New Internationalist

Militant madres

July 2001

Commemoration of the ‘disappeared’ in Argentina

On 24 March 1976 the military took power in Argentina. Twenty-five years on, the true history of the ‘disappearance’ of an estimated 30,000 people is still hazy. The main perpetrators are either free or under mere house arrest, thanks to a series of amnesty-granting decrees passed by subsequent democratically elected governments.

Human-rights organizations in Argentina have been intensifying their campaign to raise awareness about the so-called ‘dirty war’ of the 1970s and the impunity enjoyed by over 1,000 military officers. All the key groups took part in demonstrations and educational workshops on the anniversary. Children in state schools, for the first time ever, participated in official actos (commemorations).

A new challenge is the way political parties now co-opt human-rights campaigns, blurring the issues and dividing the organizations. Mercedes Meroño, Vice-President of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, argues that they should not march with other groups. ‘We may not get the press coverage they get, but we cannot march alongside groups working towards reconciliation. The Abuelas (‘grandmothers’) and some of the HIJOS (‘children of the disappeared’) members have let themselves be photographed alongside military officers and politicians and we reject any idea of reconciliation.’

Meroño claims the present government is guilty of Big Brother-style abuse. ‘The De la Rua Government announces another austerity measure,’ she says, ‘and then lets it be known through a Federal Judge that the laws of Punto Final and Due Obedience [the 1986 and 1987 decrees which granted impunity] may be revoked. It’s a lie.’

Though they share the Plaza de Mayo on Thursdays with other groups, the Madres have chosen to stand apart. Last year they created their own educational centre to ‘continue fighting for the beliefs of our children’. Increasingly an umbrella organization for a variety of militant causes, the best-known of all Argentine human-rights organizations stirs up mixed feelings. Their leader Hebe de Bonafini recently spoke out in support of ETA, the military wing of Basque separatists in Spain. The close-knit clan of women in their sixties and seventies are at the forefront of the main international debates on globalization, IMF policy and even ecology.

In contrast, the Abuelas, who focus on the whereabouts of the children of their dead children, accept a degree of dialogue as a matter of necessity. ‘No-one owns us as a party but a good relationship with the national government is necessary to our cause,’ says Abel Lanzillotto.

The Madres Línea Fundadora – a splinter group of ‘founding Mothers’ – also rejects the tendency to tar military and democratic governments with the same brush. On the anniversary they marched alongside the Abuelas and trade unions under the banner ‘Memory, Justice and Truth’.

Chris Moss

The following poem was written by a young desaparecido under the Argentine dictatorship. Alcira Graciela Fidalgo was a 27-year-old law student who was abducted on 4 February 1977 and never seen again. The poem was translated into English by Monique and Carlos Altschul for Fundacion Mujeres en Igualdad, who can be reached at [email protected] or at


Today I dreamed again of mountains and a landscape drawn by the wind. It was the afternoon, here in your sky the hot bird of summer. There were willows, perfumed air and the silence singing a baguala.

A corner in the night and in life... A dream of colour and poetry.

Hard-working bees daily you hum through the mornings with the hot coffee and the shared maté.

Such was my home: peaceful and silent in the hot summer siestas. Water for the maté, shared evenings (a clean glance sliding from the faucets)

Dad reading a book. Mom watering the grass. Estela with her shadow gliding across the patio.

Such, such was my home a warm smile open to the morning.

Alcira Graciela Fidalgo

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 334 This column was published in the July 2001 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 336

New Internationalist Magazine issue 336
Issue 336

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