Monday, 13 June 2011

Argentina: Madres face new storm

The Madres de Plaza de Mayo are no strangers to media attention, but this week they have hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. The case surrounds the group's legal adviser Sergio Schoklender, who has been accused of fraud connected to government-funded housing projects. Schoklender has apparently massed huge personal wealth while officially earning a modest income. The Mothers themselves are not officially accused of wrongdoing, but are clearly tainted by the apparent corruption from someone in their inner circle. They have hurriedly distanced themselves from Schoklender and, it is now being reported, wish to appear as plaintiffs in a case against him.

There's quite a lot going on here, I would say, and the shadow of the dictatorship is apparent in it all. On a general level, people worldwide often seem to have a desire to unmask others perceived as "too good to be true" - you seem to see the same kind of glee when a squeaky-clean family man, a Tiger Woods or a Ryan Giggs, say, is revealed as hiding some grubby secrets. The Mothers have been one of the key moral spokepersons in Argentina for decades. Strident, uncompromising, tough: their leader, Hebe de Bonafini, is seen as a heroine by many and an embarassment by some. She has been closely linked with the Kirchner regimes for several years and her unabashed politicism has not increased her popularity in some circles.

The scandal was apparently revealed by Clarin newspaper. Yes, that is the same Clarin newspaper which is rabidly anti-Kirchner and whose owner is fighting a court case seeking to prove that her adopted children were stolen from disappeared people. The Madres, other human rights groups, and the government have all unequivocally viewed this story as an attempt to attack human rights and memory activism in Argentina. The president of the Abuelas (Grandmothers), Estela de Carlotto, was quoted in Clarin and the right-wing La Nacion as accusing Bonafini of being compromised by the Schoklender case. She later told Pagina/12, the paper most sympathetic to the human rights groups, that her words had been "twisted" in an attempt to split the human rights movement. The Abuelas together with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Linea Fundadora (a breakaway group of the Madres), HIJOS (the children of the disappeared) and Familiares (family members of the disappeared) issued a joint statement condemning attempts to tarnish their struggle.

The one thing that does really astonish me is why Bonafini was close to Sergio Schoklender and his brother Pablo in the first place. I had never heard of them before yesterday, but it turns out that they were involved in a notorious crime of the early 1980s, when both were jailed for the Linkmurder of their parents. I find it hard to understand why people convicted of such a serious crime would end up so closely connected with a human rights group whose entire purpose is justice for murder, after all - but clearly I'm missing something there.

I think the takeaway point for me would be the importance of the human rights struggle in Argentina and how crucial it is for that to continue. You can see from little turns of phrase like that in the Guardian article, "the headscarf has slipped", how people seize on such cases to invalidate an entire project, and as the groups say in their statement, that can't be allowed to happen.

Denuncian sobreprecios en los planes de viviendas sociales
Las Madres iran hoy a la Justicia para denunciar a Schoklender (Clarin)
En defensa de una historia (Pagina/12)
Buscan la oportunidad para disolvernos (Pagina/12)
Scandal hits Argentina's mothers of the disappeared (Guardian)
Corruption scandal hits Argentina's Mothers group (AP)

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