BUENOS AIRES – The 87-year-old leader of Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo rights group says that despite her advanced age and four-decade-old struggle for justice and historical memory she still has the energy to keep going.
In an interview with EFE at the Buenos Aires headquarters of the non-governmental organization she has led since 1989, Estela de Carlotto recalled that she and her fellow rights activists had spent roughly 40 years – since October 1977 – trying to track down the stolen children of dissidents who were disappeared Argentina’s 1976-1983 right-wing military dictatorship.
De Carlotto joined that struggle in April 1978 when her daughter Laura, a 23-year-old leftist Peronist militant, was kidnapped along with her husband.
Learning that her daughter was pregnant at the time she went missing, De Carlotto realized she could not search for her loved ones alone and began participating in the activities of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, so-named because of its weekly marches outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires.
De Carlotto said that even though the activists’ husbands initially joined in the struggle, the organization was later restricted to women so that the men would not be targeted by security forces.
“We said, ‘don’t come, they call us crazy, they say we’re stupid, that we’re women,’” De Carlotto said. “We said, ‘we’ll go and protect our husbands.’”
Including a sixth stolen individual located in 2017, a total of 127 grandchildren have been found to date, although the fate of around 300 others is still not known.
Additionally, the efforts of that NGO and other human rights organizations led to 27 sentences being handed down last year for dictatorship-era crimes.
De Carlotto also hailed the importance of a new generation of activists who are committed to human rights in Argentina, saying they will carry on efforts to find other children who were stolen and illegally adopted.
The 1976-1983 military regime’s “dirty war” against the Argentine left claimed some 30,000 lives.
For decades, dirty-war offenders were shielded from prosecution by a pair of amnesty measures passed in the 1990s, but those laws were overturned in 2003, leading to a flood of prosecutions that as of late 2017 had resulted in 818 convictions and 99 acquittals.