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Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo: A living legacy of hope and human rights October 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Argentina correspondent, Marie Trigona – Women News Network – WNN

http://womennewsnetwork.net/2010/10/21/argentina-mothers/

October 21, 2010

 

Mother of Plaza de Mayo with photos of missing childrenOne of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo on the recent 34th anniversary of Argentina’s 1976 military coup. She holds images of her son and daughter-in-law who became part of ‘the disappeared’ on July 29, 1976. Image: Marie Trigona/WNN

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Buenos Aires city center, known as Plaza de Mayo, has been a site of protest for decades. It is here that the Mothers of Argentina’s ‘disappeared,’ begin their weekly march in the capital plaza every Thursday afternoon.

Known as the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, they have passed down a legacy in defending human rights as they walk steadily together around the plaza to show the world that they still have not forgotten what happened to their loved ones during what has been called, ‘Argentina’s Dirty War.’

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have been integral to recent investigations and discoveries in what have been called ‘crimes against humanity’ in the more than 30,000 estimated missing sons and daughters who became part of ‘the disappeared’ during the reign of Argentina’s military juntas from 1975 to 1983.

“I keep on looking for my children and everybody else’s children, because to me your daughter is my daughter, she’s a little bit mine. My children are a little bit yours,” said Carmen Robles de Zurita, a woman who is the Mother of two missing children: Her son, Nestro Juan Agustín Zurita, abducted at the age of 25, August 1, 1975; and Carmen’s daughter, María Rosa Zurita, abducted at the age of 21, November 1, 1975.

Now after three decades, justice is finally possible in criminal courts. Thanks to the investigations carried out by victims’ families and human rights activists, Argentina’s government is now revisiting its dark past with landmark Supreme Court human rights tribunals, following the 2003 removal of amnesty laws that protected members of the military government from prosecution of human rights abuses.

The Motor of Society

“The disappearance of people created a paralysis in society,” says Dr. Rodolfo Mattarollo, international law and human rights expert.

“Today we still don’t have the complete truth or information as to what happened to our children.”
– Marta Ocampo de Vazquez,
President of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line

On April 30, 1977, fourteen mothers gathered in the large plaza in front of the government building. The dictatorship prohibited people from gathering in public places, so they began walking around the pyramid in the center of the plaza. As more women joined the rounds, having visited police stations, prisons, judicial offices and churches, but finding no answers, the Mothers began to identify themselves by wearing white head scarves to symbolize the diapers of their lost and ‘disappeared’ children.

“Today we still don’t have the complete truth or information as to what happened to our children,” says Marta Ocampo de Vazquez, president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line. “Who gave the order? Who executed them? What was our children’s final destiny?” she asks.

Nothing could stop the Mothers protest, not even physical attacks or endless threats.  In 1977, three of the founding Mothers and two French nuns, who supported the efforts of the Mothers, also became part of ‘the disappeared.’

“It surprises me when I see what I am today. Before I was a shy cry-baby. I had no political consciousness. I didn’t have any kind of consciousness. All that interested me was that my children were well. I was one of those mothers who went everywhere with their children. If they organized dances at the school to collect money, I was the one who was selling tickets. I was involved in everything my children did. You only become conscious when you lose something. When the Mothers first met we used to cry a lot and then we began to shout and demand, and nothing mattered anymore, except that we should find out children. Now I fight, I shout, I push if I have to, I kick but I still wonder to myself how I could have gone into those military buildings with all those guns pointed at my head,” said Mother, Margareta de Oro in an interview with author, Josephine Fisher, for the book, ‘Mothers of the Disappeared.’

The Pain of the Past

Alfredo Ignacio Astiz, a 22 year old Argentine Naval lieutenant and intelligence officer, infiltrated the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo posing as ‘Gustavo Niño,’ a brother of one of the disappeared. Astiz’s infiltration would haunt the Mothers and the nation for decades to come. The Mothers say today they still remember young “Gustavo,” who attended meetings of family members and marched with them.

“I keep on looking for my children and everybody else’s children.”
– Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Carmen Robles de Zurita

On December 8, 1977, the Mothers – Esther Ballestrino de Careaga and Maria Eugenia Ponce de Bianco – were forcefully taken, along with eight others, by military officials as they were attending a meeting at the Santa Cruz Church in Buenos Aires. Azucena Villaflor, another founding Mother, was also kidnapped outside her home just days later.

Two days later, on December 10, eight hundred and thirty-four Mothers signatures were printed on an almost full page petition advertisement in “La Nacion,” Argentina’s daily newspaper.  The ad pleaded for justice asking Argentine officials to open up and investigate cases of  their missing children.

