It is easy to turn tragedy into pain. But when pain is the spark of a conviction, it becomes an example of courage and integrity. Unbearable pain is at the very core of Laura Bonaparte’s story, a woman who lost much of her family during the last military dictatorship in Argentina (1976 – 1983): two daughters, a son, her two sons-in-law and the father of her children.
What is most special about Bonaparte is not the loss she suffered, but her will to transform loss into hope. She endured great adversity, more than enough to destroy an ordinary person’s life.
However, she found strength in weakness. She did not get trapped in the depths of sorrow, and committed her life to fight for our human rights. She raised her voice, not for politics, but for humanity.
Since an early age, Bonaparte felt inclined to help others. When she was only 13, she taught women in prison to read and write. In the 1970s she offered assistance to low-income women at Lanús Polyclinic. During her exile in Mexico, she was an Amnesty International observer for Guatemala and El Salvador; in Lebanon and Bosnia, she fought for women’s rights, but she is better known as a tireless activist for Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
In 1977 she helped establish the organization and joined its Founding Line in 1986. Mothers of Plaza de Mayo was created by a group of women who lost their children during the military dictatorship. They were left in hopelessness and despair, but far from entertaining uncertainty, they stood up to denounce the disappearances.
It is impossible to imagine her feelings when she lost many of her loved ones. Her daughter Aida Leonora was killed, her ex-husband Bruschtein, was arrested; his captors set him on fire and he died in the flames. Her son-in-law Adrián Saidón was also murdered in the street. Her other daughter Irene Mónica and her husband, Mario Ginzberg, were abducted. And finally, her youngest son, Victor, and his partner Jacinta Levi, were removed from their home never to be seen again. Since then, their photographs were always pinned to her lapel, images against oblivion.
“I felt the desire to kill millions of times, but one thing is to want it and another to actually do it. That would be acting just like them, doing exactly what we have criticized them for. Revenge makes you worse”, said Bonaparte. She also said, “I never had much faith in justice, but things have changed over these 25 years… prosecutions, convictions and penalties, because there are more than 15,000 desaparecidos (missing persons), but also many perpetrators who have already been tried and sentenced.”
Bonaparte taught us, through example, to live the present proactively and with a positive attitude, without becoming victims of the past. In Claude Mary’s book about Laura Bonaparte, the protagonist knows that “you don’t do anything by yourself.”
Solidarity, that invaluable human quality, is built through multiple gestures and rarely with large phrases, but you don’t have to idealize those who follow that path. All of us are able to help others, whatever our religion, social status or point of view.
“Fighting for human rights allows us to share with other human beings the generosity that exists within all of us,” she said. Her actions taught us to raise our souls and defend ourselves, to be brave, to give a voice to those who disappeared, to those who have been silenced, to be supportive of the victims of violence, to continue, and above all, she taught us that we all can do it.
She fought for remembrance of those who are no longer with us. Now she is also part of that list, but following her example will allow her spirit to remain with us. ■