Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - Page 9 News List

A grandmother’s 36-year hunt for regime-stolen child

In 1977, Estela Carlotto’s pregnant daughter was arrested. The Argentine regime let her live long enough to have the baby before killing her. Uki Goni tells the story of a grandmother’s search for the grandson she had never known

By Uki Goni  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain People

“Practically all of Argentina has cried on this one,” said Ignacio Montoya Carlotto, patting his right shoulder.

We are crisscrossing the old cobblestone streets of San Telmo, the colonial district of the capital, Buenos Aires. The 36-year-old musician, his crinkly curls prematurely graying, his mouth fast to resolve into a smile, is not bragging. It is impossible to walk even one city block without someone rushing to hug him and then burst into tears, as he predicted, on his rumpled T-shirt.

Maybe it is because, thanks to his grandmother, the whole of Argentina had been waiting — praying — for more than 30 years for the day when he would be “found.” Most Argentines can remember exactly what they were doing when that moment finally came in August last year.

“When I turned 80, I begged God not to let me die before I found my grandson,” Estela Carlotto said.

She has led an extraordinary life, rising from tragedy into one of the most loved and respected public figures in Argentina. It took four more years.

“We all cried; everyone has something to say about how they felt to have found this grandson we were all searching for,” she said.

Estela was a 47-year-old schoolteacher, housewife and mother of three in November 1977 when a death squad from Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship picked her daughter Laura off a street in the city of La Plata where she lived, about 51.5km south of Buenos Aires. Laura, a 22-year-old political activist, became one of the thousands of young dissidents who were made to “disappear” by a bloody, fascist regime.

Unknown to Estela, her long-haired, strikingly beautiful daughter was three months pregnant at the time of her abduction. She was taken to a secret “detention center” called La Cacha. There, in her presence, they killed her companion and the father of the child she was carrying, 26-year-old Walmir Montoya.

Ignacio was born in June 1978, while his mother Laura was still in captivity. One report said she gave birth handcuffed and was allowed just five hours with her baby. Two months later, she was dragged out of the camp and a mock armed confrontation was staged by the military. When her body was turned over to Estela, she had been shot through the stomach and her face was smashed, apparently by a rifle butt. Survivors of the camp told Estela about the birth — and that she had named the newborn Guido, after her father.

For 36 years afterward, Estela devoted herself to finding her grandson. All she had was a name, Guido, and an approximate birth date.

An excruciatingly difficult search led her through three decades of legal action against police officers, military officers and physicians involved in the “missing grandchildren” cases. Leads were hard to come by. Her grandson had been swallowed by the complicity and silence that surrounded so many of the regime’s horrendous crimes.

Estela realized that there were many others like herself looking for the babies of their “disappeared” daughters. They formed a group called the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, named after the city square facing the presidential palace in downtown Buenos Aires where they marched, drawing attention to their plight.

TWISTED MORALS

By 1989, Estela had become president of the association.

The group believes there are about 500 cases of grandchildren born in captivity. In most cases, the babies were turned over to military families to raise as their own. In the warped thinking of the profoundly Catholic, yet murderous, generals who ruled Argentina then, it would have been wicked to kill an innocent, unborn child by executing the expectant mother. By the same token, in their macabre minds, turning the babies over to “good” military families to raise as their own represented the ultimate victory over the “godless” left-wing enemy they wished to crush into nonexistence.

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