldonado was last seen when security forces evicted Mapuche Indians from land owned by clothing company

Argentina’s government has offered a reward for information about the whereabouts of a missing activist who was last seen when security forces evicted a group of Mapuche Indians from lands in Patagonia owned by the Italian clothing company Benetton.

The $27,000 reward offered on Tuesday comes a day after a United Nations committee said the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado required urgent action by the administration of Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri.

Maldonado’s disappearance has cast a fresh light on the simmering conflict between the Mapuche indigenous people and Benetton, which owns a swath of territory larger than Luxembourg where it grazes sheep to produce wool.

The Mapuches claim part of the Benetton-owned land as ancestral territory and the conflict has often erupted into violent protest.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former president and Macri’s bitter rival, waded into the row earlier this week, tweeting photos of Maldonado with the comment: “Santiago must reappear. And he must reappear alive.”

Maldonado had reportedly travelled last week to support the Mapuche Pu Lof community, who have been occupying part of the disputed land since 2015.

Maldonado went missing last Tuesday 1 August, after he was reportedly arrested by border police while he was with other protesters blocking a road in the southern province of Chubut.

The demonstrators were demanding the release of the imprisoned Mapuche leader Jones Huala, whose extradition on charges of terrorism has been requested by neighbouring Chile, where the Mapuche community is also involved in land disputes.

Maldonado, originally from the city of La Plata in Buenos Aires province, had travelled to Cushamen in Chubut, where Huala’s Mapuche Ancestral Resistance group has been staging protests related to the tribe’s territorial claims.

Huala, currently detained in Argentina for the illegal posession of firearms, claims that the disappearance of Maldonado is just another instance of a long running policy of repression against his community by “para-police groups” in Patagonia.

“All human rights are violated here, which forced us to harden our forms of resistance. We use whatever we have at hand. We use stones and sticks as self-defense against the paramilitary and para-police groups,” Huala told the Con Vos radio station in a telephone interview from his jail cell.

On Monday, a march in Buenos Aires calling for Maldonado’s safe return turned violent when hooded protesters chanting “long live anarchy, death to the state” hurled Molotov cocktails at police, attacked a journalist and smashed the window of a television van.

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Photo source:  David O'Leary via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: ©David O'Leary

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