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Reunited and It Feels So Good...

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: 24 Years of Rocking Argentina and the World

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These are my new heroes!
It's 3:30 PM Thursday, and a group of women wearing white scarves are gathered here in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, as they have every week for the last 24 years. It's not a gossip session, a quilting bee or a bridge circle. These women are the mothers of some of the estimated 30,000 people who were "disappeared" by the government during the Dirty War of the 1970's (The Amazing Man Behind the Sweatsuit and the Nobel Prize - Adolfo Perez).

Having a little get together downtown doesn't seem like a major act of rebellion, does it? Why is it, then, that through the years, these sweet looking little old ladies with handkerchiefs on their heads have been harassed, beaten, arrested, threatened with death and some even "disappeared" for this act of defiance? That's not the kind of thing my mother does in her free time!

When Kavitha and I got there, the "Madres de Plaza de Mayo" were already marching around the monument in the center of the plaza. There were lots of young people marching with them, talking to them and taking pictures and video. After 24 years of persistence, they're celebrities! Though these white haired ladies are a far cry from the Spice Girls, I think they're my new heroes, so I wanted their autographs.

Joining the march, I walked up to four grandmotherly women and struck up a conversation. Avelina, Tati, Auroro, and Enriqueta smiled warmly and told me that they were some of the founders of the Madres. "It was very hard," Avelina told me. "When our children disappeared, we did not know what to do. When we went to the police looking for information, they said, 'Who is your son? Well, forget about him.'"

Avelina didn't forget about him, and she won't let the Argentinean government or people forget about him, either. His picture is pinned to her shirt, along with his name, Carlos Alberto Rizzo Molena, and the date he "disappeared," December 5, 1977. "He was 35 years old, and he was a doctor," she told me proudly.

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These are just a few of the many people who were "disappeared" in Argentina
These are just a few of the many people who were "disappeared" in ArgentinaIn the office of the Association of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, hundreds of faces of men and women, children, and even babies who disappeared stare out from photographs on the walls. With the war over, the government of Argentina would like for all these disappeared to be left in the past. The top officers have been pardoned by the current President of Argentina, Carlos Menem, and those who served under them were absolved of responsibility by the "Law of Due Obedience" because they were "just following orders."

The Madres, though, want answers as to what happened to their children, and they want those responsible for the concentration camps, detentions, and "disappearances" during the dirty war brought to justice. When, in 1995, the government released a list of those confirmed dead from the war, their response was, "We do not want lists of the dead, we want lists of the murderers!"

Their tireless protest has brought international attention to Argentina, much to the frustration and embarrassment of the government. For example, during the 1978 World Cup Soccer games held in Buenos Aires, which was still during the Dirty War, government repression increased dramatically in order to look good for the international press. None the less, the Mothers continued to meet in the Plaza, attracting international media to their cause for the first time. In Holland, the television showed the Madres marching in place of the opening of the World Cup, as the world became aware of what was really going on here in Argentina.

Fortunately, the government no longer harasses them while they march. Still, their office has been broken into four times. They think it was done by the government or the military, because little was stolen but their files on the military war criminals, but everything in the office was destroyed.

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Kavitha at the office of the Madres
We arranged to interview two of the Mothers, Ebel and Juanita. In the interview, Juanita explained to us that the white handkerchiefs they wear on their heads are a symbol of life. It started as a way to make their presence more powerful and unified by wearing their children's old cloth diapers (clean, of course!) as a shawl, with the name, birthday, and date of disappearance written on them. They refuse to accept that their children are dead and just forget about them. Instead, they carry on the work their children started, and march in their memory every single Thursday afternoon.

Even though they're not getting any younger, the Madres continue to work tirelessly for social justice in Argentina and in the world. In addition to researching and documenting abuses during the Dirty War, they have participated in student and worker protests in Argentina, and are active in international human rights abuses including that of the American Indians, the Palestinians, and the Albanians in Yugoslavia. Several Madres went to Peru to try to speak with Fujimori concerning the human rights abuses of his regime, (Bringing Peace to the World, Children First!) but he would not speak with them.

Their refusal to compromise their cause or their non-violent position in the face of so much government oppression has won them the admiration of groups around the world. In Spain, streets are named after them in Madrid, Almeria, and Maidalea, as is a plaza in Holland. Many internationally famous stars, including Sting, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jane Fonda, support their work and have marched with them. Groups all over Europe still support them, including a group in France who still march in solidarity in front of the Argentinean Embassy every Thursday in Paris.

Well, they don't have a hit single, and I don't think I'm going to start dressing like them. Still, I know that the Madres de Plaza de Mayo are my newest heroes. Check out their web page and join the fan club!


Kavitha - Bringing Peace to the World, Children First!
Shawn - The Amazing Man Behind the Sweatsuit and the Nobel Prize - Adolfo Perez
Monica - The Life and Times of Eva Peron
Kevin - Will Paraguay Ever Have Justice?
Making a Difference - Save a Tree, Go Napkin Free!
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