From very early on during my time in Argentina, I began to see signs of the impact of “the disappeared” – including the first full day of our trip in Bariloche. I noticed interesting scarf-shaped graffiti with names and dates in the square.
I read the book “Imagining Argentina” on the flight to Buenos Aires, so I assumed it had something to do with the period from 1974-83 where approximately 30,000 people were taken by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. The “disappeared” included people who were thought to be an ideological threat to the military in power at the time. Many were illegally detained, tortured and murdered in secret.
Upon my return to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip, I visited the Plaza de Mayo – the main square in the city which is the political hub of the country. It is here that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo began silent protests in the late 1970s, carrying photos of their lost loved ones and walking the circle of the plaza. That silent protest continues today, with some mothers in their 90s continuing to walk in silence every Thursday to raise awareness. Today, some of the babies of the disappeared (born while the mothers were imprisoned) are being reunited with their birth families using DNA evidence. Powerful.
As you can imagine, this period of history has had a great impact on the people of Argentina. I learned how the people emerged from this troubling time deeply committed to freedom of speech and democracy. The Plaza de Mayo is the site of the Pink House – the main government building – so it makes sense that this is the centre of protests as well. You can see blockades here that are always at the ready for any protest (which happens a lot on many issues). In fact, on the day of my departure, there was an early afternoon protest that shut down traffic around the plaza, and created a huge traffic jam that took us an hour to get out of on our way to the airport. Given the intensely painful, and fairly recent, history of violence and oppression in Argentina… I can understand and respect their desire to speak out.