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Perhaps the best part of traveling is the initial rush of optimism and excitement that precedes arriving to a new place. Perhaps it is the reassuring feeling of returning to a corner of the world you identified with. But how familiar does the average traveler become with the real workings of a country—the political and social issues, the internal strife, the daily struggles of its people—when she has precious few days to take in all the bright and buzzing attractions? Furthermore, does the average traveler wish to remain sheltered from the corruption and scandal lurking behind the must do’s and can’t-misses of a country?



Dictatorships and political scandals have plagued Argentina’s history, rocking the country into a constant state of turmoil. Unfortunately, the darker side of Argentina remains hidden to those on the tourist circuit. A swift jaunt through any country does not allow for complete cultural immersion. The net result is a guidebook image of a country not necessarily in line with local perceptions. If you’re in search of some perspective, then step outside Buenos Aires’ comfy cafĂ© culture and head to Plaza de Mayo.  



Every Thursday afternoon at three thirty, the incorrectly named “Mothers of the Disappeared” (they are actually Grandmothers) walk silently around the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Presidential House, clinging to the hope that justice will be realized for their flesh and blood who simply “disappeared” twenty years earlier.  



Between 1976 and 1983, during the so-called “National Reorganization Process,” Argentina crumbled under a terrible campaign of ruthless state-sponsored violence. Spanning three dictatorships—Jorge Rafael Videla, Roberto Viola, and Leopoldo Galtieri—the Dirty War, as it became known, was marked by illegal arrests, torture, and executions or forced disappearance of supposed political dissidents. Children were tortured in front of their parents, while countless innocents were drugged and their bodies dropped over the ocean during military “Death Flights.”. The period culminated with the unexplained disappearance of between 10,000 and 30,000 Argentineans. Sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, all loved dearly in one way or another, vanished in a gruesome, regretful heartbeat. The innocence of youth was quite literally slain.   



It is probable that most of the victim’s families have come to accept the cruel fate of their loved ones. No longer do they sit at kitchen tables, wringing hands and waiting for a long-awaited face to walk through the front door. Time has realized their worst fears. But the flame of hope burns eternal; hence the handful of Grandmothers who gather every Thursday at Plaza de Mayo. Some wear white headscarves, others have a well-worn photograph of their beloved, hanging from a withered cord, slung around their neck.



Does their presence really make the President and his cronies reflect on the atrocities that have been committed? Recent rulings suggest that their cries have not fallen on deaf ears. In June 2005, Argentina’s Supreme Court upheld a congressional decision to abandon amnesty laws forbidding prosecution of military officers accused of human rights atrocities. At a ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Dirty War, President Nestor Kirchner unveiled a plaque bearing the words “Nunca Mas,” or “Never Again.” President Kirchner has since overturned laws granting amnesty to top officers, and cancelled presidential pardons granted to officers tried in 1985. Following on the heels of these announcements was a decision to open all military archives pertaining to the event.



While such actions will never bring back the dead, they do give hope that the  children of the future will not suffer the same grim fate. The Mothers of the Disappeared have spoken for those who can no longer speak, and their voices have been heard. Time can only tell if their prayers for justice will be fully answered.  

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