Body Found in Missing Protester Case Roils Argentina Before Vote

  • Body found hasn’t yet been identified as missing protester
  • Case could have an influence on undecided Buenos Aires voters

The discovery of a body in a Patagonian river has introduced a kernel of doubt just days from Argentina’s mid-term elections in which President Mauricio Macri’s alliance appeared to be coasting to victory.

Investigators searching for Santiago Maldonado, a tattoo artist who went missing during a clash with border police on Aug. 1, on Thursday discovered the corpse hidden among the roots of willow trees lining the river, just 300 meters from where the skirmish took place. The body has been flown to Buenos Aires for an autopsy and, while it hasn’t yet been identified, local media reported that Maldonado’s identity documents were found in the clothes, which were of the same color he was wearing when last seen.

The Maldonado case, which has provided ammunition for Macri’s opposition, comes at a moment when the president needs a strong performance from his alliance in order to push ahead with plans to open up Argentina’s economy. Macri’s bigger challenge lies in the province of Buenos Aires where his candidate is attempting to block a political comeback attempt from his fiercest critic, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. 

Polls have shown Macri’s ally Esteban Bullrich with a 2-4 percentage point lead but Fernandez received more votes in the primary. If the result is tight once again, the Maldonado case could push undecided voters toward Fernandez, who has blamed Macri for Maldonado’s fate and insinuated collusion between the government and security forces in his disappearance, said Raul Aragon, a pollster based in Buenos Aires.

“If it’s a very close result like in the primaries, it could play a role,” Aragon said by phone.

The analysis of DNA to verify the identity of the body will take between three and 15 days and probably won’t be ready before the elections.

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