Justice for Argentina’s baby kidnappers

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After 30 years of hard work there is success for the Grandmothers of the Disappeared. Libby Powell reports


Mothers and grandmothers of the disappeared at the Plaza de Mayo.

Every Thursday afternoon they came to the square - Plaza de Mayo. When there was heavy rain in April and the Argentine square was almost empty, hundreds of women met in protest. They wore white headscarves and in their hands and on their chests were photographs of young men and women – photographs of their children who were taken away. There are no photographs of the grandchildren they still hope to find. These grandchildren are in their thirties now, the babies of the Dirty War.

At least 30,000 people, seen as left-wing ‘radicals’ by the Argentinian government, were taken between 1976 and 1983. The government called it a ‘National Reorganization Process’. It was a time of political control, torture, people disappearing, and killings. These included ‘death flights’, where victims were dropped from planes into the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the victims were young protesters, union members or students. A third of them were women.

The grandmothers have never stopped looking for this lost generation. And they have not stopped asking for justice for the people behind the kidnappings.

Protesters have called the sexual violence by the government genocide. They say these attacks intended to make it impossible for female protesters to have children. In special camps they raped women, they harmed their reproductive organs, they forced women to have abortions and they took away infants and babies born in the camps. About 200 children were born in the camps and they forced pregnant women to give birth while tied up and with their mouths and eyes covered. They gave as many as 500 children to families close to the government or the military.

Many of the grandmothers only remember their grandchildren in their daughters’stomachs before they disappeared. They have never stopped looking for this lost generation. And they have not stopped asking for justice for those behind the kidnappings.

They began as a group of only 14 women. Thousands of other women joined them each week outside the Presidential Palace. This large group of women became the single strongest voice against those responsible for the seven years of violence. Their loud, public action broke the silence of the government at the time. In the years that followed, they worked hard against government pardons. These pardons offered freedom to those involved in the crimes.

In 1997, the women set up a DNA-testing programme with the National Bank of Genetic Data. They banked their own blood. Then anyone born between 1976 and 1983 who was unsure about their real parents could come for DNA testing. One hundred and five of those children, now all in their thirties, have now been found.


The Grandmothers have left their mark.

Now there is some justice for those lost years. On 6 July 2012, the man responsible for organizing the kidnapping of the babies more than 30 years ago was given a 50-year prison sentence. He was former president Jorge Rafael Videla. Eight others, including the dictator Reynaldo Bignone and former navy officer Jorge Acosta, were also convicted.

In the courtroom, the families of the victims listened to the stories of 20 young adults. Many of them now understood that the people who looked after them as children were involved in their real parents’ deaths and disappearances. Former president Jorge Rafael Videla is now 86 years old and he is already serving life sentences for crimes against humanity. As he will not finish his most recent sentence, perhaps this makes no sense. But the mothers and grandmothers of the murdered or the disappeared think there is a personal and national value in these prison sentences. Estela de Carlotto, President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, said that it’s healing for everyone to know that the criminals are being judged.

The women had their last march together in Plaza de Mayo in 2006. They brought attention to the information and evidence which helped to send the criminals to prison last week. Now the historic square is left to tourists and business people. But the women, called ‘Las Locos’ [the Mad People] by former president Jorge Rafael Videla’s military, have shown that they can be strong.

The women’s website has a message: ‘Our grandchildren have not been abandoned. They have the right to find their families and their history. They have relatives who are always looking for them.’

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see:http://www.newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/07/10/justice-catches-up-with-argentinas-baby-snatchers/