Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

ARGENTINA: Fathers of the Plaza de Mayo – the “Rearguard”

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Apr 13 2010 (IPS) - Through their decades-long struggle to uncover the fate of their missing children, forcibly disappeared during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in their emblematic white headscarves have earned international renown. Now a new documentary shines the spotlight on the men who supported and encouraged these brave women from the shadows: the fathers of the Plaza de Mayo.

“We would stay back on the street corners around the Plaza de Mayo so that we’d know if anything happened to them,” recounted one of the fathers interviewed in the new film, “Padres de la Plaza. Diez recorridos posibles” (Fathers of the Plaza: Ten Possible Journeys).

“We accompanied them,” he commented, while another of the fathers defined their role in a slightly different way: “We were the rearguard.”

The documentary shows that while they were not on the front lines of the battle, the fathers whose children fell victim to forced disappearance during the de facto regime have suffered as deeply as their mothers, and share the same nightmares and dreams.

Some try to imagine what their children would be like now. “I dream that I can see him, that he’s alive, and he’s talking,” says one of the fathers, smiling as if he had discovered a secret for bringing his son back.

The peaceful struggle initiated in 1977 by the women who continue to gather every Thursday for a silent walking vigil around the Plaza de Mayo, the large public square in front of the seat of the Argentine government, helped bring the crime of forced disappearance to the world’s attention.

They were followed by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organisation formed by women seeking the whereabouts of grandchildren either born in captivity or kidnapped as babies and then illegally adopted by other families after their parents had been forcibly disappeared. Similar human rights groups have also been formed by other relatives – by children of the disappeared, and even brothers and sisters of the disappeared.

But the fathers, and their sorrow and struggle, have been largely relegated to the sidelines.

“The fathers never publically took up the struggle like the Mothers, we never created an organisation, although we were always there accompanying them. The Mothers didn’t want us to get involved, because they were afraid we would fight back if we were provoked and end up in prison,” explains one of the fathers interviewed in the documentary.

Another confesses that he has only begun to even speak about his son in public in the last two years, because whenever he tried to do so in the past, he would break down in tears.

In an interview with IPS, the film’s director, Joaquín Daglio, said the fathers “never aspired to play a leading role.”

Given the tremendous symbolic power of the peaceful struggle waged by the mothers, their male counterparts chose to simply accompany them from behind the scenes, Daglio explained. As a result, the fathers remained largely invisible, but were content to play the background role.

Through his documentary, Daglio turns the spotlight for the first time on the men who were seldom seen or heard, yet always there. “We wanted to provide a forum where their voices could begin to be heard,” he said.

At the same time, by telling 10 of the thousands of possible stories, Daglio hopes to shed light on “the magnitude of the genocide,” he added.

After the return to democracy in Argentina, close to 10,000 cases of individuals detained and subsequently “disappeared” during the seven years of dictatorship were officially registered. Human rights organisations, however, place the real number at closer to 30,000.

“Padres de la Plaza: Diez recorridos posibles” won a special mention from the jury at the International Film Festival in the Argentine resort city of Mar del Plata last November, and was selected to compete for best film at the International Human Rights Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain in December.

This month it will be screened in competition at the É Tudo Verdade (It’s All True) International Documentary Film Festival taking place simultaneously in the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As yet, no date has been set for the film’s commercial release, although it is expected for the second half of the year.

The documentary is built around interviews with 10 fathers of the disappeared who agreed to take part in the project: Teobaldo Altamiranda, Rafael Beláustegui, Mario Belli, Mauricio Brodsky, Ricardo Chidichimo, Oscar Hueravilo, Julio Morresi, Bruno Palermo, Jaime Steinberg (who has passed away since filming ended) and Marcos Weinstein.

The fathers are filmed in a range of different settings, moving from their own personal surroundings to public spaces, as their stories are taken from the private to the public realm.

First they take the viewers on a tour of their homes, which are sometimes also the former homes of the sons and daughters who are no longer there. Old black-and-white photos of their missing children, transformed into protest signs when held up by the Mothers in the plaza, are part of the décor – lovingly framed portraits of children and young adults that are a daily reminder of their loss.

“All of their stories are deeply moving,” Daglio said.

Beláustegui, who lost three children to the dictatorship, insists that the suffering of others who lost just one child is equally great.

Another father recounts how he identified his dead son in the morgue, but when he went back to claim his body, it was no longer there, and he was never able to give his son a proper burial. Another tells of receiving a phone call from his son after he went missing, then never hearing from him again.

After sharing their personal stories, the fathers are asked to show the viewers their favourite places. For some, it is the street where they grew up, a neighbourhood bar or their workplace, where they find a sort of refuge.

Then they take the cameras to places tied in some significant way to their lost children: their old schools, the parks and sports clubs where they used to play. Morresi brings the viewers to the cemetery; he is the only one of the ten who has been able to recover his son’s body.

The film closes with all of the fathers gathered in the Plaza de Mayo. Some have known each other for years, while others formally meet for the first time, here where their wives continue to join together every Thursday, in their relentless search for the truth, and for healing.

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