Bad History: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Argentina

Other | Monday 16th July 2018 | Roberta Micallef

The Handmaid's Tale and the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo are uncannily reminiscent of each other. Both are stories of an oppressive totalitarian government, except the latter actually happened.

On April 30th, 1977, 14 brave women marched to Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, in protest of the military government, begging for answers. Dictator Jorge Rafael Videlara ran a military coup that deposed Isabel Martínez de Perón, the president at the time and formed the military junta. A few days later Videlara assumed the position of President of Argentina and carried out the systemetic murder of thousands.

Each week more mothers with the same story would gather, and the crowd of women would grow, desperate to know if their children were dead or alive.  

Each woman marching had at least one child taken away from her by the government. They found strength in one another and marched in public wearing white scarves around their heads - this became their symbol. 

The scarf was originally a nappy, embroidered with the name of their missing child. 

The military arrested people who opposed the dictatorship and would not conform. Some of the women arrested were expecting. Approximately 500 infants were taken away from their biological mothers and given to military families. The regime believed it was their duty to abduct children born from families with leftist beliefs and raise them with a conservative, militaristic mentality. 

The military junta which was supported by the church, drew the line at killing pregnant women. They kept the women in a prisons and camps until they gave birth. A majority of these women were then allegedly drugged, loaded onto planes and thrown into the ocean. These were known as “death flights". The Grandmother's of Plaza de Mayo aimed to find the missing babies of their daughters who disappeared under the regime. 

The disappeared weren’t just children, they were mothers, fathers, students, journalist, artists. 30,000 people are estimated to have been murdered by the Argentinian Military Government. Through the efforts of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, 256 children have been identified and 137 of them have reunited with their biological families. Today, many Argentinian officials have been arrested for the crimes they committed. Some cases were even pushed forward by some of the discovered "disappeared" children. Guillermo Perez Roisinblit testified in court against his abductor, the man he called his father for 21 years, Francisco Gómez (an airforce intelligence officer) - for the murder of his parents. The case also brought other military men to justice. 

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo still gather every Thursday to avocate for child-centered politics.