Enriqueta Estela Barnes de Carlotto, Association of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, at the DW Global Media Forum
Enriqueta Estela Barnes de Carlotto, was born in 1930 in Buenos Aires. She worked as a teacher and served as president of the Argentinian Association for Quality Assurance in national schools. In 1978 she joined the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, searching for her pregnant daughter Laura Estela and her grandchild born during Laura's imprisonment in 1978. She received honorary doctorates from several Argentinian universities, was awarded the 2003 United Nations Human Rights Award, nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and contributed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. At this year’s DW Global Media Forum Estela Barnes de Carlotto will share her experiences in a workshop called “Women and human rights in Latin America - Giving a voice to the unspeakable”.
DW: To what extent can the effects of Argentina’s dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 still be felt in the society today?
EBC: 400 children, the so-called grandchildren, disappeared during that period, kidnapped by the military junta. We, the “grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo”, have been looking for them ever since. Those children suffer every second from the effects of state terrorism since they were snatched away from their mothers’ arms. The worst thing is that many grandmothers were never able to see their grandchildren again, let alone even meet them. Generally speaking, the dictatorship had built a wall of silence. That wall is now crumbling, and while this happens, we are learning its real dimension. In 2003 Nestor Kirchner’s government was the first to apologize in public to the victims of the dictatorship, and consequently, the legal proceedings against the members of the military that committed genocide.
DW: What role did the media play during that time? Were they helpful instruments of power for the military junta, or did they oppose the dictatorship?
EBC: Most of them were collaborators of the dictatorship, except some rare honourable exceptions like the daily Buenos Aires Herald, an English-language newspaper that published our concerns and covered some kidnapping cases. The TV channels were controlled by the State, the main radio stations repeated the official information and opinions, and the owners of the most important daily newspapers became partners of the dictators. It was not until 1979 when we felt that the media were starting to listen to our pleas, a long time after the international media discovered us when Argentina hosted the Football World Cup in 1978.
DW: Your personal case, the search for a daughter and a grandson, has led you to take part in the Association of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. You were successful in fighting for the kidnapped children. Does your experience help other organizations in other countries that have suffered from dictatorship?
EBC: We think that our experience can help other organizations. We, the Grandmothers, are like all mothers, women. As women we are led by love, hope and a thirst for justice. This love, this thirst for justice is indeed a common denominator among those who suffered from dictatorships in Central America.
DW: Forced disappearances still exist. What do you think needs to happen in order to see the public awake even more to these violations of human rights, which usually affect the weakest members of society? Are political and economic interests playing a vastly superior role?
EBC: When inequality is rampant, respect for human life becomes just an empty slogan. We feel that it would be an ideal situation if human rights were promoted via education. The state, as a promoter of truth, justice and memory, would play a fundamental role in this. As we Argentines know, the process of social inclusion and civic participation does not come easy. They demand struggles and debates in order to convince society that individuals need more rights. Those in power do however prefer to leave things as they are and profit from them. But we believe that a fairer world is only possible in a more equal world. We need to join forces in order to fight for more democracy at every level. It’s the fight that 30.000 disappeared people are fighting for in their quest for social justice.