Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Commemorate 30th Anniversary

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo commemorated the 30th anniversary of their movement today in Buenos Aires with a celebration of art and music. Thousands joined the mothers in the Plaza to thank them for their three decade long struggle for human rights and justice.

"Por favor ayudanos, son nuestra ultima esperanza"

In 1977, out of desperation and love for their children, a group of mothers began a protest to demand information about the whereabouts of their children. These youth were among the 30,000 people who were forcefully disappeared during the so-called dirty war carried out by Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

While thousands were illegally detained in a network of clandestine detention centers, Jorge Rafael Videla, leader of the generals, steadfastly denied journalists' accusations of forced disappearances. “While a person is disappeared, they can't have special treatment. He or she is an unknown entity, a disappeared. He or she doesn't have an entity. They aren't present, nor dead or alive! The person is disappeared.”

At a time when any protest was violently repressed, the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo broke the silence, themselves risking being disappeared.

Rosa Camarotti, a mother who joined the protest in 1978 after her son was disappeared recounts the March 24 military coup and how she first came to the Plaza de Mayo. “March 24, 1976 marked us like fire; it was the tragedy of our lives. They took away our children, just imagine. But other things marked me as well. For example, when I approached the Mothers. I felt truly supported by them. I felt the strength to fight because alone, with my husband, we went around unable to find out anything, without anyone knowing what we were doing.”

On April 30, 1977 fourteen women gathered in the Plaza de Mayo across from Argentina's presidential palace. At the time, the law prohibited groups of three or more people from gathering in public places. Yet these women began to walk around the pyramid in the center of the plaza. They identified themselves by wearing white head scarves, symbolizing the diapers of their children.

Juana Pargament, now 92-years-old, said that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have always gathered the strength to fight from their children. “30 years of struggle! Of course we are older now, we started out when we were younger. When they took our children away, it was painful, we suffered. But we had a strength that I can't put into words. It was also a difficult lesson, because we mothers had to learn to defend our children.”

The Mothers' have endured physical attacks and endless threats over the years. Three of the founding members were disappeared and murdered in 1977, when the group was infiltrated by a military officer, Adolfo Astiz. Astiz, like many other former military leaders has been charged with grave violations of human rights, but has never been sentenced for his crimes.

For Suzana Díaz, a 76-year-old mother from the northern province of Tucuman, the most difficult times taught her the most. “We have to fight so that no other mother or father goes through what we went through. This is what we want: for them never to take away another child like they took away our sons and daughters. And for those guilty to be punished.”

Only a handful of former military officers have been tried for human rights abuses during the military dictatorship. Last week a federal court revoked a 1990 pardon for two of the leaders of the former dictatorship, Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, although it is unlikely that the former dictators will serve any part of the life sentences they received in 1985.

According to Rosa Camarotti, the Mothers will continue to fight until all ex-military leaders are convicted and put behind bars for their crimes against humanity. “To end impunity, all of the military officers, all of them, whatever their age, would have had be put in regular jails. But that didn't happen. They are only imprisoned in their homes, living better than kings.”

Despite, legal obstacles the Mothers have said they will prepare a future generation to continue to defend human rights and demand justice.

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