Two weeks following the secret raid on the Santa Cruz Church, only one week after the December 15 afternoon march of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, five dead female bodies washed up on the shore of the Río de la Plata (the River Plate). The River Plate is a wide expansive river which borders both Argentina and Uruguay as it opens to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The Mothers had planned a major turnout, at their usual Thursday afternoon demonstration on Dec 15, but the abduction of members of the Mother’s group had a chilling effect on attendance,” said the American Embassy in Buenos Aires in a 1977 (then classified) report to the U.S. State Department. “An additional sheet of signatures for that petition, as well as $250 of funds collected to pay for the advertisement were taken during the abduction,” outlined the Embassy.

Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Elia Espen, at Santa Cruz ChurchOn the 30th anniversary (December 8, 2007) of the disappearance of the mothers from the Santa Cruz Church, Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Elia Espen, kneels at a memorial stone dedicated to the Mothers who lost their life. Image: Marie Trigona/WNN

In the early 1990s, on the edge of new breakthroughs in forensic science, it finally became possible to recover and identify DNA from skeletal remains. Genetic testing quickly became a critical tool in human rights investigations worldwide.

In 2005, through detailed forensic investigations of skeletal remains, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), was able to use DNA and forensic evidence to identify four of the washed-up bodies. It was decided without any doubt. The bodies belonged to three of the founding Mothers – Azucena Villaflor, Maria Eugenia Ponce and Esther Careaga, along with the French nun, Léonie Duquet.

“Everywhere we work we have seen the incredible pain and paralysis that a disappearance produces for a family.”
– Mercedes Doretti,
co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF)

“The remains of the four women are thought to have been thrown into the ocean from Air Force planes. The bodies washed out on the shore in 1977 and were buried as “N.N.” (unknowns) in the General Lavalle municipal cemetery, province of Buenos Aires,” a 2006 Annual EAAF Report explained. “EAAF exhumed the four women from General Lavalle cemetery and identified them based on anthropological and genetic analysis.”

“Everywhere we work we have seen the incredible pain and paralysis that a disappearance produces for a family. Recovering the remains is not enough to erase the pain of the past but it is a huge part of healing and a crucial form of reparations. Families need it. In fact, we think that too often the recovery and identification of remains is not viewed enough as an integral part of the reparations process,” said Mercedes Doretti, co-founder of EAAF.

Twenty-eight years after the founding Mothers themselves ‘disappeared,’ on December 8, 2005, the remains of Azucena Villaflor, Maria Ponce de Bianco and Esther Ballestrino de Careaga were cremated and their ashes buried in honor at Buenos Aires, Plaza de Mayo.

Breaking Walls of Impunity

Since Argentina’s seven year bloody military dictatorship, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have endlessly searched for truth, transparency and accountability. Today the Mothers have succeeded to break the walls of impunity as a wide international symbol of non-violent action.

The 1986, Argentina Full Stop law and the 1987 Due Obedience law was “used to obstruct the investigation of thousands of cases of forced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution committed between 1976 and 1983 when the military governments were in power,” said the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International in a 2003 Legal Memorandum. These laws were a deep blow to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who resisted the government’s attempt to use amnesty laws to pardon military actions and human rights abuses.

“As the youth today take up our banner, the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ will never be ‘disappeared.’ They will be present.”
– 2010 statement by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

Today, alternating between years of amnesty and arrest, Alfredo Ignacio Astiz is facing a stepped up Supreme Court battle. He is facing investigation along with seventeen other officers and officials. In addition to individual crimes, the Court is also investigating charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ committed between 1976 – 1983 at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires.

Known as the largest and most notorious torture center in Argentina during the nation’s ‘dark years,’ the ESMA Navy Mechanics School has been linked to more than 5,000 people, who’s fate has brought them to become part of ‘the disappeared.’

(Now) “The military are having the trials that our children never had,” said Mother of Plaza de Mayo Truth Commissioner, Nora Cortinas. Nora’s son, Carlos Gustavo Cortiñas, was an economy student who became part of ‘the disappeared’ on April 15, 1977.

Because many of the mothers are now in their 80s, some worry that they will not live to see the former Argentine military machine held responsible for its crimes.

“What we want is for the trials to speed up a little bit and not be tried on a case by case basis; and that the government takes responsibility to help end the threats against witnesses, judges, and lawyers, so that we can really say that there’s justice in this country,” added Mother Cortinas.

“I was one of those mothers who went everywhere with their children. If they organized dances at the school to collect money, I was the one who was selling tickets. I was involved in everything my children did. You only become conscious when you lose something.”
– Mother of Plaza de Mayo, Margareta de Oro

Mother, Ocampo de Vazquez, now 81, has gone through decades of struggle and frustration. But she knows her long campaign to find the truth must continue. “I don’t see an end in sight,” she exclaimed.

