Photo: Facundo Nívolo. Courtesy of Cosecha Roja. All rights reserved.
This article is being published as part of the partnership between Cosecha Roja and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.
Sergio and Germán Maldonado recognized him by the tattoos: it is Santiago, their younger brother, the 28-year-old who was missing for 77 days after the repression by the Argentine Gendarmería of a Mapuche community in Chubut.
Around eleven at night, after twelve hours of solid work, the coroner Roberto Cohen finished the autopsy. One minute after midnight, Judge Gustavo Lleral approached the entrance of the building on Viamonte Street. Before the blinding light of the flashes, he announced the conclusions reached by the forensic experts: "The body does not present injuries", he said.
The government clung to this information and proposed, once again, that the case be closed. The truth is, however, that the cause of death remains to be determined. It should be made public in the next few days. The absence of injuries and blows to the body does not rule out police violence. For example, the first examination of Franco Casco's body – who was found floating on the Paraná River after being missing for three weeks – determined that he had no visible injuries, but further investigation and complementary studies showed that the young man had been arrested and tortured in a Rosario police station and thrown alive into the water. Similarly, the body of Ezequiel Demonty was found floating downstream in the Riachuelo. While the autopsy showed that he had drowned, subsequent investigation discovered that a group of police officers had tortured him and thrown him into the river.
The autopsy is the beginning of the investigation. "This is just starting", one of the participants in the autopsy told Cosecha Roja.
The Maldonado family issued a statement saying: "With regard to some interpretations based on the fact that there are no apparent injuries in the body of Santiago, we believe that they are premature; they misrepresent what the Judge declared and they intentionally try to twist the information for opportunistic reasons, for petty goals. The statement does not rule out the possibility that Santiago were the victim of violent action which caused his death, so we must continue to wait for the conclusive results of the forensic experts, and ensure that their work is conducted without any external pressure”.
On the ground floor room of the Clinical Forensic Medicine division, where some 3.600 autopsies are performed annually, the experts collected tissue samples for different tests. They collected mud and samples of pollen and microscopic insects.
Complementary studies will provide answers to the key questions: when and how did Santiago Maldonado die? How long had the body been in the water when the Coast Guard divers found it? The results of these studies, according to sources which have access to the file, could be ready within two weeks.
Fourteen forensic specialists and four specialists from the Forensic Medicine division participated in the autopsy, besides four more from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and other experts hired by the family, by the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, the Association of Former Missing Detainees, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and by the accused gendarme Emmanuel Echazú. Judge Lleral also attended the autopsy along with two collaborators and four overseers.
"The coordination work, with more than 50 people in the room, was remarkable. All the experts who participated in the autopsy operated with professionalism and honesty", said one of participants.
The family again asked for respect, as they had done when the body appeared: "The attempt to distort the investigation is a new affront to our pain. It violates the privacy and respect the family demands. We ask the political leadership, the media and society to help us go through this moment with the greatest possible solidarity, until the truth surfaces and justice is served".
The forensics and party experts agreed that the body showed no sharp, penetrating or edgeless wounds. The newspaper Clarín published that "drowning is the most likely cause of death". They also said that according to "forensic opinion, the signs found on the body 'would be compatible with immersion for 60 to 78 days’". However, none of the experts made any reference to the cause of death or analyzed the amount of time the body was in the waters of the Chubut River during the autopsy. This information will only be known through the complementary studies.
Another piece of fake news published by Clarín was the existence of a debate between the party experts and the forensics regarding "a metallic retractile tonfa (a martial art weapon)" found next to the body. "One of the points raised by the CELS experts was that the tonfa was ‘planted’, although some of the other experts maintained that it showed signs of rust caused by water", the newspaper reported. In fact, during the autopsy, one of the overseers (not from CELS) asked that samples of the tonfa be collected to determine whether Santiago carried it in his hand at the time of his death or if it was placed at the scene. There were no objections and the sample was collected.
For the duration of the twelve-hour autopsy, while the forensic experts checked the body found in the Chubut River, outside, in Junin Street, a hundred people held a vigil with pictures of Santiago, candles and handmade posters in front of improvised altars. They had come to tell the family – who had spent seven hours by the body floating in the river – that they are not alone in their pain and demand for justice.
A little blonde girl about four years old sat on a windowsill trying to light a candle that the wind kept on stubbornly putting out. In careful, delicate handwriting, someone transcribed the poem that Teresa Parodi wrote to Santiago: "There is a pain here that blinds the soul".