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12/10/2010 | Human rights and human decency - 30 years ago the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo were not divided

Buenos Aires Herald - Staff

“Another thing I want to talk about is Robert Cox. Possibly you don’t know the history of Robert Cox. The Mothers know it well because we suffered it. We did not pay tribute to him as all the other organizations did. No we did not. We did not receive him in our house, we did not say farewell to him when he left, because while Robert Cox spoke well of the Mothers, it is true, he was very content that our children were assassinated because he backed the economic plan of Martínez de Hoz.


 “He said poor mothers but it is fortunate that their children are dead, tortured, violated and assassinated, which is why from this Plaza we repudiate the presence of Robert Cox. You have to learn who is who and you must not forget.

 “We have kept all, all of the editorials of the newspaper that he directed. It was a newspaper that always spoke, as I said, of the ‘poor little things, the Mothers’ and if they took us away from the Plaza, he spoke out, but he always backed the dictatorship, all the time. So that is why it seemed to us important that in this Plaza we should say why we, the Mothers, do not pay tribute to him, did not receive him, did not say farewell to him and that we repudiate his presence.

 “The Mothers have suffered in their own flesh what these types say; and another who did the same was (Manfred) Schoenfeld of the newspaper La Prensa, who had the same attitude: ‘poor little things the Mothers, well dead their children.’ We also repudiate Schoenfeld although he is dead as well as the newspaper La Prensa, which backed him.”

It is important to differentiate between the hardline group that Mrs. Bonafini heads and the Mothers who are members of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora. Perhaps the best way to describe the difference is to write from personal experience. When I left Argentina just before Christmas of 1979 because of mounting death threats to my family, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo were not divided. They showed their gratitude to the Herald by giving me gifts that I cherish, including a pergamino that also bears the signature of Mrs. Bonafini, whom I did not know at that time.

 The first time I met Mrs. Bonafini was in 1980 in Washington when I was a member of a panel on a television programme show put together by Bill Moyers to discuss the changes in US human rights policy planned by the incoming Reagan administration. At the close of the discussion, members of the audience were invited to ask questions. Mrs. Bonafini stood up and immediately clashed with Ernest Lefever, who had been nominated to replace Patricia Derian as assistant secretary of state for humanitarian affairs. I admired Mrs. Bonafini for her frankness in stating that her two missing sons had been opponents of the Argentine military dictatorship.

However, I have been increasingly dismayed by the harm that Mrs. Bonafini has done to the cause of human rights in advancing a political agenda that endorses violence and justifies terrorism from the left. Her continuing attack on the Supreme Court in the wake of the outrageous and gratuitous insults levelled at the judges seems to me to be the last straw.

For years I tried to look with affection upon Mrs. Bonafini as if she were a troublesome aunt.

But I was shocked to the core when she was quoted as saying that she was glad that the al Qaeda hijackers had killed thousands of people in the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center, which, by the way, prompted two wars and many, many more deaths and wrecked lives.

But, far way in Charleston, South Carolina, I hoped that she had been misquoted or that, as she was much given to exaggeration, she really didn’t mean what she was reported to have said. Before that atrociously heartless statement she had said many outrageous things, but they did not go beyond my idea of her as a crazy aunt.

I also knew that she did not speak for the majority of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo nor, most certainly, for the other mothers I knew who were and are still searching for their missing children but who have not joined either the hardline Association de Madres de Plaza de Mayo or the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora. I reserved comment on the antics of Mrs. Bonafini until much later when she viciously and malevolently insulted someone who was a friend of mine as well as all the Mothers.

US diplomat F. Allen “Tex” Harris came to Argentina at the height of the dictatorship as the point man at the US Embassy to put into action president Jimmy Carter’s human rights policy. One of his first acts was his brave visit to Plaza de Mayo while the Mothers were circling the pyramid during one of their regular Thursday rallies to hand out his visiting cards and to tell them that they were welcome to visit him at his office in the embassy.

Twenty-five years later, in November 2004, after retiring from the US Foreign Service, he returned to Argentina. He was warmly welcomed by the founding members of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and justly honoured by the Argentine government with the Order of San Martín.

Tex, a human being of infinite generosity and kindness, wanted to see all the mothers again, including Mrs. Bonafini, who herself had been warmly received at the US Embassy when it was one of the few places that opened its doors to people desperately seeking news of relatives who had been kidnapped.

Mrs. Bonafini and her acolytes set a trap for Tex. When he arrived at their headquarters, Mrs. Bonafini subjected him to one of her irrational harangues and sought, vainly, to humiliate him. Last week, she mentioned him in another attack on me. She claimed she threw him out. In fact, Tex patiently listened to her. When he realized that there was no point in trying to convince her of the importance of tolerance and understanding, he politely withdrew.

It was not a safe or easy thing to defend human rights and rule of law under a military dictatorship. Tex risked his life and his career for all the mothers. I cannot think of anything more ignoble than the behaviour of Mrs. Bonafini. Human rights cannot be upheld without human decency. And plain human decency is what is missing from Mrs. Bonafini’s rhetoric and far too much of the political discourse in today’s Argentina.

Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina)


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