“We resist because there are crimes unpunished and questions about the disappearances left unanswered,” says Ines Ragni, a Mother from the southern province of Neuquén. The Mother’s slogan, “Never Again,” was adopted by the Mothers with the hope that Argentina and other countries in the region, including Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, who have also suffered from military dictatorship, would never repeat their own dark chapters in history.

“Our children wanted to live, but their lives were taken away. The youth in the street protesting today are part of the memory of our children,” echo the Mothers.

“As the youth today take up our banner, the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ will never be ‘disappeared.’ They will (always) be present.”

For more information on this topic go to:

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Women News Network – WNN investigative journalist, filmmaker and radio producer, Marie Trigona, has focused on many human rights and social justice stories covering Argentina. Her work has appeared in The Buenos Aires Herald, Canadian Dimension, Dollars and Sense and many other publications. She is also a reporter for Free Speech Radio News, a daily syndicated radio news program, broadcast from the U.S.

Additional material for this article has been provided by Women News Network – WNN.

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©2010 Women News Network – WNN

Argentine Factory in the Hands of the Workers: FASINPAT a Step Closer to Permanent Worker Control May 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Labor, Latin America.
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Written by Marie Trigona   www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Image

Photo Courtesy of Prensa Obreros Zanon

While many workers around the world are worried about downsizing, lay-offs and how to protect their jobs, workers in Argentina have come up with their own solution to business closures – Occupy, Resist and Produce. Many factories, like the Zanon Ceramics plant, have been running without bosses for almost a decade. In response to a financial crisis in 2001 that wrecked Argentina’s economy, workers decided to occupy their workplaces and start up production without bosses in order to safe-guard their jobs.



Zanon Ceramics, now known as FASINPAT (Factory without a boss), has re-defined the basis of production: without workers, bosses are unable to run businesses; without bosses, workers can do it better. As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, and occupied since 2001, the Zanon ceramics plant in the Patagonian province of Neuquén now employs 470 workers.

This month, the FASINPAT collective is a step closer in winning permanent control of the factory. The provincial government presented a bill in the provincial legislature for the expropriation of the factory. If this bill is passed, and it looks favorable, it would mean a solution to the workers’ long standing legal woes.

Since the plant began production under worker control in 2002, they have faced numerous eviction threats and other violent attacks. The government has tried to evict them five times using police operatives. On April 8, 2003, during the most recent eviction attempt, over 5,000 community members from Neuquén came out to defend the factory.

In a press release, the worker collective said that the legislature received the bill was a positive step. “The historic progress we made today was the result of a hard fight. The collective struggle and mobilization of Worker Self-management, along with the workers in this country, community support and international recognition has made this possible.”

In 2001, Zanon’s owners decided to close their doors and fire the workers without paying months of back pay or indemnity. Leading up to the massive layoffs and the plant’s closure, workers went on strike in 2000. The owner, Luis Zanon with over 75 million dollars in debt to public and private creditors, fired en masse most of the workers and closed the factory in 2001—a bosses’ lockout. In October 2001, workers declared the plant under worker control. The workers camped outside the factory for four months, pamphleting and partially blocking a highway leading to the capital city Neuquén. While the workers were camping outside the factory, a court ruled that the employees could sell off remaining stock. After the stock ran out, on March 2, 2002, the workers’ assembly voted to start up production without a boss. For more than eight years, FASINPAT has created jobs, supported community projects and shown the world that we don’t need bosses.

Luis Zanon´s debts of over $70 million are still outstanding, while many of the creditors want their money back, pushing for the eviction and foreclosure of the ceramics plant. The current bill presented in the legislature would mean that the state would pay off 22 million pesos (around $7 million) to the creditors. One of the main creditors is the World Bank – which gave a loan of 20 million dollars to Luis Zanon for the construction of the plant, which he never paid back. The other major creditor is the Italian company SACMY that produces state of the art ceramics manufacturing machinery and is owed over $5 million.

Omar Villablanca, a worker at Zanon said that the workers are most concerned about providing job continuity – safeguarding the 470 jobs that the factory without a boss have created and maintained since 2001. He stressed that FASINPAT needs a formal long-term legal solution in order to survive as a competitive business in a faltering economy.

“The state needs to make laws so that workers can work. In eight years we haven’t asked the state for anything other than an expropriation law,” said Jose Luis Paris, another worker from FASINPAT.

Economic Crisis Grips Argentina

Argentina is in a better position than other Latin American nations in the face of the deepening global crisis. From 2003 to 2007, Argentina enjoyed a high economic growth rate, between 8 and 9 percent. However, with the global economy in recession the nation’s growth has come to a halt, and it is expected that Argentina will see a drastic drop Gross Domestic Product in 2010.

