Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo

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Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersPlaza de Mayo

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (Spanish: Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) is a human rights organization with the goal of finding the children stolen and illegally adopted during the 1976–1983 Argentine military dictatorship. The president is Estela Barnes de Carlotto.

The organization was founded in 1977 to locate children kidnapped during the repression, some of them born to mothers in prison who were later "disappeared", and to return the children to their surviving biological families. Around 30,000 people between the ages of 16 and 35 are believed to have disappeared; around 30% were women, and of those women, around 3% were pregnant.[1] The work of the Grandmothers, assisted by United States geneticist Mary-Claire King, has led to the location of about 25 percent of the estimated 500 children kidnapped or born in detention centers. During the military era they were illegally adopted, with their original identities hidden.[2][1]

By 1998 the identities of about 71 missing children had been documented. Of those, 56 were located alive and 7 others had died. The Grandmothers' work led to the creation of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the establishment of the National Bank of Genetic Data. Aided by breakthroughs in genetic testing, the Grandmothers succeeded in returning 31 children to their biological families.[3] In 13 other cases, adoptive and biological families agreed to jointly raise the children after they had been identified. The remaining cases are bogged down in court custody battles between families.[4] As of December 2022, their efforts have resulted in finding 131 grandchildren.[5]

The kidnapped babies were part of a systematic government plan during the "Dirty War" to pass the children for adoption by military families and allies of the regime and thereby avoid raising another generation of subversives.[2] According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the junta feared that "the anguish generated in the rest of the surviving family because of the absence of the disappeared would develop, after a few years, into a new generation of subversive or potentially subversive elements, thereby not permitting an effective end to the Dirty War".[4][6][7]

As an offshoot of the Silvia Quintela case, former dictator Jorge Videla was detained under house-arrest in 2010 on multiple charges of kidnapping children. In July 2012 he was convicted and sentenced to fifty years in prison for the systematic stealing of babies.[8]

On 14 September 2011 the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo received the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in Paris for their work in defense of Human Rights.[9]

The Dirty War and methodology[edit]

The Plaza De Mayo in Buenos Aires, where the grandmothers have consistently protested since 1977

The war began in 1976 under the government of Lieutenant General Jorge Rafaél Videla. It was a period of state-sponsored violent purges directed towards everyone deemed to be a leftist supporter.[10] Part of Videla's campaign aimed to deter the possibility of a new generation growing up subversive.[11] Although men and women were abducted, children were of higher value and importance in shaping the future of Argentina. There was a waiting list of military families who wanted to adopt the trafficked children. These families specified ideal physical characteristics such as sex, hair and eye color. The children who were not chosen by new families were placed in orphanages and adopted later in their lives.[11] It was not until almost a decade later that general elections resumed and democracy was restored to the country with the election of democrat and leader of the Radical Civic Union Raúl Alfonsín .

The Dirty War is considered an infamous period of time in Latin America for the disappearance of almost 30,000 people. No one demographic of people were abducted. Any person suspected as a threat to the dictatorship would be taken; this includes men and women, young and old, pregnant women, students, middle class workers, lawyers, scientists etc. The military tactics such as Operation Condor and a "night and fog" regime allowed the Argentine government along with other countries surrounding it to deny its actions. While hundreds of people were taken and placed into detention centers that were widely scattered across South America, the government could say that it had never heard of such allegations. With these tactics, the government was able to carry out mass executions. Victims were also thrown from airplanes into the sea, died in captivity or were killed by other torture methods.[1]

The legacy of the war[edit]

Following the military dictatorship, psychologists and other mental health workers have determined that the damages of the war have had long-term effects on three generations of Argentines: the first category being the parents of those who had disappeared under Operation Condor, the second being the children of those who disappeared, and the last of course being the disappeared themselves. Each generation suffering from some sort of long-term psychological harm due to living through a time that legitimized crime.[1] Studies have also noticed that there is conflict in human rights to privacy.

