On the walking tour of Buenos Aires, our guide told us a very moving story from Argentina’s main dictatorship years (1976-1983):
The dictatorship resulted in the disappearance and murder of between 13,000 and 30,000 Argentinians. Among them were about 500 pregnant women, which due to religious reasons could not be killed with babies inside of them (since that is considered abortion). They therefore let the babies be born, killed the mothers, and gave the babies to infertile families loyal to the dictatorship.
The babies, of course, grew up not knowing these circumstances. Their grandmothers, however, did, and started an organization called the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. They have protested every Thursday in Plaza de Mayo, which is in front of the Pink House (the main executive office in the country). The organization helped start a DNA registry where grandmothers and 34-40 year old Argentinians can get tested and notified if there is a match in the database that the “kids” don’t know about. In this manner, 119 of them have been connected to their true families so far. In one of the most dramatic cases, in November 2015, the grandchild of one of the 12 grandmothers that founded the organization was reconnected with his grandmother. The entire nation ground to a halt as people saw the emotional scene on TV.
There are still hundreds out there, and many don’t get tested because they don’t want to know the truth. Still, the Abuelas continue their campaign, with the DNA registry as well as other efforts.
March 24, 2016 was my last day in Argentina, and also marked the 40th anniversary of the coup d’etat that installed the repressive dictatorship. It was also supposed to be the date of Obama’s meeting with the new president Mauricio Macri, who has made statements downplaying the magnitude of the human rights abuses that occurred.
Obama, of course, acknowledged the US involvement and promised to declassify more documents related to the events of the time. However, many were hoping for a full apology for the US government’s actions.
With heavy police presence, Obama’s rescheduled visit on May 23 was actually quite peaceful and free of demonstrations.
The day after, however, people packed the streets. I’ve never seen a protest this massive, and my little camera unfortunately didn’t do the magnitude justice.
There was no police presence here as far as I could tell, but the people were also peaceful.
In the days leading up to the day, there were many posters to see.
Economic protests were wrapped into this one as well; with the new administration laying off more than 100,000 public sector employees, many are upset.
In front of the Pink House, a tear gas truck is permanently stationed on standby.
Anti-abortion activists also were looking to seize the momentum of the protests.
In terms of the economic issues, which are a little less black-and-white than the human rights ones, I got to hear a few opinions from locals. One young man said that many protestors are former beneficiaries of a corrupt government, and that they are upset their free paychecks have dried up. On the other hand, another pointed out that the current finance minister is an ex-JPMorgan Chase exec and agricultural minister is the ex-Monsanto CEO, among other suspicious appointments. Argentinians have learned not to trust the government at all; in 2001 the government announced harsh withdrawal limits from banks and a devaluation of the peso that caused widespread riots as people lost significant portions of their savings. As I’ve mentioned, people still rush to ATMs and then try to get cash dollars to physically store, anytime they earn money. And so the new government will have to show that it can slow hyperinflation, while keeping wages and employment up, and handling human rights issues more delicately than it has been.
It’s a difficult set of tasks to face.