University of Pittsburgh
April 4, 2001

TWO ARGENTINE "MOTHERS OF THE MAY SQUARE" TO VISIT PITT, DISCUSS HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN SOUTH AMERICA

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, April 5 -- Two members of "Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo" (Mothers of the May Square), an organization formed in 1977 by women in Argentina originally to protest the disappearance of opponents of the military dictatorship, will discuss human rights, social equality, environmental issues, and free speech throughout South America on Monday, April 16, in Room 2K56 Posvar Hall, 230 S. Bouquet Street, on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The panel discussion, which begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at noon, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Pitt's Center for Latin American Studies and the Women's Studies Program.

Leading the delegation will be Nora Irma Morales de Cortinas, co-founder of the Mothers of the May Square. She is a widow with two sons: Carlos Gustavo Cortinas was jailed on April 15, 1977 and disappeared later that year. He was a student in the economics department, University of Buenos Aires, and a member of the political movement "Juventud Peronista" (Young Peronists.) Her other son is Horacio Cortinas, who was active in human rights movements. Nora is a psychologist and cofounder of the Las Madres. She teaches "Economic Power and Human Rights" in the Department of Economic Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires.

Also visiting Pitt will be Margarita Peralta de Gropper, another member of

Las Madres.

When Juan Peron, president of Argentina, died in 1974, his wife, Isabel, assumed power until a military coup in March 1976 placed her under house arrest. Under General Jorge Rafael Videla, the new regime launched a campaign to quash its opposition. The government began arresting "subversives," acknowledging at one point to having nearly 3,500 prisoners.

Additionally, there were the "desaparecidos" (the disappeared), between 15,000 and 30,000 men and women who were abducted by armed, unidentified men. Virtually none of the abducted was ever heard of again. The government officials of Argentina during the 1970s and '80s forbade the word "desaparecidos" to be spoken or written in the media or in any public outlet or venue. They were considered non-existent. According to authors Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, the "disappeared" were victims in a tactic designed to terrorize the country.

In 1977, a group of approximately 14 women requested information from the military dictatorship regarding news of their children who had disappeared. To keep alive their request, every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. these women would gather at the Plaza de Mayo -- a space in front of the president's mansion in Buenos Aires -- to peacefully march, asking for information about, and later demanding justice to be taken for, those responsible for the "disappeared."

The Mothers – who became known as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo or the Mothers of the May Square -- wear white scarves on their heads as a symbol of peace and justice. Many of the mothers and their relatives who marched in front of the Presidential Palace were jailed or disappeared. One of them was one of the cofounders, Azucena Villaflor de DeVincenti. This did not deter the women, and they continue to march every Thursday. Today, Las Madres work for human rights throughout South America. As their fame has spread, they are invited by universities, organizations, and governments around the world to make presentations about their work.

Additional presentation and panel discussion members include Billie R. DeWalt, director of Pitt's Center for Latin American Studies; Reid Andrews, chair of the Department of History; Kathleen Blee, director of the Women's Studies Program; Susana Rosano, a Pitt student and native of Argentina; and Maria Claudia Pulido, of the Organization of American States.

On Tuesday, April 17, the Las Madres delegation will talk to a Spanish class at the University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg.

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