On our first Sunday in Buenos Aires we decided to go for a wander to Plaza de Mayo to take in some of the city sights. As we neared the centre, we started to notice people painting things on the street, and in the distance we could hear a lot of noise clearly being made by a lot of people. Ignoring the travelling advice of avoiding large congregations of rowdy people, we approached and saw a sea of people divided up into groups and carrying flags and banners.
It seemed to be some kind of protest, and through reading banners, signs and pamphlets we worked out that it was for “The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice”. This is a national holiday held on March 24 each year that commemerates the victims of Argentinas “Dirty War”, an eight year miltary dictatorship that began on March 24, 1976 during which at least 30,000 citizens were kidnapped, tortured, and executed for their political views. Even after democracy was restored, amnesty laws and pardons ruled out trials of those behind the atrocities for several years. The Day of Memory for Truth and Justice is meant not only as a day to remember the dead, but also as a day to continue to seek justice for the human rights violations that were committed during the years of military rule.
It’s taken pretty seriously, and is attended by groups from all around Argentina. There was a slightly confusing mix of emotions … cheerful celebration that such days are (hopefully) behind them, mixed with anger that it ever happened, and frustration that despite some advances in recent years, many perpetrators continue to go unpunished.
We continued further into the crowd, and at no point did we feel threatened despite emotions running high. There was a musical backdrop to the day with a strong drumbeat that was captivating, with most people getting involved.
Eva Peron (Evita) is still an icon in Argentina, especially on this day given her stance on social justice (the political movement Peronism is named after her and her husband). Her name and image was everywhere during this protest, including the more permanent one on the Ministry of Health building.
After a while, we drifted away to explore other parts of the city, but later that night we came across them again still going strong! The march culminated in a rally at Plaza de Mayo.
Experiencing the echoes of pain from 30 years ago made us grateful to live in a stable democracy. Although we have to put up with some pretty distasteful shenanigans from our politicians, it pales into insigificance next to what the citizens of some countries have to deal with. Although Argentina is again a democracy, it is heading into a financial abyss and history has shown that in times like these anything can happen. Sabre rattling over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is once again being used to distract the country from the important issues.