Maldonado was last seen being detained by paramilitary police on August 1 [M Brindicci/Reuters]
Argentine political parties have suspended campaigning for legislative elections after the discovery of a body thought to be that of a missing activist who disappeared two months ago during a police operation.
Rights groups say Santiago Maldonado, 27, was last seen being detained by paramilitary police as they moved to disperse a protest march by the Mapuche indigenous group in Chabut, about 1,800 km southwest of Buenos Aires, on August 1.
Both government and opposition parties suspended campaigning for legislative elections as the body was being brought to Buenos Aires for formal identification and an autopsy at the request of the Maldonado family.
Coast Guard divers discovered the body in a river in southern Argentina and an investigator involved said there are reasons to believe it is Maldonado.
He said Maldonado’s national identity card and a jacket that a witness said he was wearing when he went missing were found with the body.
The body was found near the location of the protest site when Maldonado went missing.
Protesters were demanding the release of a jailed Mapuche indigenous leader and the return of lands belonging to Italian clothing company Benetton that are claimed by the Mapuche as their ancestral territory.
People at the protest said they saw police beat and detain Maldonado after he and others blocked a road in Chubut.
Transferred for autopsy
Maldonado’s family has accused the police of being behind the disappearance.
Police never confirmed the arrest and denied wrongdoing.
The body was being transferred for autopsy to Buenos Aires at the request of the family, their lawyer Victoria Heredia said.
“The family is asking for precautions to be taken” over how and where the body is stored until an autopsy is carried out, she said.
Argentine activist’s disappearance puts indigenous people’s struggle under spotlight
The lawyer said that the body was found in a place where it “was visible to the naked eye. We don’t understand why it should appear in an area that had already been swept three times”.
The Maldonado family called for privacy in a statement: “It is not possible to establish either the identity or the cause of death until the experts have completed their work. We are asking that our privacy be respected at this difficult time.”
The case has embroiled President Mauricio Macri’s government in a political storm.
Macri has made no comment on the finding of the body and on Tuesday sent Claudio Avruj, the human rights minister, to Chabut, where his car was stoned by protesters.
Calls were issued on social networks for a demonstration on Wednesday at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.