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Grandmothers: from Alfonsín to CFK

Estela Barnes de Carlotto (left) is seen alongside Nobel Peace Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (right) in this file photo.
The human rights group had a conflictive relationship with those in power until 2003

Originally known as Abuelas Argentinas con Nietitos Desaparecidos (Argentine Grandmothers with Disappeared Grandchildren), the organization which Estela de Carlotto now leads was founded in 1977 by 13 grandmothers who wanted to locate children kidnapped during the last military dictatorship. Its first president was Alicia Zubasnabar de De la Cuadra, “Licha,” who died in 2008.

During the years, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo) had a mixed relationship with the democratic governments that followed the dictatorship that collapsed in 1983.

Following the fall of the military junta, Carlotto — who become the third president of the organization after Zubasnabar de la Cuadra and María Isabel “Chicha” Mariani — celebrated the arrival of late president Raúl Alfonsín “not so much because of the political party he represented, but because he was a constitutional president elected by the people,” as she would recall years later.

“The day he was to be sworn in, we went to Plaza de Mayo square with our signs to support democracy, beyond any political alignment, to show our willingness for open dialogue with the government,” Carlotto told state-run news agency Télam.

In the years of the administration of the late Raúl Alfonsín, Carlotto and other rights leaders applauded the trial against the military junta, to which they supplied information and agreed to appear as witnesses.

“But later (Alfonsín) would sign the impunity laws. They didn’t listen to our voices when, with tears in our eyes, we said these laws should not be passed.”

The organization also had a poor relationship with Carlos Menem, the country’s head of state between 1989 and 1999 who issued a number of severely-criticized presidential pardons for military officers convicted of human rights violations shortly after being elected.

The Grandmothers were received by Menem at the Olivos presidential residence for the first time in 1992. The next meeting of the sort was held almost seven years later, at the end of the Menem era.

Close to Kirchnerism

The story would take a radical turn following the election of late former president Néstor Kirchner. Some of the first measures taken by the former Santa Cruz governor were a clear nod to human rights organizations. Kirchner’s 2004 decision to turn the clandestine detention centre which operated in the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA) into a memorial, for example, had a huge impact on Carlotto, the Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo — another key rights group who split into two in 1986, following their different stances towards the Alfonsín administration.

Almost a year earlier, Kirchner decided to adhere to the Convention on Non Applicability of Statutory Limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity clearing the way for taking those accused of abductions, torture, disappearances and killings committed during the last dictatorship to court.

Ever since, human rights groups in the country have been strongly divided on whether to openly support the Kirchnerite administrations or to maintain an “independent” line that includes some major criticisms of the national government.

Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have largely been of a part of the first group, with many of its leaders talking about the “decade won” — even though César Milani’s appointment as head of the Army has led to rifts as he is accused of human rights crimes.

Carlotto has been very careful about the issue, saying that “if (his involvement in human rights violations) is proven, he must be expelled.”

Meanwhile, the group has launched numerous public-realtions campaigns, including naming the 2013 First Division soccer championship as the “Recovered Grandchildren” tournament.

During the last few months, the organization has received support from some of the main stars in the Argentine soccer team, with Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano taking part in an advertisement that calls on those who have doubts about their identity to come forward. Since Guido Carlotto went to Grandmothers last month, some in the organization were quick to credit that campaign for pushing him to take that fateful step.

Herald staff

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