Thursday, May 10, 2007

Notes on Argentina (I): The Madres de Plaza de Mayo

"Until Victory, Always dear children!"

Some of the surviving Madres on stage.

Just a handful of photos of the 30,000 disappeared

By pure chance, I happened to time my honeymoon so that I was in Buenos Airs on April 30, 2007, which happened to mark the official 30th anniversary of the first march of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Madres are one of the more important groups not just in helping Argentina overthrow its own military dictatorship (1976-1983), but also in serving as a model for protest in other parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Since the Plaza de Mayo was just 4 blocks from my hotel, I took advantage of the opportunity and attended the official rally, where many of the surviving madres were present.

The rally itself was remarkable. First and foremost, there's just the impact of what these women have done. The images of the disappeared placed on either side of the stage, the signs reminding us of the loss of 30,000 Argentines in the 7-year "dirty war", the youth who rallied around these small, elderly women who changed so much, the chants, the music (everything from tango to hymns to Che Guevar), was almost too much emotionally. There was a political solidarity and activism there that I've never seen anywhere else in my life. It's cliché, probably, but the emotion was actual palpable - some people hugging and crying, others cheering, others just standing in silence and respect to the madres.

Adding to the emotion, for me, was the simple fact that I, as an American citizen, was present. The Argentine dictatorship is one of the most awful, vulgar, horrific things the United States ever supported, with Henry Kissinger verbally giving acting president Jorge Videla a carte blanche to kill whomever he wanted until the "threat" of "subversives" was gone. Being presnt and knowing that government of my country, like in so many countries in the 20th century, had a direct hand in the propping up of one of the most repressive apparati of state terrorism in the history of the Western hemisphere, gave the rally a particularly upsetting and emotional dynamic to me personally.

Between musicians, various political activists would talk. Additionally, between each "set", they often played taped recordings of what the Madres had said in the past, often taking devastating, emotional soundbites from the dictatorship period itself. This was certainly a celebration of what the Madres have done (not just in terms of the dictatorship but in terms of protests against global oppression since the dicatotrship's end, the founding of their cultural center, and most recently, the establishment of their own college to continue the study of human rights and law), but through it all, the sheer emotion and loss (and emotional depression that creates) were palpable throughout. It may have been 30 years, but the disappeared were as present as they were in the height of the dictatorship.

In a sign of how much has changed in 30 years, while the police were present just outside the plaza, there was no violence this time. Some student ralliers who were about to parade made a clear demonstration against the police in front of their faces, but there was no violence, in itself a sign of hope for the country that saw some of its best minds killed by the state.

Overall, the experience, with all the emotion, the people, the music, the message, the banners, everything, it was just so overwhelming and amazing. Without a doubt this was the best part of being in Buenos Aires when I was.