Many independent analysts expect that the global recession will affect Argentina’s real economy, that’s to say industry and employment rates will suffer from the crisis, rather than the financial sector which already took a major blow in 2001. Those who benefited from Argentina’s economic recovery of course are now those who are using this crisis as an excuse to downsize and lay-off workers.
The current government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has bolstered that unemployment has gone done from the staggering numbers post-2001 crisis. Many of those jobs are subcontracted and underpaid. Official unemployment statistics, which have been under fire for being conveniently inaccurate, report unemployment at 8 percent. However, many independent analysts say that the actual rate is much higher. Eduardo Lucita, economist from Economists of the Left said that analysts don’t have exact numbers because many of the firings are of workers without formal contracts and can’t be tracked. “Argentina has already had a crisis in the financial sector in 2001. The current crisis is directly affecting Argentina’s real economy. Since October, there are more than 50,000 people who are now unemployed. There have been mass firings, lay-offs and pay cuts.”

Workers Paying for the Crisis

In the failing economy, the jobs at FASINPAT are more important than ever. But the government seems to have all but forgotten that the recuperated enterprises and worker cooperatives provide nearly 20,000 jobs for Argentina, while the government has failed to provide a long-term legal solution to the workers without bosses or subsidies that standard businesses regularly have access to.

Another factor in the struggle at FASINPAT is the lack of subsidies for the cooperative. Sales have dropped by 40-50 percent since 2008 due to a radical slow-down in the construction industry nationally.

“Because of the drop in construction, we aren’t producing as much,” says Paris. In 2006, the plant produced 400,000 square meters of ceramics per month, today that number has gone down to 150,000 square meters per month. The cooperative has had to shut off some of the ovens and shorten production shifts. On top of this drop; the workers controlling the factory have had to face sky-rocketing energy prices. The workers pay over 300,000 dollars a month for electricity and gas. And for Paris, the workers should not have to pay more than other businesses do: “Many industry leaders get government energy subsidies up to 70 percent. We want to buy directly from the gas companies to lower our costs or receive subsidies that we are entitled to.”

Many of the 200 worker controlled businesses and factories in Argentina are being affected by the crisis. But unlike their capitalist counterparts, the worker cooperatives are taking any measure possible to avoid laying off workers, something which they are opposed to doing.

“We aren’t like the capitalists. You can’t throw workers out like they are lice,” said Candido Gonzalez, a veteran worker from Chilavert worker occupied print factory in Buenos Aires, one of the first occupied plants after the 2001 crisis.

During the Argentina’s financial crisis in 2001, he occupied his workplace and fought until he and his fellow workers won legal recognition. Now that business is slowing down, many assemblies at the worker occupied factories would rather accept collective pay cuts, than their fellow workers lose their jobs.

When Capitalism Fails – Occupy, Resist and Produce

Capitalism has taken a turn for the worse, spinning itself out of control into a downward spiral which many are characterizing as the second depression of the century. And during this crisis, there are going to be winners and losers. The winners? Most likely big business and banks receiving bailout plans. The losers? The millions who are facing unemployment, dropping wages and inflation.

 “During a capitalist crisis, when the businessmen and governments are trying to unload all their responsibilities onto the workers of the world, Zanon under worker self-management, is a clear example of how workers can come out of this crisis,” say the workers at FASINPAT.

Since late 2008 there have been several new factory takeovers in Argentina. Many workers from the newly occupied factories say that their bosses saw the crisis as the perfect opportunity to clear their debts by closing up shop, fraudulently liquidating assets, firing workers and later re-start production under a new firm.

“[However] Many companies are still open because they are afraid of the recovered factory phenomenon; we have to keep them scared,” said Paris from Zanon. In almost all of the newly recuperated factories, the workers suggest that the owners had no real reason to close up shop – meaning that the businesses had production demand. I have heard workers on numerous occasions say that during the crisis, the bosses are taking advantage of the situation of a recession.

The worker controlled factories and businesses occupied after 2001 may not be by themselves a social revolution, but the example of worker self-management has helped many workers today facing the possibility of losing their jobs with the idea that they can occupy their workplace in order to defend their rights as laborers. Nearly 10 factories have been occupied since 2008. This may be a sign that workers are confronting the global financial crisis with lessons and tools from previous worker occupied factories. Strategically, the previous worker occupied factories have been fundamental in providing advice of all kinds, including legal, political, production and moral.

For many at the recuperated enterprises, the occupation of their workplace meant much more than safe-guarding their jobs, it also became part of a struggle for a world without exploitation.

“The recuperated enterprises are working to change society. We are changing the way of working, working without exploitation and show workers that we can function without bosses,” says Jorge Suarez from Hotel BAUEN, an operating worker occupied hotel in down town Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s worker factory takeovers reflect a strategy of workers defending their rights and taking hold of their own destiny. Hard times require desperate measures – and one measure may be for workers to occupy, resist and produce.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina. She can be reached at mtrigona@msn.com

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