Justice Minister Germán Garavano said Wednesday that allegations saying the family of Santiago Maldonado were receiving financial benefits from the state, as a result of the disappearance and death of their 27-year-old relative during a Border Patrol operation in August, 2017, are not true.
"We reject rumours that suggest Sergio Maldonado or the family of Santiago Maldonado receive or received subsidies of 200,000 pesos from the Justice Ministry. The Justice Ministry does not give subsidies," Garavano said in a statement published on Twitter.
In April, rumours began circulating that the Maldonado family was receiving subsidies to cover their legal costs. The family is pursuing charges of "forced disappearance" against the state.
The family recently ramped up its attempts to thwart the rumours by demanding that the Justice Minister publicly clarify the situation, which they say was "installed seven months ago by various operators in the media which shared fake news about Sergio Maldonado", Santiago's elder brother.
A CONTROVERSIAL CASE
Santiago Maldonado went missing on August 1 near the Chubut river where his body was found 73 days later.
The 27-year-old artisan has been participating in a road block with a group of militant Mapuches who were protesting over claimed ancestral land currently in the hands of Italian clothing designer Luciano Benetton.
The case is currently being treated as a “forced disappearance followed by death”, a charge that places responsibility for Maldonado’s death with the Border Patrol officers who acted to displace the road block that day.
His death remains a sensitive topic in Argentina.
At the time of his disappearance, human rights groups were quick to declare the case a “forced disappearance” and compared what had allegedly happened to Maldonado on August 1, 2017 with the disappearances carried out by the Armed and Security Forces during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
The Security Ministry was quick to defend the Border Patrol, with Minister Patricia Bullrich declaring that she was not willing “to throw anyone under the bus” (referring to Border Patrol officers) to placate the tension surrounding Maldonado's disappearance.
When the young man's body eventually appeared in the Chubut river 73 days later, an autopsy on his body found that he had died from “asphyxia after being submerged” and showed no signs of violence. The government used the result to further dismiss accusations against the Border Patrol.
However, activists continued standing by the charges of “forced disappearance followed by death”. They argued that, unless he feared for his life, a young man like Maldonado, who did not know how to swim, would not throw himself into an icy river wearing 13 kilogrammes of clothing.
The disappearance was a political nightmare for the Macri government.
President Mauricio Macri’s only contact with the family was a call to Maldonado’s mother two days before the October midterm election, while recordings emerged of phone surveys questioning voters on how much the Maldonado affair would impact their vote.