The news made headlines across Argentina in February this year – the ‘Mothers’ were holding their last march. These were the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo: a fearless and determined bunch of women who – after their sons, daughters and husbands were ‘disappeared’ by the military dictatorship – decided to confront the kidnappers by standing every Thursday in the grand plaza that fronts the nation’s Congress. These Thursday protests – the first one held on 30 April 1977 – continued throughout the dictatorship, which gave way to democracy in 1983. Through their far more sizeable annual marches, they have continued to pressure governments into discovering more about the fates of their children and spouses.
A Government inquiry established that 11,000 people were murdered during the ‘Dirty War’ between 1976 and 1983. NGOs and human rights experts say the figure is closer to 30,000 – many of them leftist sympathizers and intellectuals who were quietly removed from their houses by undercover agents and tortured in the armed forces’ schools. The recovery of bodies is still under way although some can never be found – such as the victims of ‘death flights’, who were pushed out of aircrafts into rivers or the Atlantic Ocean.
Several of the first women brave enough to challenge the dictatorship paid a similar price. Just last year the remains of Azucena Villaflor, the founder of the Mothers association, Esther Careaga and María Eugenia Bianco, two of the earliest Mothers, and French nun Leonie Duquet, a supporter, were discovered and identified.
Recognized by the white handkerchiefs worn over their heads – a symbolic reminder of their children’s nappies – the Association of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo announced to the press that the 25th annual March of Resistance on 26 January this year would be their last. The Association’s President, Hebe de Bonafini, went on to explain that the Mothers were satisfied with the intentions of the Kirchner Government to assist them in the recovery of the missing. Kirchner ‘signalled that we were his Mothers… he is a friend of the house,’ said de Bonafini. ‘We are making the last March of Resistance because there is no longer an enemy in the Casa Rosada [the Argentine White House].’
Not everyone agrees. The association split in 1986 and a second group – the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Foundation Line – emerged. It focuses on reparations, the recovery of remains and the prosecution of their children’s murderers. It has also protested the lack of internal democracy and the brusque leadership of de Bonafini, a seamstress who has been president since 1979 and who has radicalized the organization’s political ambitions. The Foundation Line will continue to hold their annual march and both factions will still hold their weekly Thursday protests. A related third group called the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo will also continue its fight to discover the whereabouts of the desaparecidos – children who were forcibly adopted, sometimes into the families of the military who ran the dictatorship.Sholto Macpherson