What the traveler sees in Buenos Aires today is the result of a confluence of factors. The glorious but at times decrepit city is the greatest artifact of Argentina's hopes to rise as a world power on the global stage. The city is the capital of what was once among the world's wealthiest countries, and South America's most powerful, drawing its strength from the bounty of its agricultural hinterland, the labor of its immigrants, and its commercial and political ties with European powers. The architecture, culture, and sense of nostalgia that characterize Buenos Aires today are all vestiges of its physical and spiritual transformation at the turn of the 20th century. Its wide boulevards lined with Parisian-style buildings, its government headquarters of European marble, its fashion boutiques and art galleries, and its conversation-filled cafes represent what the city once was, what it could have been, and what it still longs to be in the eyes of the world.
The Madres: A Union of a Mother's Pain
The Madres de Plaza de Mayo was formed in 1976, with the concept in mind that even the cruelest man can identify with a mother's pain in trying to find her missing child. The military government that came into power on March 24 that year, after the fall of Perón's third wife Isabel's administration, began what it called a reorganization of society based largely on making up lists of suspected socialist dissidents and making them disappear. Estimates range from 13,000 to 30,000 desaparecidos, or disappeared ones, mostly young people who were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered during this era. Many of the bodies were thrown naked into the Atlantic rather than buried so that they could never be found or identified. The children of the dead were given out as gifts to military families who had none of their own. This era of murdering people for their political beliefs was called the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War). It did not end until the collapse of the military government upon Argentina's loss of the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands War in June of 1982.
It is easy to think of the dead as statistics and the mothers as a curiosity for tourists and history buffs, but this terrible chapter of Argentina's history is far from closed, as families still seek to find out what became of their children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, both young Argentines who have no recollection of this period as well as old Argentines involved in the murders wish the mothers would simply go away. Still, though many of the mothers have died, their work goes on.
Their work was extremely dangerous, and the mothers were themselves threatened. The first gatherings of the Madres in Plaza de Mayo took place on Saturdays in April 1977. However, since there weren't many people around the plaza on weekends, they changed their meeting day to Thursday. It was only then that other citizens started becoming aware of what was going on. Realizing the power the Madres began to wield, the government started arresting them.
Eventually they were told by the government they could march so long as they spoke to no one. This tradition continues today with the silent main march around the Pirámide de Mayo, called "La Marcha de la Resistencia." Pañuelos (handkerchiefs) are painted in a circle surrounding the Pirámide, commemorating how the mothers wrote the names of their children on the handkerchiefs and wear them on their heads, hoping someone would know their children's whereabouts and contact them later in a safer setting.
After the military regime fell out of power in 1982, with the loss of the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands War with the U.K., little was done to bring the murderers to justice. In fact, during the 1990s under President Ménem, immunity was granted to many and there were few investigations. Still, the Madres never stopped marching. With Néstor Kirchner's winning of the presidency in 2003, the Madres found new hope, and investigations were reopened. He also removed immunity for politicians who tortured and murdered dissidents. This work has continued under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's administration, with extensive trials and convictions in 2010.
There are different schools of thought regarding the mothers. Even they argue about whether economic reparations, monuments, and museums will bring an end to the dispute, or if they should push to continue investigations to ensure that the murderers are finally brought to trial. Yet no matter what each mother's ultimate goal is, the fight goes on for all of them.
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