Prosecutors are revisiting one of the darkest chapters of Chilean history, when under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship hundreds and possibly thousands of babies were stolen from their mothers and given away just after being born.
On July 9, 1977, Margarita Escobar gave birth to a girl at Santiago’s Paula Jaraquemade hospital. She saw her daughter for only a few moments before staff took her away.
Four decades later, Escobar has not given up on meeting the grown woman her daughter might have become, buoyed by prosecutors’ push for the truth about Chile’s stolen babies and under-the-table adoptions.
Hospital staff kept her sedated back then, she said, adding: “Every time I woke up I asked about her again, until a midwife told me, ‘your baby was stillborn.’”
She was not allowed to see the body.
“Nobody even gave me a document. They sent me home,” she said. “I don’t know how I got there. I was totally doped.”
Fast forward almost 10 years to February 1985, and Maria Orellana gave birth in the same hospital to a boy she named Cristian.
“I heard that he was a boy, then they gave me an injection and that was the last I knew about it,” she said.
Like other mothers, she was told her baby had died and, as it would be “too cruel” for her to see the body and the hospital took care of the burial.
“Keep the memory that you had of your little boy,” she said she was told.
Like Escobar, Oreland was given no documentation.
“There is nothing. It is as if I had never even been in that hospital,” she said, determined like thousands of other mothers to find a child she never held.
Tasked with helping thousands of mothers in the same situation, Chilean Special Judge for Human Rights Mario Carroza has been investigating the kidnappings since January.
Most occurred during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), but others have been reported as recently as 2000.
Carroza has ruled out the state using child stealing as a means of repression, a tool commonly used by the military dictatorship in Argentina.
Instead, the goal was financial gain, making Chile’s situation more reminiscent of Spain, he said.
The first trial in a case of “stolen babies” under Francisco Franco’s 1939-1975 regime has just begun. The practice in Spain continued there long afterward for monetary gain.
“We have not established a link with a policy of state repression. It appears more like a kind of illicit association, an organization set up to make money from illegal adoptions,” said Pablo Rivera, a lawyer from the National Institute for Human Rights, who has filed complaints on behalf of the mothers.
At the heart of the scheme was a network of social workers, nuns, doctors and municipal officials who identified mothers in vulnerable situations.
“In general, the cases are related to low-income mothers who gave birth to a boy or a girl and were later deceived by hospital officials that they were dead or sick,” Rivera said.
A law, which remained in force until 1988, facilitated the scheme. It allowed the destruction of all records of biological families after adoption, Austral University historian Karen Alfaro said.
For Alfaro, the practice was “also part of the Pinochet dictatorship’s ideological struggle, a type of social violence inflicted on the poorest.”
Official figures showed that 26,611 adoptions were registered in Chile between 1973 and 1987, but no register exists for how many children went to families abroad.
Carroza has determined that at least 2,021 children were adopted in Sweden between 1971 and 1992. Thousands more went to Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Switzerland, the US, Uruguay and Peru. Each adoption was worth between US$3,000 and US$5,000.
Without supporting documents, many mothers maintained a painful silence for decades. Yet as the first cases were made public and search groups were formed on the Internet, they realized thousands of women shared their experience.
One of these groups, the Sons and Mothers of Silence, has 3,000 members on Facebook, children seeking their biological parents and mothers grasping for any clue that could lead them to the baby who was snatched from them.
“What we need is for the files, the hospital files, to be opened. For this to be done publicly so that people who are outside Chile realize that they could have been adopted illegally,” said Marisol Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the group.
In three years, the group has achieved almost 90 mother-and-child reunions.
The best way is through DNA testing, which despite the cost, many mothers undertake so that their information can be put into international gene banks.
“What I want to know is what happened to my daughter and if my daughter is looking for me,” Josefina Sandoval said after undergoing a DNA test.
In theory, the daughter snatched from her on June 24, 1980, should have just turned 38 years old.
“We are looking for her and with this we will find her,” she said.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and