Extraterritoriality, families of the disappeared, and a poem

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at SPAMinea.com.ar
Sun Dec 19 09:31:42 MST 1999

Patrick Bond proposes:

:Can the apparently purely personal (anguish) be the basis for
:political (social mobilisation around moral demands for
:as part of a more universal critique of capitalist oppression)?
I fear
:you are too harsh, comrade, saying the madres are killing their
:children twice. But I say so from only the experience of a small
:anecdote. You can correct me if this is really no basis for

Yes, I know I am too harsh. I wanted to begin a quarrel, perhaps.
However, though I would probably rephrase this, the idea is in my
opinion a correct one. Anguish can be, and usually is, the basis
for the political. The problem with this movement (which, I
repeat, I support) is that it CANNOT raise itself to the level of
the political. I am answering as I am reading, so that let us go
on to your anecdote.

[After reading it, I will snip the secondary paragraphs of a
wonderful piece of political juournalism]

:A month ago yesterday, several Plaza de Mayo madres came to
:Soweto. They were travelling with a couple hundred other leading
:Third World activists in the struggle for debt repudiation and
:cancellation (not "relief" I am always reminded), at the very
:Jubilee South summit meeting that convened for four days in late
:November north of Johannesburg. ... Finally, arriving an hour
:at the Hector Peterson Memorial, the buses unloaded.
:Hector was the first youth killed by the army and police in the
:Soweto uprising of June 1976..., with older sister Tiny Peterson
:running alongside, as distraught as a little girl can ever be.
:Tiny (now Sithole) is today the curator of this shabby, outdoors
:grave-type memorial at the Y intersection of two busy, congested
:two-lane roads...
:The madres got off the bus with the other activists, and ...
:they huddled in a crowd with their interpreter to
:hear Tiny describe the events of June 16 1976. Tiny finished
:abruptly; ... "That's all," she said, as the rain picked up. But
:the madres began a brief conversation through an interpreter.
:It ended with a stirring embrace, the presentation of their
:memorial cloth, and this unforgettable remark:
:"What has the government done to compensate this loss you and
:your family have suffered?"
:"The old government, it did nothing. The new government -- it
:done nothing." (This last, with pronounced, firm, bitterness.)

Very typical of the Madres, of their stubborn struggle for
justice and redress, and of their sense of human pain. But please
note some important questions:

1. the delegation you had in Johannesburg was not 'the Madres' in
the original sense. As I explained on my previous posting, the
Madres have split in two. One of the groups, the one that you had
there, kept the name (as a noble rubber stamp) but not the mass
of the members, nor the basic ideas. It was a split generated by
Hebe de Bonafini apparently under the auspices of the Política
Obrera party, a furious group of ultra-left Trotskyites, the
illustrated branch of the oh-too-large Morenoite family in
Argentina. The other group modified the name slightly (now it is
Madres de Plaza de Mayo, línea Fundadora). This split crippled
the Madres somehow, and it is in order to go ahead with the
struggle that the Madre's mothers had to organize themselves as
the Abuelas (Grandmothers) of Plaza de Mayo, spit in their hands,
and put the machine moving again. Led by Estela de Carlotto, the
Abuelas have been outstanding in courage and dedication to their
cause. Hebe de Bonafini seems to have attempted to capitalize for
her own political carreer a long struggle of many unknown women.
But this is just a possibility, do not understand me wrong. I
must, however, point this out because there is a second part to
this comments.

2. the struggle for debt repudiation and cancellation in
Argentina dates back to 1983. It was not waged by the Madres at
all (how could one ask them to do so?), since they were hopeful
that the newly installed pettybourgeois administration of
Alfonsin would put every crime of the 1976 coup to light. These
pettybourgeois delusions (the Madres are a typical Argentinian
pettybourgeois movement) were soon betrayed, and thus they
radicalized their position a little. But they DID NOT WANT to
discuss whether their children had disappeared due to a just or
an unjust struggle. I do personally know at least one Madre who,
during the early 70s, had cut relationships with the son that was
to disappear, because she was against his ideas.

The struggle for debt repudiation began with the action of a kind
of Lone Ranger of our patriotic politics, Alejandro Olmos by
name. He alone carried the case of the debt to the Argentinian
courts, and after years of procastination, he obtained a
demonstration that the debt was (and still is) utterly
illegitimate, and that Argentina could (and can, and must)
repudiate it on this sole ground.  It has been demonstrated that
almost every high-ranking economist in this country has in one
form or another been an accomplice in what simply boils down to a
Gargantuan swindle imposed on us after 1976. This struggle has
been consistently boycotted by the Argentinian Left (Left wing
Madres included), and this rejection has been to a large extent
the result of the ideology according to which the only true road
to revolution passed along the repudiation of the military and of
the union leaders, not along the uncovering of the true
generators of our bondage. In this, the "human rights' issue was
adamantly useful to imperialism. When, outside Argentina,
different groups (including such unsavoury types as Pope Wojtyla)
began to raise the banner of the foreign debt, our Left (Hebe de
Bonafini included) began to move around this. Thus, they put the
debt struggle out of Argentinian hands, and helped bury the great
and hard work done by Alejandro Olmos and all those who (me
included, why deny it) are seeking a way to turn this realization
that we have been victims of a swindle in a common prejudice (as
Marx wanted). The Madres have not been very friendly to us, and I
will not go on further on other, less ideological reasons, of why
this is so.

And, you see, I still support them.

3. Finally, I understand that Tiny / Sithole and the Madres could
be in empathy. Theirs were and are similar dramas. The only point
here is that while the Madres (Hebe) can easily make friends with
a working class woman in Africa, they / she cannot do the same
with the working class women of her own country.

Ironies of sepoy Leftism! The Madres may have honestly claimed
and believed to be the standard bearers of the interests of the
poor. But, today, Graciela Fernández Meijide (a paradigmatic
Madre not in affiliation, in the sense that she built all of her
political carreer on the murder of her son) has become Minister
in the government of De La Rúa, a government that, only seven
days after it began, has killed at least two people and wounded
at least fifty during the repression of a popular protest in
Corrientes. What do you want me to be, lenient, on this kind of

I help them when I can, I support them when I can, I attended
many of their marches. But in the local scenario, in Buenos Aires
and Argentina, I know that they are not making things easier for
a revolution to take place. They reduce the whole political
debate to a matter of reparation of individual life, and when
they seldom speak publicly of the structural reasons why their
relatives were murdered or kidnapped, they tend to blur the
responsibilities of the militants whose lives were thus
terminated in the state of affairs that led to the 1976 coup. In
this sense, the Children of the Disappeared (H.I.J.O.S.) group is
more likely to become a renewal and a step ahead towards
politics. I like them more than the Madres and the Abuelas.
Theirs is a fully political and social discourse. They really ARE
trying to fight for the ideals their parents struggled, were
tortured, murdered or made disappear. I like them lots. But they
do not enjoy (nor probably deserve!) the fair treatment of the
international press that the Madres and Abuelas do. It is one
thing to be sentimental, and a different one to be in struggle.


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