Mothers of Argentina’s disappeared

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Every Thursday afternoon at 3.30pm for the last thirty five years the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo stand and protest in Buenos Aires’ main square. We went and stood with them for a while.

Their protest is for information about their sons who were ‘disappeared’ during the period known at the Dirty War when Argentina was ruled by military dictatorship. As many as thirty thousand of its citizens were kidnapped, tortured and killed.

The movement began in 1977 when mothers looking for information about their lost children found some solidarity together, and the gall to protest in the face of a potentially harsh reaction from the regime. The government dismissed them as las locas (the crazy women) but they gained some international media attention when, at the height of the dictatorship in 1978, Argentina hosted the world cup.

The organisation has widened its mandate to become more about confronting and apologising for the events that happened under the dictatorship. The white headscarf of the women has become a symbol of protest against Argentina’s past.

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There’s an offshoot (the Grandmothers) who protest specifically about the babies that were taken from women who were pregnant when captured and adopted out to military families. Their mothers are presumed dead. There’s also a youth and student wing. The guy with the student’s tee that approached us to explain had the same kind of look in his eyes as the office holders in UN Youth. You could have put a placard in his hand and called him a Model UN delegate.

Watching the women protest was genuinely moving. They’ve been doing this for thirty five years and their questions still go largely unanswered. Most of the women were about the age of our grandmothers. Many arrived in a dedicated minivan that seemed to have come straight from a rest home of some kind. They circled the plaza’s main monument slowly, but with purpose. Their ordinarily meek frames seemed larger behind a banner. Their harrowing experience somewhat defies our otherwise strong idea that modern Argentina is a lot like home.

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