Members of the Mothers of the New York Disappeared (http://www.nymom.org), a group devoted to repealing that state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, traveled this week to Argentina to meet with their namesakes and inspiration, Argentina's Mothers and Grandmothers of the Disappeared (http://www.madres.org and http://www.madres-lineafundadora.org). In a gesture of solidarity and support that stretches across the hemisphere, the two groups fighting against repression and for human rights met for the first time in Buenos Aires this week.
The New York Mothers, part of a large and growing coalition to "Drop the Rock," or repeal the Rockefeller laws, are made up of family members of some of the more than 20,000 people serving lengthy mandatory minimum sentences in the state. Their Argentine counterparts formed in the 1970s to demand that the Argentine government account for the thousands of people who "disappeared" at the hands of the rightist military dictatorship that took power in 1976.
The Argentine junta's "dirty war" against leftist opponents -- armed and unarmed alike -- was one of the darkest chapters of 20th Century Latin American history. Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 students, trade unionists, peasants, human rights workers, and complete innocents were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the military regime with the quiet acquiescence of successive US governments, who viewed the Argentine atrocities as part of a larger hemispheric struggle against communism. Many were tortured at the Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, then drugged and tossed unconscious from Argentine Air Force planes into the frigid waters of the South Atlantic. Others were executed, then dressed in guerrilla uniforms and displayed as battle casualties. Still others were buried in mass graves. Pregnant women gave birth in captivity, then were killed, their infants disappearing into military families.
The Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared (also known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) were forged in this terrible crucible. Beginning while the military junta still held power, they confronted the military with the moral authority of wronged parents. The Mothers, in their trademark white scarves, endured the sneers and scorn of regime supporters, as well as threats, assaults, and kidnappings, as they marched without fail every Thursday in front of the presidential palace demanding justice. And they still march, for justice has not been done. While some leaders of the junta have since been jailed, the ultimate fate of thousands of "disappeared" remains unknown, as do the whereabouts of the babies born into captivity.
The New York Mothers of the Disappeared came to meet their counterparts with some anxiety and trepidation because they were unsure whether the Argentine Mothers would see their cause as worthy, said Credico. "We were a little nervous," he said. "It's one thing to be in jail for drugs and quite another to be secretly tortured and killed for your political beliefs. But they understood. They could see the political ramifications of the drug war, and while there are different levels of repression, they could see that these policies target the poor and the non-white."
Credico contacted the Mothers' groups in Argentina because he wanted to honor them as role-models and explain the New York Mothers' struggle to their Latin American counterparts. "We decided we would go to show some gratitude and see if we could come up with some support for our movement in New York," an exhausted Credico said by phone from Buenos Aires Tuesday night.
Editor's Note: DRCNet had arranged interviews with the Argentine Mothers to be conducted Thursday afternoon, but was foiled by busy international phone lines all day long.
The New Yorkers spent a busy week in Buenos Aires, meeting on Tuesday with two groups of Mothers of the Disappeared, Wednesday with the Grandmothers of the Disappeared, and participating Thursday in the Mothers' weekly vigil at the Plaza de Mayo and at a well-attended press conference following the vigil. This week's vigil honored the New York Mothers of the Disappeared.
"The Argentine Mothers researched the Kunstler Fund and the New York Mothers before we came down," said Credico. "They knew about the two million people in prison in the United States, they understood the racist aspect of the drug war. They know what it means to have a person disappear from your life, whether it's in Greenhaven state prison or an Argentine torture chamber. We are flabbergasted, ecstatic, I'm at a loss for words," said Credico, who rarely is.
"We are fighting the same fight," said Papa. "I went into their offices and saw the posters on the walls and I broke out it chills. It was just like my office, but these posters had the names and faces of people killed or disappeared in the dirty war. The Mothers understand that the drug war is our dirty war." And they are lending a hand, Papa said. "They are writing a letter to Gov. Pataki to ask him to change the Rockefeller laws, and they are getting all the other human rights groups to sign on."
"I was kind of scared to meet with them at first," said Julie Colon, the only Spanish-speaker among the New Yorkers making the trip. "I didn't know what to expect. But they embraced our cause, they understood our suffering, and they support us."
"They are a real inspiration," said Credico, "there is so much strength and courage. And they are old, some in their 70s and 80s. "They say 'we're not special heroes; these are our children.' They kept going and going and going, and even though their activism brought down the military government, they're still not satisfied and they continue to fight. Just as once we destroy the Rockefeller laws, we will still be on the street fighting for justice."