Plaza de Mayo
Colloquially known as the “Plaza de Protestas,” the Plaza de Mayo has often played center stage in Argentine history. The Peróns, in particular, used it for spectacle, convoking hundreds of thousands of descamisados (shirtless ones), their fervent underclass disciples.
Internationally, the plaza gained fame for some of its smallest gatherings ever. From the late 1970s, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo marched silently around the Pirámide de Mayo, its small central obelisk, every Thursday afternoon to demand the return of their adult children kidnapped by the military and paramilitary gangs. Most of the disappeared died at their captors’ hands, but the mothers brought Argentina’s shame to world attention.
Ironically, throngs cheered the dictatorship here when it occupied the British-ruled Falkland Islands in 1982. As the war went badly, though, crowds turned on the de facto regime, whose collapse brought a return to constitutional government.
Following the December 2001 economic meltdown, the Plaza de Mayo witnessed major protests and a police riot that killed several demonstrators and forced President Fernando de la Rúa’s resignation. Other demonstrators included leftist groups who deplored the “model” ostensibly imposed by international lending agencies, and bank depositors outraged at banking restrictions that effectively confiscated their savings.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition