“Restless, the Mothers march every
Thursday, they meet every Tuesday
and the time is not enough”
This article is the continuation of my previous column. Here a hypothesis will be presented on one of the ways in which historical memory can be structured from the case of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo during the last Argentine dictatorship, 1976-1983, headed by Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera and Orlando Ramon Agosti
Once people were taken from their homes, jobs or public areas by military or police forces, family members -especially mothers- presented themselves at police stations or detention centers asking about their status; in many cases habeas corpus were filed without any effect. The mothers began to recognize each other, since they were again and again in different places. In this way they grouped themselves little by little until they reached a group of approximately 30 women in the Stella Maris church of the navy, in Buenos Aires, where the bishop was aware of the situation; Then they decided to go to the Plaza de Mayo. A woman was in the baton: Azucena Villaflor, the great founder. No type of response was given by the civil protection organizations and, here is the first key moment: the visibility of denunciation.
The Plaza de Mayo, the place of concentration chosen by mothers to claim for their disappeared, is located at a key point of the capital: in front of the Government House and surrounded by banks, where thousands of citizens circulate daily. At first, for convenience, they chose Saturday, but discovered that since it was not a working day there was not enough flow of people to create the desired effect, so the day was changed to Thursday at 3:30 p.m. For the declared State of Emergency, meetings of more than 3 people were prohibited by law, as well as protests. For this reason, the women decided to make a public act in complete silence, they would meet to weave, to sit, but always at the same time on Thursdays, more and more to create that feeling of pressure. One of the mothers comments in an Argentine documentary (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDJP9vRUX2o) that it was thanks to the police that the mothers began to circulate couples through the Plaza. It was not possible to sit on benches weaving, it was not possible to stand waiting, so the order of the police was "circulate", which is why these women walked slowly around the Plaza for two hours each week. At several moments the demonstrations reached 300 women. International journalists began to be interested in this group and to seek to interview them, although the national media ignored the issue, and many branded the denunciations as lies.
The aim was to achieve various types of justice for the victims: first, psychological; then, historical and, finally, social. At first, they asked: where are they? What have they done to my daughter? But after several years, so many bodies had already been found that the question was not whether they were alive or not but, where are they? No matter if they were alive or not. The claim consisted in recognizing that the disappeared had been snatched, tortured and killed.
In Luján a religious festival was celebrated and the Mothers made themselves heard with shouts. In order to identify themselves, the cloth diapers used by their children were put on their heads and this became the great symbol we know today. Of course, this demonstration also appeared in international newspapers. Such was the pressure that this group of unstoppable women inflicted on the country that, finally, Videla gave a hearing in 1977 to Azucena Villaflor, Beatriz Kety de Neuhaus and María Rosario de Cerruti. They met with the absolute cynicism of the army chief. "Many of my friends' children leave the country and do not say where they are going. There are girls who are practicing prostitution in Mexico. Can you believe it?" Said the dictator. It was an answer expected by the Mothers, but in spite of that, it did not stop being painful. "The daughters of your friends will be in prostitution. Ours are missing" said Beatriz de Neuhaus. The absolute denial of the recognition of the crime is one of the primary causes of the impossibility of healing it.
The next step was the recognition of the national and international community. For this moment the whole country -the Clandestine Detention Centers were located all around the country (See CONADEP, 2013. Nunca Más, Buenos Aires: Eudeba)- and the rest of the world knew the terrible moment that civil society was going through Argentina thanks to the reach of the press. Amnesty International sent a delegation in 1976 condemning the Argentine State for committing serious crimes against humanity and for carrying out political persecution against the commission. Also, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights visited the country in 1980, the year in which the same thing was concluded. However, after years of revelations, we know that the US government helped the coups in the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 1980s; reason why the great slogan of armed interventionism would not apply in these cases (Klein, N. 2013. The doctrine of shock, Barcelona: Booket, Perkings, J. 2005. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. New York: Penguin Group). The recognition of international human rights defenders of crimes does not mean a cessation of such practices, but a denunciation before the international community. Different tactics of pressure can be applied to committed governments; however, declarations of war are extremely rare and are, historically, made mostly by the United States. However, a large window of possibilities opens up by making the case known.
Here the next step is presented, the possibility of execution of the crimes committed. International recognition is not enough, although it is a huge step because it opens many possibilities. For example, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights can make a State recognize and compensate the victims for a crime committed by their bodies. However, this was not the Argentine case. The Board Government was weakened by social pressure: protests, resistance. Finally, the democratic electoral call was made, and a non-Peronist president was elected: Raul Alfonsin. In 1985 the Trials of the Board carried out by Argentine magistrates and judges began, in which those responsible for the crimes against humanity were condemned as torture, forced disappearance, appropriation of children, mass murders, among others. Jorge Rafael Videla was condemned, pardoned and condemned again after the fall of the dictatorship. He died in captivity in 2013.
Now, what was the objective? The Mothers wanted to show that there was no forgetting; that on the contrary there was resistance: there was no abandonment and there was no fear; the affirmation of social justice was sought through the recognition of people. The police harassment did not give wait. Every time a woman joined the Thursday meeting, the agents intercepted her asking for her identity document to intimidate her, however, all the other women presented their own document at the same time, which made the work of the interminable. When the demonstrations grew, they began to take prisoners. Once the phenomenon of the Mothers was heard worldwide 12 of them were disappeared and killed, among them Azucena Villaflor. However, the list of the names of the missing children was published in the newspaper under the name For a Christmas in Peace We Only Ask for the Truth. In addition, the case of the 2 missing French nuns arrested, Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon, was announced by the international press. The Mothers continued to circulate, although many less of them because the machinery of the criminal State had reached its goal to some extent: establish terror. International journalists sought to interview the Mothers to make them visible; At the same time, they talked to the military about the issue and received the two versions. In the 1978 football world cup the Dutch television media decided to broadcast the usual march on Thursdays instead of a game. The Mothers continued to circulate tirelessly. With the passage of time they became grandmothers and were recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (See ). There are now several organizations related to the search for grandchildren born in captivity who were abducted and assimilated by right-wing families such as the organizations H.I.J.O.S.; Familiares; EAAF.
Then, the hypothesis is that, at least in some cases, the creation of historical memory begins with the loss of confidence in state civil protection agencies, followed by the organization of a collective that seeks visibility and denunciation. From the complaint we have 4 additional steps: the search for psychological, social and historical justice for the victims; recognition by the national and international community; the possibility of executing the crimes; and the non-forgetfulness, in which the resistance and the affirmation of social justice are contained.
Amnistía Internacional. 1976. Informe de una Misión de Amnistía Internacional a la República Argentina. Barcelona: Imprenta Juvenil.
Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Historia de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
CONADEP. 2013. Nunca Más. Buenos Aires: Eudeba
Klein, N. 2013. La doctrina del shock. Barcelona: Booket.
Perkings, J. 2005. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. New York: Penguin Group
23 de mayo de 2018. Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, nominadas al Premio Nobel de la Paz. Website