UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Coup in Argentina

This is the first of what will (hopefully, fingers crossed) be part of an ongoing series of articles presented by the UMB Human Rights Working Group. If you are outraged, intrigued, disgusted, educated, moved, compelled, or inspired by this series, we would love your presence at one of our meetings. Please contact [email protected] for details on the next meeting.

Jorge Rafael Videla came to power in Argentina by way of a military coup at the end of 1975. For the next six years, he led a barbarous and economically disastrous government before stepping down in 1981. The following account was written by UMass Boston student Michaela Katzi about Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group that openly defied and publicized the atrocities of the government. She also documents some of the systematic abuses of the Videla regime.

The Reign of Terror and the Mothers’ Fight for Justice

“They took me to another room where they kicked me and punched me in the head. Then they undressed me and beat me on the legs, buttocks and shoulders with something made of rubber. This lasted a long time; I fell down several times and they made me get back up and stand by supporting myself on a table. They carried on beating me. While all this was going on they talked to me, insulted me and asked me about people I didn’t know and things I didn’t understand. I pleaded with them to leave me alone, or else I would lose my baby. I hadn’t the strength to speak, the pain was so bad.

“They started to give me electric shocks on my breasts, the side of my body and under my arms. They kept questioning me. They gave me electric shocks in the vagina and put a pillow over my mouth to stop me screaming. Someone they called the “colonel” came and said they were going to increase the voltage until I talked. They kept throwing water over my body and applying electric shocks all over.”

Isabel Gamba de Negrotti was a nursery school teacher. She miscarried two days later.

On March 24, 1976, the Argentine military, lead by Lieutenant General Videla, overthrew the constitutional government of María Estela (Isabel) Perón, initiating the “Fight Against Subversion.” Videla promised of this fight, “In order to guarantee the security of the state all necessary people will die.” The necessary people were those considered subversive, defined by Videla as “Anyone who opposes the Argentine way of life.” These included teacher, social workers, activists, human rights organizations, Jews, students and many more. The period of Videla’s reign in Argentina became infamous around the world for the violence and corruption of its government and for its remarkable parallel with the Nazi regime.

Five-year-old Josefina Sanchez de Vargas was forced to watch the torture of her father so that he would talk. When she was returned to her grandparents’ home, she took a gun from her grandfather’s drawer and shot herself.

Videla’s methodology of terror was initiated in the first days of the coup when Bernardo Alberte, a Peronista leader, was thrown from the window of his sixth floor apartment, his family forced to watch. The systematic kidnapping, torture and murder of the so-called subversives of Argentina would mark the most violent and appalling epoch of Argentine history. This period of terror would cause the term desaparecidos (the disappeared) to become a household term, and omnipresent fear, a reality: the possibility of waking up one morning, the neighbors gone, never seen again, no trace of where they had gone.

Families of the victims of the regime began to rise from the fear and pain and on April 30, 1977 a group of women, mothers of the desaparecidos, gathered for the first time, lead by Azucena Villaflor de DeVincenti, at the Plaza de Mayo to seek answers of President Videla regarding their disappeared children. Azucena, whose son and daughter-in-law had disappeared, was in her fiftes when she began to organize the group that would become known as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo). The Mothers began to meet in Azucena’s home and would gather every Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo at 3:30 pm to place themselves in the public eye, break the silence that had fallen over the nation, and seek liberty for their disappeared children. They wore white handkerchiefs on their heads to make themselves known and carried pictures of their missing children.

“We endured pushing, insults, attacks by the army, our clothes were ripped, detention…But the men, they would not have been able to stand such things without reacting, there would have been incidents; they would have been arrested for disrupting the public order and, most likely, we would not have seen them ever again.”

María Adela Antokoletz was originally the vice-president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

From the Mothers was born another organization devoted to a similar cause: to find the disappeared children. This organization, founded in October of 1977 by 12 women, three of whom were of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, including Azucena, is known as Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo). This group was founded in the search not only for the children, but for the grandchildren: the children of the disappeared who had been abducted or born in captivity and either killed or given to families of the regime or families found suitable by the regime. The cause became the search for two generations and the fight for the right to identity.

On December 10, 1977, Azucena herself was abducted, along with a French nun. This was a turning point for the Mothers; instead of losing hope, they faught harder. The Mothers gained international recognition and worked with other human rights organizations both in and outside of Argentina. Videla was removed from power and what is now known as the Dirty War ended in 1983, but the fight of the Mothers and Grandmothers continues today: a fight for justice and identity, the preservation of life, the search for the children abducted by Videla’s government.