The purpose of the grandmothers forming their organization was to find those who went missing during the war as well as provide rehabilitation to those they are able to identify, a cause that is still being fulfilled. However, even today there is a conflict with that aim because on one hand, the grandmothers deserve to know what happened to their loved ones. On the other hand, the children sometimes refuse identification methods such as DNA testing and refuse to reunite with their biological family. The refusal has both been voluntary and involuntary; voluntary if the children truly do not want to reunite with their biological family, involuntary if the children have been threatened or intimidated out of reuniting, most likely by the government or other military personnel who had adopted the children at the time of the kidnappings.[12] Many of the children who were abducted decline the option to meet their biological family because they believe that they are not their true relatives due to the fact that the children were deprived of being raised by their biological parents.[13] Meeting with relatives such as the grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo may open up dark memories that the children cannot handle. Whatever the circumstance of the child, the organization still believes in providing the abducted the opportunity to learn more about themselves and their family history no matter how tragic it is, which is why the grandmothers have continued their movement, periodically protesting to gain more followers. They make sure to continue to protest at the plaza to remind the people of Argentina that their work is not finished.


The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo was founded in 1977 to protect children's rights as a response to state sponsored terrorism.[9] Initially they were known as Argentine Grandmothers with Disappeared Little Grandchildren (Abuelas Argentinas con Nietitos Desaparecidos), but later adopted the name The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo).[14] In 1983 the constitutional government was re-established and the grandmothers searched for missing children using anonymous tips and conducted their own investigations, but were unable to prove the children's identities.[15] Geneticists from the United States worked with the Grandmothers and were able to store blood samples from family members in the National Genetic Data Bank until the grandchildren could be located and could confirm the relatedness with an accuracy rate of 99.99%.[15] The Grandmothers fought through the court systems to annul the unlawful adoptions. By the mid 1990s legal battles of custody were no longer appropriate because the missing grandchildren were now legal adults.[15] The grandmothers adapted their strategy and started public awareness campaigns to direct the missing grandchildren to contact the organization.[15] As of 2008, their efforts had resulted in finding 97 grandchildren.[15]

Work with Identity Archive[edit]

In 2000, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo partnered with the Identity Archive to provide collections of photos, films, audiotapes, diaries, significant objects, and personal stories from families whose children and grandchildren had disappeared.[1] This was done because some of the grandparents were aging and dying without finding their grandchildren and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo wanted to provide these accounts if children were found in the future.[1]

Public awareness campaigns[edit]

In the mid to late 1990s, the missing grandchildren that the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo sought became legal adults. The Grandmothers then turned to public awareness campaigns to achieve their goals. The difference between Argentina's case and other child trafficking cases is that the disappeared children likely did not know that they were adopted.[16] The organization turned to a commercial campaign and joined with actors to appeal to younger audiences. Their goal was to use popular culture to create doubt within the minds of a group of people who would have never questioned their family.[16]

Besides the public protests at the time of the trafficking, the grandmothers have continued to put their efforts into locating more people to this day. Today, the women are known for providing other services such as legal counseling, assistance in investigations, as well as certain forms of psychological support for other women and their families. With these resources, families are able to receive comfort and rehabilitation. The women of the organization also provide training and seminars to teach new volunteers how to assist in rehabilitation services as well as learn more on human rights work.[11]

Notable members[edit]

