María Adela Gard de Antokoletz

Mothers in Arms

Argentina María Adela Gard de Antokoletz, Argentina, Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo
Hundreds of members of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo march through the streets of Buenos Aires, March 24, 2002, to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the military coup in Argentina (AFP Photo/Ali Burafi).

She mourned the abduction of her son and was one of the cofounders of Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an Argentine human-rights group of mothers, who fought the junta and to this day continue their crusade.

María Adela Gard de Antokoletz, the group’s oldest member, was 90 when she died on July 23. Every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., she led the other mothers on their protest march on Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo, just outside the president’s offices. The vigils became a symbol of civil resistance in remembrance of all those who disappeared during the infamous years of Argentina’s “dirty war” (1976-83). For more than 20 years, Antokoletz marched, clutching a picture of her son Daniel, a lawyer and university professor who defended political prisoners and vanished in 1976.

The mothers began their marches in April 1977. Antokoletz, who frantically sought information about her son, together with 13 other women took up a vigil on the plaza. This simple act drew international attention to the estimated 30,000 people who had been abducted, tortured, and killed under Argentina’s military dictatorship. After democracy returned, the mothers continued their protests, demanding justice and accountability. Some succeeded in tracking down grandchildren who had been kidnapped with their parents, or who had been born in captivity and illegally adopted.

In 1989, former President Carlos Menem issued a pardon for all those convicted of crimes committed during the dictatorship. The mothers, however, vowed not to forget. But as late as 1994, Antokoletz was still labeled the “mother of a terrorist” and received death threats. She withstood it all “with nothing but her dignity and firmness of conviction,” one of her companions told Buenos Aires’ Página 12. “[She will be remembered] for her stamina,...her good humor, her happiness, and her refusal to give way to anguish.”

“[The drugged prisoners] were unconscious.We...threw them out [of the plane], naked, one by one,” recalled Capt. Adolfo Francisco Scilingo, an Argentine navy captain during Argentina’s “dirty war,” in his book The Flight—Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior (New Press, 1996). His confession was a bittersweet vindication for Antokoletz. “[Now] they can no longer say that this is just a cry of a suffering mother,” she said. But after her death, Buenos Aires’ conservative La Nación refused to publish the notice of her death prepared by her family because it listed Daniel among the mourners as “detained and missing.” “Ads are by living persons for the dead,” a spokesperson for the paper argued.

Daniel is presumed to have been thrown into Buenos Aires’ Río de la Plata. His mother’s last wish was for her own remains to be scattered into the river as well. Hers were accompanied by flowers.