On March 24, 1976, a military junta under General Jorge Rafael Videla took power in Argentina. It disbanded parliament, suppressed all political parties, and took control of the trade unions. One aim of the coup's leaders was to eradicate the Montoneros, an urban guerilla group of Peronist leanings, and the Revolutionary People's Army (ERP), which operated mainly in the countryside. Yet the regime proved favourable to the terrorism of the Argentina Anti-Communist Alliance, a right-wing group also known as 'the Death Squads'.
In the name of liberty and Christianity legality broke down. During the years of the junta, between 15,000 and 30,000 people disappeared without leaving a trace. Probably about half of them consisted of workers, since the military intended to break the power of the unions. Among the others were intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, nuclear scientists, artists, soldiers, and progressive Catholics, two bishops among them. Some kidnappings were likely caused by the need of parallel special services to fund their operations: the disappeared were also robbed. Only a small part of the victims had anything to do with the left-wing guerilleros.
On April 30, 1977, a group of 14 mothers who had met in the waiting rooms of police stations while trying to discover the whereabouts of their children, organized the first of a continuing series of demonstrations in front of the Presidential Palace on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Ever since, each Thursday afternoon they demand that the fate of the victims be made known. The enormous risks they took was illustrated by the fact that some of them, including Azucena de Villaflor, their first president, themselves disappeared. In spite of this, the group soon counted some 150 members and grew to comprise several thousands in 1982-83. The Mothers created a formidable national network and obtained the support of Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The campaign did not stop with the fall of the junta in 1983. Disappointed that democracy did not bring information about their children nor punishment for those responsible the Mothers transformed themselves into a political group seeking a just and fair-minded society. Since 1985 they publish an independent monthly. They have resisted offers of reparación económica as a bribe, and refused to accept any declarations of 'presumed death' as long as the killers go free. In 1986 the movement split as twelve of the Mothers, some of them from the original group, created the Linea Fundadora (Mothers of the Founding Line).
The IISH has a collection of the Mothers' publications, which can be found through our online catalogue. In addition, the papers of Liesbeth Den Uyl contain documents of the Stichting Steun aan Argentijnse Moeders (SAAM), a Dutch support group of the Mothers, whose president she was.
We are grateful to Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard for giving us permission to publish some extracts from her book, Revolutionizing Motherhood: the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1994.
The publisher's address is: SR Books, 104 Greenhill Ave, Wilmington, DE 19805, USA (fax +1-302-654-3871, email firstname.lastname@example.org ).