“Our children gave their lives for a dream that we renew every day.” The voice of Hebe de Bonafini, the historic leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, born in 1928, does not betray her age. “The Madres,” the organization which she helped found on April 30, 1977, is celebrating 39 years. On March 24 of the previous year, a military junta had seized power in Argentina, triggering a crackdown that, in six years, caused about 30,000 citizens to disappear.
Defying danger, on that April 30, the Madres launched to the world a symbol of resistance, like a flag: a white handkerchief inscribed with the names of their missing children, a cloth diaper with which they were bound as babies. Simple women, gradually more and more conscious and organized, aware of the risk and willing to pay the price of life. On Dec. 10, 1977, the International Day of Human Rights, the newspaper of the Madres published the list of the disappeared children.
That night, the worker Azucena Villaflor, one of the founders, was kidnapped by a death squad and brought to one of the death camps, probably Esma. Her remains were found on July 8, 2005, during the season of the trials against the dictatorship leaders. Her ashes were buried at the foot of the May Pyramid, in the center of the Plaza de Mayo, on Dec. 8, 2005, at the conclusion of the 25th resistance parade of the Madres.
Today, the white handkerchief has become a national symbol of Argentina “and for all the peoples of the world, it represents the struggle, the resistance, the collective transformation,” writes Kabawil, the Italian support group to Madres. For their 39th birthday, Kabawil organized a march, which ended in Mar del Plata. Il manifesto spoke with Bonafini at the event.
Hebe, what do you remember of that April 30, 39 years ago? How did that battle start?
For months, we met at the Ministry of the Interior, in the barracks, looking for our missing children. One day, that can be considered the starting point, we were going to the church of the Stella Maris marina, hoping that bishop Emilio Gracelli could get news. And Azucena Villaflor said: “Enough, we go to the streets.” We were tired of going around in circles. So we went to the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace, with a letter addressed to General Videla. It was a Saturday, and there was no one, though we wanted to be seen. Someone suggested to return on Friday, but someone said, no, Friday is the day of the witches. So we began to demonstrate on the streets on Thursday at 3:30: so we could get back before dark, because we were followed and persecuted.
How many children did you lose?
Two, plus my daughter-in-law, married to my oldest. But for Madres, motherhood is collective. We have decided to make it social. We talk about our children to talk about the history of this country, of the many courageous young people that the families did not want to remember. They gave their lives for a dream. We have decided to share it and renew it every day since. For us, they are neither victims — because they fought, holding their ideals as weapons — let alone terrorists. No terrorist gives his life for the sake of others. The revolution is a political act of love, because the people always have reason to fight and to look to those who have done it before them to build a hope. In Argentina, we have had 12 wonderful years with Kirchnerism. The government house was open. Tt was part of our lives. With Nestor and Cristina, Argentina has opened the black box of the past, there have been trials, and it put energies back on track.
But now the right is back…
And we are all responsible for it. Sure, there have been different types of errors: candidates who have not been up to the task, corruption. But the worst was that we took things for granted. We did not understand what class struggle really is. We have forgotten that without righteous political work, the most humble people look upward and not downward when they gain resources. They think that those who are higher up will give them even more, without understanding that what they have is because it is earned. And so came the right, with its unrealistic promises of jobs, happiness, empty and demagogic words directed to the most humble strata. Macri has promised everything, except what he is implementing: layoffs, bullets for those who protest, the closure of the public universities and school lunch rooms for poor children.
Are the Madres again at risk?
Yes, we have received death threats, constant phone calls in which they said that we’d be killed. Four armed guys broke into our radio station, broke down the door, and wounded a comrade. I was summoned three times in court for inciting violence. The first time, the judge called and told me to go and testify. I refused. He sent me a summons. I did not go. He told me: Send your lawyer. I answered: I will not hire legal representation because I have not committed any crime. If you want to arrest me, go ahead. I’m waiting. One day we were prevented from entering the square, a police van forbade the entry. But the comrades arrived, along with 40 congressmen.
Congresswoman Milagro Sala is in jail for alleged administrative irregularities.
Yes, unfortunately. I remember years ago we were working on a project of social housing called “The Shared Dream.” With that, we were able to get two inmates and two outcasts who were in a hospice out of prison. And the latter, in cahoots with government officials, have put on a scam with which they tried to discredit us. And a judge has forced us to pay for damages. We understand that politics should not be mixed up with money, with capitalism that you cannot control, because it stimulates only the individual interests. Politics must be understood in its highest sense as the best collective action. This is why, unlike other associations, we refused financial compensation for our children. A life has no price tag, and do not need to dedicate a street to those disappeared. Our children are not dead. We want them to live in the present struggles together with all of the 30,000 disappeared. Because of age, there are fewer and fewer of us, but our commitment is the same: to show young people that the fight is not futile, the bloodshed is not futile and that one should not feel victimized.
You came to the streets to defend Bolivarian Socialism and denounced ongoing institutional coups in Latin America.
Yes, we must defend Nicolas, Dilma. … Before, the right used the army to eliminate the presidents; now they are helped by judges, major media and entrepreneurs. In the Macri government almost all are entrepreneurs, deployed to hand the country over to the vulture funds. And the left does not understand that it has to reformulate its political thought. But the people, during the Kirchnerism years, has learned to take to the streets. Macri made a decree to prevent us from taking to the streets, but on March 24, a million people made wastepaper of his decree. A tsunami. The people is a tsunami, and a tsunami does not stop by decree. Latin America has opened a hope. We have to fight for it to become a reality, without delegating everything to politicians. They do what’s possible. The people must do what’s impossible, and for that there are the Madres.
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