Moms add muscle to reform drug laws

Albor Ruiz
The New York Daily News

Taty Almeyda, whose 20-year-old son, Alejandro, was "disappeared" by a paramilitary group in Argentina in 1975, knows much about pain and injustice.

"He was a first-year medical student," Almeyda said, her clear voice tinted with emotion. "He left for school one day and never came back."She also knows that wherever pain and injustice show their ugly faces, they must be denounced and opposed. And that is why she came from Buenos Aires on Friday with three other mothers of disappeared children, all of them members of the internationally revered human rights group Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

Their purpose: to support, with all the weight of their moral strength, the plight of Mothers of the NY Disappeared, a group they inspired. Their mission of demanding justice is the same here as in Buenos Aires.The Argentine group is made up of the mothers of some of the 2,000 people who disappeared in 1974-75 under the government of President Isabel Perón, and of the 28,000 more who vanished in 1976-83, under the murderous military junta.

Risking their lives - the founder of the group, Azucena Villaflor, later was disappeared - they began to march every Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo, outside the Casa Rosada, the Buenos Aires equivalent of the White House."We want justice, we want to know what happened to our children, we want the criminals punished," Almeyda said passionately.

The New York group is at the forefront of the struggle to repeal the state's Draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which have unfairly thrown thousands of people - mainly young members of minority groups - in prison for many years."We met the Mothers of the NY Disappeared in Buenos Aires in February, and they told us about their plight," Almeyda said. "Their children and relatives are also desaparecidos, unjustly taken away from family and society for years on end."We are with them demanding the abolition of the unfair Rockefeller laws," Almeyda added.

And not only with words. As they have done for 27 years in Buenos Aires, today the Madres will hold their march at 1:30 p.m. in front of the New York City office of Gov. Pataki on Third Ave. and 40th St.They also will deliver a letter to the governor's office that reads in part: "[Having learned] through the Mothers of the New York Disappeared of the inhumane conditions of detention and prolonged sentences in the State of New York, we ask Gov. George Pataki for the annulment of the Rockefeller laws, as they violate those [human] rights and attempt against the dignity of the person."

Yesterday, they and the NY Mothers went to Albany to talk with state politicians, and on Tuesday, they met with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who expressed support for a reexamination of the law.With an estimated 80% of those incarcerated under the Rockefeller laws addicts, not drug traffickers, the district attorney's words are to the point.

As Manhattan Councilwoman Margarita López said, "What they need is treatment, not prison terms. And 95% of them are black and Latino, which makes clear that there is something wrong with these laws."The 30-year-old drug laws should be abolished. And no one can better make the case for finally doing away with them than the long-suffering New York and Argentine mothers of desaparecidos.

Originally published on April 15, 2004