Argentine Grandmothers

The Mothers in White Headscarves

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What happened to their grandchildren?

History is full of atrocities. The Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, genocide in Ruanda, are just a few from the Twentieth Century. They are well known. We studied them in our high school history classes and our collegiate seminars. Why have I never heard of the tragedies in Argentina during my lifetime, during my adulthood, in fact not until recently? Why am I just now learning about this government-sponsored murder of mothers and fathers in my own hemisphere?

Argentina. 1976-1983. Thirty thousand young people were literally thrown into the sea after being killed by their own military-ruled government. If you happened to be a pregnant woman, you got a stay of execution until your baby was born. Then you were killed a few days later. Your child disappeared also – given to parents with the politically-correct thinking of the day, almost always members of the very military that had killed the child’s real father and mother.

So why am I hearing about these children now, thirty years later? Because of their grandmothers who never stopped looking for them. The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo is an organization named for the square in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aries, Argentina. This is the place where the mothers of the murdered young people of the mid-1970s stood their ground to demand the truth of their own children's fate. The founder is Estela Carlotto, whose daughter, Laura, was murdered after giving birth to a son who would be 36 years-old in 2014. He is one of the estimated 500 children taken from the arms of their mothers at birth, never to see them again.


The 30th Anniversary

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Arrests, Torture, Murder, and Internal Conflict

On Thursday, April 30, 1977, a few mothers were only there to ask for information about their missing children. What they got for their efforts was nothing but silence. With each subsequent Thursday, the number of mothers rose. The increasing numbers created a problem because public gatherings of more than three people were forbidden. The police demanded the women disperse. Instead, they paired off with each set holding hands and simply walking around the square. There was no law against walking. And so began the rise of international awareness of one of the most heartless governmental crimes in South American history.

By the end of 1977 three of the first members were arrested by the government. After torture they were thrown – alive – from a plane and into the sea. Their remains eventually washed ashore and were buried in a common grave. In 2003 forensic evidence was gathered and determined the cause of death. Arrests and beatings continued to happen sporadically, but the campaign continued.

The organization itself has not been without conflicts. Truth be told, the group split into two factions in 1986. The original group took the name, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Founding Line. The new group, led by Hebe de Bonafini, was known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association. They differ on taking state compensation for the “disappeared” children ($275,000 per child), the use of DNA to establish family ties, and the priority of bringing the guilty to justice.


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But All Worth It

As recently as this month, the grandchild of the original founder of the grandmother’s organization was found. The 36-year-old who had gone through life as Ignacio Hurban walked into the DNA bank set up by the Grandmothers. He asked to have his blood compared to that of all the group’s members. He learned that the last time his real mother saw him she gave him the name, Guido. He is the 114th person to be reunited with his biological family.

“I don’t want to die without hugging him,” said 83-year-old Estella Carlotto, “and now I will be able to.” He has lived by the name Ignacio Hurban, a pianist and composer, employed by a music school in Olavarria, southwest of Buenos Aires.

The Grandmothers are not giving up their search. "We found our 108th child this year," Carlotto said, "but we have more than 400 still to find."


1979 - 1983 Military Takeover

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Finally - Some Justice and Some Reunions

What became of those responsible for the seven-year-long nightmare for Argentine families? In 1984 the Argentine Truth Commission reported on human rights violations that occurred during the military rule, including 9,000 cases of “forced disappearance.” Some commanders were brought to trial in those first years after civilian rule was restored, but the first presidents granted pardons, so any attempts at bringing the guilty to justice were abandoned as futile. In 2003 President Nestor Kirchner resumed the prosecution of those under suspicion from the “dirty” years.

The two former dictators were convicted of murder and systematically kidnapping infants. Jorge Rafael Videla died in prison in 2013. Reynaldo Bignone is still serving his 50-year sentence. The others accused of involvement in the systematic theft of babies are: Santiago Omar Riveros, Ruben Oscar Franco, Antonio Vanek, Jorge Luis Magnacco, Juan Antonio Azic and Jorge Acosta.

