Brutality returns to Argentina’s streets as police moves in on peaceful demonstrators

Police used water canon and batons against peaceful protesters in Buenos Aires as they campaigned to know the whereabouts of ‘disappeared’ human rights activist Santiago Maldonado.
Maldonado was last seen at an indigenous-rights demonstration in Patagonia last month, where border police arrived to dismantle a roadblock that had been erected by protesters.
Friends and family of Maldonado have accused the Government of allowing Army personnel to forcibly remove him from the protest in August 1. Police deny arresting him, and there are no official records showing he was detained.
Human rights campaigners, union leaders and left-wing groups gathered under the slogan “Donde está Santiago?” (Where is Santiago) as they called for President Mauricio Macri’s government to do more to find him.
Maldonado’s disappearance last month has sparked fury and fear among people in Argentina, who have compared it to ‘the disappeared’ from the 70s.
Under the military junta dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, state repression left more than 30,000 disappeared, according to human rights organisations.
The current government of President Mauricio Macri has said this figure has been ‘exaggerated and that the number is far less’, sparking a wider conflict with activists and the families of victims.
And last week Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said things had changed since the restoration of democracy in the early 80s.
Mrs Bullrich said: “The police are not the same as 40 years ago.”
She added that because protesters had their faces covered, there were no real indications Mr Maldonado had been at the Mapuche raid.
During the 1970s dictatorship, police and army forces unlawfully kidnapped and tortured activists, students and journalists, most who have never been found.
And now journalists have called Friday night events an attack on the free press as police arrested reporters covering the protest.
Thirty people were detained, including reporters and 23 were wounded, according to the Buenos Aires Press Union (Sipreba).
The union has released a statement saying reporters covering the events were badly beaten by police officers before being taken away.
Footage shows police marching with water canons and violently throwing protesters into police vans.
Journalists can be heard identifying themselves and their peers as they are taken away, and further detainees yelling their full names asking people to ‘look for them’ at police stations.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged Argentina to take “the necessary measures to determine the situation and Maldonado’s whereabouts” as well as to report on the investigation of the facts. The document states that “the life and personal integrity of Santiago Maldonado are in a situation of grave risk.”