Originally 13 grandmothers gathered to form the organization,[19][20][21] including Mirta Acuña de Baravalle.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Arditti, Rita (2002). "The Grandmothers of the Plaza De Mayo and the Struggle against Impunity in Argentina". Meridians. 3 (1): 19–41. doi:10.1215/15366936-3.1.19. JSTOR 40338540. S2CID 142212924. Project MUSE 407894.
  2. ^ a b Juan Ignacio Irigaray, "Los santos inocentes", El Mundo, 11 June 1998 (in Spanish)
  3. ^ Carroll, Rory (30 December 2009). "Argentina's authorities order DNA tests in search for stolen babies of dirty war". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b Marta Gurvich, "Argentina's Dapper", in Consortium News, August 19, 1998 (in English)
  5. ^ Politi, Daniel (22 December 2022). "Argentina group IDs 131st baby stolen during dictatorship". AP News.
  6. ^ Barrionuevo, Alexei (8 October 2011). "Daughter of 'Dirty War,' Raised by Man Who Killed Her Parents". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Difusión, Abuelas (16 January 2012). "Juicio Plan Sistemático de Apropiación de Menores: Los Padrinos". Juicio Plan Sistemático de Apropiación de Menores.
  8. ^ "Videla condenado a 50 anos por robo de bebes" Archived 26 March 2020 at the Wayback Machine (Videla sentenced to 50 years for stealing babies), Noticias (Peru) (in Spanish)
  9. ^ a b "Argentina's Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo awarded UNESCO peace prize". UN News. 4 March 2011.
  10. ^ Marchak, M. Patricia; Marchak, William (1999). "The Dirty War". God's Assassins: State Terrorism in Argentina in the 1970s. McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 109–127. ISBN 978-0-7735-2013-4. JSTOR j.ctt8016s.12.
  11. ^ a b c Martínez, Luz María (1996). "Recovering the Future: Grandmothers Campaigning for Human Rights". Development in Practice. 6 (4): 362–363. JSTOR 4028846.
  12. ^ Garibian, Sévane (2014). "Seeking the dead among the living: embodying the disappeared of the Argentinian dictatorship through law". Human Remains and Mass Violence. Manchester University Press. pp. 44–55. ISBN 978-0-7190-9650-1. JSTOR j.ctt1wn0rw2.7.
  13. ^ Haberman, Clyde (11 October 2015). "Children of Argentina's 'Disappeared' Reclaim Past, With Help". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Bousquet, Jean Pierre (1983). Las Locas de la Plaza de Mayo. Buenos Aires: El Cid. ASIN B000NX97VM. OCLC 658987176.[page needed]
  15. ^ a b c d e Gandsman, Ari (April 2009). "'A Prick of a Needle Can Do No Harm': Compulsory Extraction of Blood in the Search for the Children of Argentina's Disappeared". The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology. 14 (1): 162–184. doi:10.1111/j.1935-4940.2009.01043.x.
  16. ^ a b Gandsman, Ari (November 2009). ""Do You Know Who You Are?" Radical Existential Doubt and Scientific Certainty in the Search for the Kidnapped Children of the Disappeared in Argentina". Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology. 37 (4): 441–465. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1352.2009.01068.x.
  17. ^ "Murió la primera presidenta de Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo". El Mercurio. 8 June 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
  18. ^ "Comisión Directiva | Institucional | Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo". Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  19. ^ Raúl Veiga, Las organizaciones de derechos humanos, 1985, p. 63. Quote: "Como decíamos, la organización comenzó a funcionar en 1977 con trece abuelas reclamando por sus trece nietos y se fue ampliando gradualmente. Hoy existen 183 de esas mujeres que tuvieron que cambiar sus delantales y su paz ..."
  20. ^ Elizabeth Maier, Nathalie Lebon, Women's Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering ..., 2010, p. 105. Quote: "I went to the Grandmothers and began attending the meetings at Plaza de Mayo and signed up for the different tasks. ... Thirteen Grandmothers belong to the standing committee, and other Grandmothers who do not belong to the committee... "
  21. ^ América herida y rebelde, Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 1984, p. 111. Quote: "A la primera reunión asistimos trece abuelas, con el fin de ver qué era posible hacer. ... En el momento en que nos unimos, sólo en este momento, nos organizamos las trece abuelas que iniciamos el movimiento, y propusimos un plan de ..."
  22. ^ "Testimonio de Mirta Acuña de Baravalle / 09 de mayo 2012". Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno (in Spanish). 9 May 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2020.

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