Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo was created in Argentina as a direct result of the Proceso’s (as the military regime was known to the populace) repressive environment and subsequent mass disappearances of the population. Las Madres started informally on April 30, 1977 with the first group of women gathering in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. These women were gathering because of their inability to find satisfactory answers to their questions about the disappearances of their children. They were politically inactive housewives that felt they had no other recourse but to publicly gather to demand that the government and the world pay attention to the disappearances of so many Argentinians. Many were Catholic and requested the help of the Church in addition to their pleas to the government, but found the Church to be an unwilling advocate. It remained, for much of the regime’s rule, to be an ambiguous player in the fate of the disappeared; they spoke on behalf of the families to the military but seemed unwilling to take further action. Many people turned to the humanitarian groups throughout Argentina to fill the gap.
Azucena Villaflor de De Vicenti was one of the women that became more and more enraged with the endless dead ends she was directed down by the military and the Church and the limited successes of the human rights groups. One day it occurred to her that she could take matters into her own hands and told a friend, “We are wasting our time. This is not where we must look for out children. We have to go to the Plaza de Mayo and then speak with Videla (the junta’s army commander-in-chief), because he does not know what is happening” (Eckstein 2001: 250). Villaflor knew that the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires was a significant spot because it was at the heart of the government buildings and was a very visible place because it was a favorite tourist spot. Her natural leadership continued to successfully guide and inspire women all over Argentina during the Proceso and afterward. In fact in 1979 the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) formed as a splinter group as did many other mobilization groups in the future.
After a couple of weeks of trial and error, the women decided to formally meet on the Plaza at one of the busiest times of the week, Thursdays at 3:30pm. These gatherings and subsequent marches around the Plaza were very important in light of the political and social atmosphere at that time. During Peron’s rule, gathering at the Plaza was a common occurrence because it was from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in the Plaza that he addressed Argentinians. But because of the immense oppression instituted by Peron’s replacement, his wife Isabel, and the successive juntas in power this once harmless act turned into an act of defiance, as all political activity had been banished. They became popularly known as Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, but the military teased them as Las Locas de Plaza de Mayo and refused to recognize the political significance of their actions. They were not considered threatening because women at that time were political non-entities. This time allowed for the women to strengthen their resolve and for many more to bear witness to and join the movement, including the popular off-shoot of the group, Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. They also expanded their resource base to include not only mothers of the disappeared, but foreign media and national and international human rights organizations. Their collaboration proved essential in conveying the distressing involvement in the mass disappearances in Argentina.
Despite the magnitude of the junta, Las Madres refused to back down. The women were kicked out of the Plaza; often arrested and detained; their original leader, Azucena Villaflor, disappeared; and the government tried to “buy them off” by proposing legislature that would effectively deem their movement futile. Their continued efforts led to the deteriorization of the junta’s international standing and the eventual subsiding of the repression and the military regime’s hold on power. Las Madres’ untraditional political effort to understand the disappearance of their children and the increasing economic distress of the country helped lead to widespread social unrest. Their efforts, additionally, paved the way for others not officially tied to the political world to mobilize to have their needs met. By the beginning of the electoral campaigns, politicians could not overlook Las Madres demands for the desparecidos and other interest groups’ needs.
(C) 2003 By Shannon Laliberte Parks. All Rights Reserved. Please Obtain Permission to Copy.