Las abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo

Four-minute story

Las abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo – The Grandmothers of May Square
One of the most moving stories I have ever read

The last time that Abel Madariaga saw his wife she was being bundled into an army truck in a suburb of Buenos Aires where she worked as a doctor amongst the poor. At the time she was eight months pregnant.

Between 1976 and 1983, thirty thousand Argentines, opponents of the dictatorship, were murdered; it was said that they had “disappeared” because their deaths were denied by the regime. Abel’s wife, Silvia Quintela, was one of the victims. Abel knew that he could not save her and fled into exile to save his own life.

In 1983 democracy was restored in Argentina and Abel was able to return. Once he had discovered The Grandmothers of January Square (Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Enero), he had found a new purpose in life. The organisation had been set up by a group of grandmothers and mothers, initially to challenge the dictatorship over the kidnapping of children born to women before they were murdered by the regime. Part of their mission became the re-uniting of families that had been torn apart by the government. Abel became their first male volunteer.

Unbeknown to Abel, his imprisoned wife gave birth to a son. The next day the baby was taken from her and she was never seen again. The boy was taken by an army officer and raised, illegally, by his wife. The officer was a violent man and the boy never felt as though he was really part of this family. As a young adult his suspicions were aroused and he approached the Abuelas to see whether they could help him track down his real family.

The first person the young man spoke to was another, older man at the reception desk. He explained that he was trying to locate his real family and the older man listened carefully. There was something about the younger man’s story that made a kind of sense.

Within a few days, following a blood test, they realised that they had been looking for one another, now brought together for the very first time. Francisco – he took the name his mother and father had planned for him – was thirty two.

As I write this I am very conscious that Francisco is the same age as my son, whose birth I witnessed, whose first steps I watched and whose company I have enjoyed in so many ways. When he was twenty we played rugby together. Thanks to brave women prepared to face a murderous regime, Abel and Francisco have been able resume the sort of life fathers and sons should enjoy. What better memorial could Abel have to his wife?

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