Friday, December 29, 2006

Nelva Méndez de Falcone

Nobody knows the name of Nelva Méndez de Falcone, which is a shame. She was one of the first women to begin protesting the Argentina military junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983 and killed perhaps as many as 30,000 of its own citizens. One of the victims included Falcone's daughter, Maria Claudia Falcone, who was arrested, tortured, and "disappeared" in 1976, due to her perceived "subversive" activities (which, for women in Argentina, could include wearing pants or having their hair cut too shortly). Maria specifically was accused of "plotting" to demand a reduction in public transportation costs. For this, she was killed.

Nelva responded by becoming one of the first Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. The Madres silently protested the dictatorship by wearing white scarves, holding posters and pictures of their lost children, and marching silently in a circle in the center of Buenos Aires. While the dictatorship squashed nearly any form of open protest, for reasons still debated, for the most part they let the mothers protest, although the women were harrassed and some did end up dead. (The reasons most often cited as to why the Madres could protest where so few others could are that they felt the mothers were a joke and that society would perceive them as such, in addition to the possibility that they weren't too eager to kill mourning mothers in the middle of the streets). Over time, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo picked up support in Argentina, and became a symbol worldwide not just of struggle against Argentina's dictatorship, but of the struggle and plight of families worldwide who had lost loved ones through "disappearances" at the hands of military governments. The Madres spurred similar movements elsewhere, including Chile, and they continued their activities even after the dictatorships, reminding the world that, even as governments came and went, the suffering at the hands of authoritarian regimes never goes away. All of this was due to women like Nelva Méndez de Falcone.

Nelva passed away yesterday at the age of 76. She was a pioneer in human rights struggle, but let us never forget the loss she suffered to become a hero to so many. Godspeed, Nelva. Rest in peace, and may you finally be reunited with Maria.