Are there parallel universes? The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo say yes. That they lived in one while many Argentines lived in another. It was during the 1978 Football World Cup that was played in Argentina. The local team won the cup and they suffered each celebration. "That World Cup was, for us, an affront", defines Estela de Carlotto, president of the human rights organization. She remembers the "ferocious dictator” Jorge Rafael Videla “celebrating and be cheered". "That contradiction in the people was very terrible. With time we understood, we understood and apologized”.
Who were the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo? The organization was born in October 1977, a year and a half after the Armed Forces made the last coup d’état that the country suffered. The ladies who founded it did so with the aim of finding the babies of their sons and daughters who had been disappeared.
They didn´t have any news about those children. Some had been kidnapped along with their parents. Others, they would confirm over time, were born in clandestine detention centers, secret facilities used to torture, interrogate, rape, hold illegally and kill people. The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo during the World Cup ´78 were in full growth.
By then, Estela had not approached this human rights organization yet, but she was already a Grandmother in practice. Because Estela wasn´t only looking for her daughter Laura Carlotto, who had been kidnapped in November 1976, but also for her grandson.
In those days, she remembers, "the country was crazy”. Despite the fact that her husband, Guido Carlotto, was a fanatical football fan of Estudiantes de La Plata, the World Cup matches caused her pain. She didn´t even watch them when there were visits in their house.
With the memories of that period, Estela tells that while her brother and sister-in-law "cried with joy", she and Guido did it "with sadness". "We knew that while some shouted the goals, they were torturing thousands of people”. They knew because Guido had been kidnapped for 25 days, “he had experienced terrible tortures and had seen how they tortured others, how they harassed, how they killed”.
"We were suffering”, she says, although she acknowledges that she, her husband, the rest of her children and even Argentine exiles in countries around the world –some of those who organized the boycott of the 1978 World Cup– did not yet know "the plan dictatorship´s plan”. Over time they would understand its magnitude.
For the Grandmothers, the World Cup "covered a lot of what happened". “The people were crazy happy and the Argentine people were only watching the World Cup in 1978" and the dictatorship was in the background, except for those who lived with the same tragic and lucid conscience that them, evaluates Buscarita Roa, also a Grandmother. “It was crazy" she defines.
Buscarita would join Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo months after the World Cup. Until then she knew where his son José "Pepe" Liborio Poblete Roa, his daughter-in-law Gertrudis Hlaczik and his granddaughter Claudia Victoria "Mundialito", as her parents' friends called her, were.
Buscarita reviews the euphoria of the people on the street and also the excesses of the military in power. She was in charge of the cleaning staff of the Ministry of Planning. Between January and October of 1978, that Ministry was in charge of Army General Carlos Enrique Laidlaw, now retired.
“I had to distribute the cleaning employees throughout the building of the intersection of 25 de Mayo St. and Corrientes Av., in the heart of the City of Buenos Aires”. From "the dispatches of the principal colonels of the dictatorship" that were located "on the highest floors", the following mornings of Argentina´s matches the employees “had to took out bags and bags filled with empty bottles of the most expensive whiskeys and liqueurs”.
Like Estela, Elsa Pavón also suffered. She had lost touch with her daughter, Monica Grinspon, and his son-in-law, Claudio Logares, who since 1977 were trying to escape from the clutches of state terrorism in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The couple and their almost two year’s old daughter had been kidnapped on May 18th, 1978, near their Uruguayan home. Elsa traveled to Uruguay to look for them. “I went through all the places where I could ask. I returned, of course, with a negative response: that no one had seen them, no one knew anything”, told Elsa during the 1999 Truth Trials, which were the prelude to the judicial process that began when the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws were declared null.
In Uruguay, during her first search trip (she would go again with his in-law), they not only told her they "didn´t know anything", they also generated false hopes. They told her to stay calm, “that when the World Cup ended they would appear, that maybe at that time they had been arrested as a precaution” she says. "Innocence, foolishness, I don´t know how to call it, but it made me come back and wait until June 30th, when the World Cup ended”. Of course, neither Monica nor Claudio nor their daughter "came back" after the championship. Her granddaughter, Paula Logares, was found in 1984 thanks to the work of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
For Elsa, the 1978 World Cup a period of fake hope. For Antonia Acuña de Segarra, It was a period of multiple losses. “I had three children who were disappeared during the World Cup ´78”, she tells in a testimony given to Memoria Abierta. In that testimony, she lists that her two months pregnant daughter, Alicia, was taken on June 21st, 1978, along with her partner Carlos María Mendoza; that on June 23th they kidnapped Laura, her other daughter, who was 8 months pregnant, and her partner Pablo Torres; and that her son Jorge disappeared on June 30th. "I never had any news about any them. Absolutely nothing. Neither have I know anything about the grandchildren I am looking for” says Antonia.
How was the 1978 World Cup experienced? The Argentines celebrated, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo suffered.