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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.
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!"
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.
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!
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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