Over half a million Argentinians came together in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on 10 May 2017, which is Mother’s Day in much of Latin America. Wearing white kerchiefs around their necks, they held them aloft and in unison cried “Presente”, representing the 30,000 missing loved ones who could not be there.
The Madres de la Plaza (Mothers of the Plaza) began meeting in 1977 to find out what had happened to their children shortly after the start of Argentina’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1974-1983. During this time, the junta kidnapped, tortured, murdered and “disappeared” journalists, professors, students, activists, and anyone suspected of harbouring socialist ideas. Human rights groups number the victims at 30,000 although no one can be sure if there are more. Only 12,000 cases have been officially recorded by the government so far.
The number of mothers was a mere dozen at the start, but their presence grew under the dictatorship and in all the years thereafter. With 500,000 people this year, the memory is stronger than ever, especially in light of the new government’s recent law benefiting the perpetrators of these crimes.
The so-called “2×1” (two for one) law cuts prison sentences in half by saying that each day served counts as two days off one’s sentence, and was intended to alleviate a penal system crisis. The Argentinian government under President Mauricio Macri, through two judges he appointed by presidential decree, tried to apply the law to reduce the terms of prisoners serving time for crimes against humanity.
Also on Mother’s Day in Mexico, Miriam Elizabeth Rodríguez Martínez was assassinated after a group of armed gunman broke into her home in the city of San Fernando, Tamaulipas State, Mexico. Miriam had been helping hundreds of families ascertain the whereabouts of their loved ones who had disappeared, and been key in bringing kidnappers and killers to justice.
It took Miriam two years to find the remains of her daughter Karen Alejandra, who was kidnapped in 2012 and left in a hidden mass grave. The mother’s grief led her to found the San Fernando Collective for the Disappeared in Tamaulipas. She also collaborated across the border in neighbouring Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, leading a movement there in April.
Tamaulipas is the Mexican state with the highest rate of disappearances, which number 5,558 persons, according to Mexico’s National Office for Public Security. There were 3,351 disappearances in Mexico State and 2634 in Jalisco. In a report that came out in April, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission estimates that there 30,000 persons disappeared in the country over the period of 2006-2016, adding that 855 mass graves have been officially recorded since 2007.
Photos of the massive demonstration in Buenos Aires here: http://www.infobae.com/fotos/2017/05/10/50-fotos-de-la-marcha-en-plaza-de-mayo-contra-la-libertad-de-los-represores/
Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and other languages. danica.jorden1 at gmail dot com