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Keeping the memories alive: Argentine mothers continue revolutionary struggle
The Miami Herald / October 4, 1999

By Larry Luxner

BUENOS AIRES -- Nov. 9, 1976, was the last day Juana de Pargament saw her son Alberto Jose. Sometime that night, soldiers kidnapped the 31-year-old doctor and dragged him away, leaving behind his pregnant wife, who later fled the country.

Six years ago, a 17-year-old boy walked into the office of the Asociacion Madres de Plaza de Mayo, looking to buy a book. "I immediately recognized him as my grandson Javier," said the woman, who had kept the boy's photo on her desk all those years but had never actually met him. "Javier now lives with his other grandmother. He studies and works. I see him very often."

De Pargament, 85, tells her emotional story without tears, having told it many times before. As treasurer of the association, she's one of thousands of mothers who, during the late 1970s and early 80s helped catapult the fate of Argentina's 30,000 "desparecidos" into the world's consciousness with their weekly protests around the Plaza de Mayo.

These days, with their numbers diminished by age and exhaustion, the madres have found a new outlet for their struggle against repression . Earlier this year, the association opened a trendy cafe in downtown Buenos Aires. The "Café Literario Osvaldo Bayer" along Avenida Hipolito Yrigoyen is crammed with thousands of books and periodicals ranging from works by Leon Trotsky, Maxim Gorky and Ché Guevarra to the latest issue of Cuba's communist newspaper, Granma.

"Ché, for us, is an example of a true revolutionary," says de Pargament, while Bayer, a Marxist historian and author, "is one of our best friends, an anarchist and a free thinker."

Not surprisingly, the walls of the little restaurant are cluttered with Che posters, while the background music consists of protest songs like "Imagine," "Give Peace a Chance" and "We Shall Overcome."

The cafe -- which occupies the first floor of a building owned by the mothers' association -- was the brainchild of six activists who not only decorated the place but take turns preparing coffee, pastries and light snacks, all of which are served on little ceramic saucers emblazoned with the association's logo, a woman wearing a white scarf. For $1, visitors can get either a cup of coffee or an attractive propaganda poster that urges young people to continue the "Struggle and Resistance Against Impunity and Unemployment."

"This cafe is a way of vindicating his memory," said Elsa de Manzotti, an elderly woman who, like de Pargament, lost her son during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

For the association's president, Hebe de Bonafini, the new cafe represents a long-awaited dream.

"This is the first step towards having our own cultural center, which will have a library, discotheque, debate hall, printing press and radio station," she told the Argentine newspaper Clarín. "We must achieve this by our 25th anniversary [in 2002]. I don't want to die without seeing this come true."

In fact, since its inauguration in April, the Cafe Literario has already hosted numerous poetry readings, political debates and theatrical productions. In so doing, it has also helped raise money for the 2,000-member assocation, which for awhile was struggling financially.

"In the beginning, nobody wanted to lend us a place where we could attend the public, because we were the mothers of subversive young people," de Pargament recalled. "But now we're getting help from Canada, Italy, Spain and Holland."

With the help of computer-savvy sympathizers, the madres have now taken their struggle into cyberspace, where they have their own website, http://www.madres.org. They can also be contacted via e-mail at madres@satlink.com.

De Pargament, who despite her age works at the association's little office every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., says the weekly protest marches around the Plaza de Mayo still continue 22 years after they began, although only 15 or 20 mothers now participate.

"We're still marching every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., and at 4 p.m. we have a discussion. It doesn't matter to me if it's too hot, too cold or raining," says de Pargament. Nevertheless, she adds, "many mothers have died, and others have no money to travel to the Plaza de Mayo. They live far from the center of Buenos Aires. Many have said, 'I will never recover my boy or girl, so I'm not going to march anymore.' But now we're marching with many young people and friends who understand the meaning of our struggle. When we walk in the street, everybody comes and kisses us, while the murderers remain in their comfortable houses."

Asked if it's time to forgive those responsible for the atrocities of 1976-83, the old militant responds with a defiant "no."

"We will never forgive, and we will never forget," she says. "We don't want the children of the next generation to inherit these problems. We want them to know what happened during those years."

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