So, back to my original question. Why did I not know about this political and human tragedy in the 1970s and 1980s when it was happening? Maybe because I was a young bride myself, carrying and giving birth to two of my own three children. The knowledge that I have now gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: “But for the Grace of God . . .”

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Comments 18 comments

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

Thank you for highlighting these mothers/grandmothers who have stayed the course on behalf of those who were mercilessly killed in the upheaval. History has lessons for us… I am posting it on my Leadership/Character/Heroes/Heroines board.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

RTalloni: I'm honored for you to use this hub in such a way. I still can't get over that I'm just now learning this chapter in history. Surely one of the strongest powers on earth is a mother's love for her child.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I had no idea. A great lesson here from you. A n interesting hub.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I'm sure there are many horror stories in the world that you never hear about. This one just really struck close to home for me. I appreciate you taking the time to read this hub and comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I have not heard of these couragious women before. We need more women and men to copy their determination in seeking justice.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

teaches: Glad it wasn't just me in the dark on this subject. The horror and the courage of this episode are unbelievable. Also unbelievable is the fact that it was so widely unknown. Thanks for commenting.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Excellent and important Hub. I had heard bits and pieces about the murders and disappearances from time to time....but I was not aware of the kidnapped babies or the grandmothers who have stood vigil and demanded answers all these many years. What amazing courage and dedication they have. That they have found 104 of the babies is a blessing. Let us hope and pray that it will soon be many more. Sharing. Theresa


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 2 years ago from TEXAS

This is shocking; yet, considering the other atrocities cited, it seems to have the same kind of incredibly warped, inhumane motivation. It's hard to imagine, even so.

I'm not clear about how these stolen infants have actually served the purposes of those who perpetrated the murders of the parents and replacement of the infants in homes more friendly to a 'politically correct' view. Was it neo-Naziism or something else. If so, how is it possible that the 'found' children now are not poisoned by it?

I was quite young at the time, but am I correct in remembering current news soon after WWII that a number of the Nazi criminals escaped trial and punishment by fleeing to Argentina?


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Thank you for sharing this Kathleen. I had never heard of atrocity. I am glad these women never gave up and have now been reunited with more than 100 of their grandchildren. It was shocking to just find out about this now. Voted up.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

phdast7, Nellieanna and Jodah: Thank you for reading and commenting on this relatively unknown piece of history. Yes, many Nazi criminals were known to flee to Argentina after WWII. What role they may or may not have played in these atrocities, I can't confirm. It is amazing that so many of these grandchildren have retained a link to their true heritage, though some have been known to live in denial and remain loyal to the parents who raised them. There is no "happy ending" here for everyone, just an attempt to heal the wounds.


Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

I see you have been busy commenting and occasionally writing here, too. That is as it should be. Both the comments and the Hubs add so much.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Perspycacious: Thanks for the encouragement and glad you found this one.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

thanks for the history, it almost the same as korean veterans slave ladies, very sad indeed


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 21 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I'll have to read up on the Korean veterans slave ladies. Haven't heard of them. Thanks for the comment.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 14 months ago from the short journey

But by the grace of God…, indeed. Because history's lessons are dismissed by new generations I'm glad to see this highlighted again. I can't stop and write about it at the moment but I just learned about the life work of Patrick Desbois (YAHAD iN UNUM) to search out the truth behind the uncounted murdered Jews at Nazi hands and find it worth mentioning here. The grandmothers, this man, and others like them should be remembered for their efforts to speak up on behalf of those who were killed by governing murderers.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 14 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

RTalloni: Your comments are always welcome, however much time you have available. You are right. These folks should be remembered as well as the victims themselves.


Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 9 months ago from Australia

As you so truly say, Kathleen, why did we not know? Thank you for sharing. Knowledge is power for discovering the truth; ignorance lets evil flourish.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 9 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Anne: You are so very right. Wish I knew enough to write more important hubs like this one. Thanks

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