By KJ Sankara
Iconic human rights leader Nora Cortinas lamented “economic terrorism” in Argentina as she spoke to a London audience last week.
A founding member of Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo, Ms Cortinas has been a devoted critic of Argentina’s successive governments for decades.
It started when General Jorge Rafael Videla’s repressive tenure in the 1970s meant thousands of left-wing activists, including her son Carlos, disappeared at the hands of the state.
And Nora still wears the white headscarf that symbolises the group’s revolutionary spirit and demands for justice for their children.
Continuing to express her criticisms of the current President Mauricio Macri, she said: “We are experiencing a type of economic terrorism in Argentina, which is causing pain and hunger, with a growing foreign debt that can only cause more pain and hunger.
“The current government does not care about education, culture or the health of the people. It does not care about the people full stop. They are concerned with filling the pockets of their friends, and filling their own pockets.”
Nora and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo worked tirelessly to hold the Junta to account in the late 1970s, fearlessly gathering every week opposite the presidential palace despite the very real possibility of violent repercussions.
The group has provided inspiration for resistance movements worldwide, and has garnered praise from the likes of Pope Francis and Ban Ki-Moon for its bravery.
Ms Cortinas was hosted by Action for Argentina UK (AfA), a British NGO who campaign in solidarity with the social struggles in Argentina.
Dr Dan Ozarow, whose research focuses on Latin America, told The Hawthorne Effect: “The resistance of Nora and the mothers was very important for Latin America because it proved a small and determined band of activists can actually provide an enormous inspiration and hope for change.
“They were initially dismissed as crazy by the dictatorship and had little media exposure at the start, but when their cause got out into the international arena, the regime’s crimes were exposed.
“They ended up being one of the main reasons the legitimacy of the regime collapsed.
On Latin America, Dr Ozarow added: “The difference they made as such a small number of people leaves a legacy for today that hasn’t been forgotten.”
40 years later, Nora still wears a photo of Carlos round her neck – the demand for justice never ends.
Imperalism Targets Latin America
In the wider context of imperialism’s imposition on the continent itself, members of the panel claimed that Cortinas’ example showed others how to effectively hold brutal dictatorships to account.
Jose Cruz Campagnoli, the former Human Rights Director for Buenos Aires City, said: “Nora provided the platform for reclaiming the memories of those killed.”
While justice still awaits many of the perpetrators during the Junta’s reign, Mr Campagnoli claimed that the one important constant over the last few decades was the work of human rights organisations.
“Even in the context of a neoliberal government, the judicial process carries on because of their work,” he added.
AfA’s actions have been making waves in Argentina – despite only starting up last year. The Twitter account, which has 185 followers, came under siege from pro-government accounts after tweeting support for campaigners protesting against public service cuts.
Dr Ozarow said: “It shows how scared the opposition is of Nora because she is such a unifying figure across the world.”
The United States has stepped up it’s imperialistic campaign in Latin America, contributing to the economic implosion and subsequent crisis in Venezuela.
Mr Campagnoli said: “It does not matter whether you are for or against this government, it only matters that the people there decide their own fate without violent foreign intervention.”
In a move criticised by many of the left. President Trump recently appointed Elliot Abrams as his envoy to the country.
Questioned by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the reminder of Abrams’ abhorrent crimes in Latin America during the 1980s serve as a timely caution of the need to organise and resist.
One need not look further than Nora Cortinas for someone who has never stopped.
The Kurdish Question
Solidarity, in its nature, is international. The conference did not only pose the Argentinian, nor the Latin America, question, but welcome the Kurdish struggle.
Turkish forces have cracked down on those associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) since the 1990s – and Kurdish mothers have mirrored the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
Holding a sit-in every week, Kurdish mothers have demanded to know where their children have disappeared to.
Hasan Ergisi, who was a Kurdish activist in his youth, confirmed to The Hawthorne Effect that Ms Cortenas provides a huge inspiration for the protesters who turn out every week.
He added: “However, I don’t think that it’s working in the same way. Unlike Argentina, we don’t only need the media, but an alliance of countries holding Turkey to account.
“We know what the State is doing to the missing people, but we can’t do anything about it.”
The audience heard Bert Schouwenberg, who is committed to securing freedom for PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan.
He told The Hawthorne Effect: “Abdullah Ocalan’s democratic confederalism would have appealed to Hugo Chavez who was a strong advocate for regional unity to confront the colossus of the north, and in that respect, perhaps it is the Latin Americans who can learn something from the Kurds.”
Mr Schouwenberg also noted the lack of homogenised struggle in Latin America, which may well have contributed to the ease in which imperalism has dominated in the face of domestic resistance.
Elif Saracan from the Kurdish Womens’ Movement backed this up by highlighting the importance of women in the current resistance, adding: “Women’s liberation is at the centre of this movement, as it is in any movement.”