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Remembering Argentina’s Mothers of the Disappeared

Campaign Nonviolence is a movement to build a culture of active nonviolence. We share the stories of nonviolent action, drawing lessons, strength, and strategy from the global grassroots movements for change. Throughout the year, we look at historic struggles. This week commemorates the 39th anniversary of the first protest of the Argentina’s Mothers of the Disappeared.

On April 30, 1977, Azucena Villaflor de De Vincenti and a dozen other mothers gathered in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina’s capitol city to demand justice for their children, who had been “disappeared” by the military junta during the Dirty War period – a reign of terror that would last from 1976 to 1983, backed by the CIA.

A tense atmosphere of fear pervaded the years of the military regime in Argentina. Opposition was not tolerated; tens of thousands of people were simply “disappeared.” Only some of the bodies would be found. More than 250 children were taken from mothers in prison camps, or from those who were disappeared, and put up for adoption. The demonstrations of the Mothers of the Disappeared clearly took extreme courage. They started small in size, but within a year, hundreds of women were participating in the weekly demonstrations. They carried signs with photos of their sons and daughters. The regime tried to discredit them by calling the women, “las locas,” the madwomen.

On December 10, 1978, International Human Rights Day, the Mothers published an advertisement in the newspaper with the names of their missing children. That evening and soon thereafter, three of the Mothers themselves were disappeared.

The protests continued, intensifying. In 1978, when Argentina hosted the World Cup, the international press covered the Mothers’ demonstrations. After the military gave up its authority to a civilian government in 1983, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo pushed even harder for answers and justice, moving the government to collect testimony from hundreds of witnesses about the disappearances. In 1985, the Trial of the Juntas began a series of prosecutions related to the deaths. The military threatened a coup if the prosecutions did not stop, and in 1986, Congress passed Ley de Punto Final, ending the prosecutions. Under continuous pressure from citizens and the Mothers of the Disappeared, the law was later repealed, and trials resumed in 2005.

Mothers of the Disappeared movements and organizations have formed in Chile and Mexico, as well as inspired the Saturday Mothers in Turkey, the Mourning Mothers and Mothers of Khavaran in Iran, the Committee of Mothers of Disappeared Migrants in Honduras, the Comadres in El Salvador, and the Tiananmen Mothers in China. Across the world, wherever sons and daughters go missing, mothers rise up to demand justice.

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Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

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