On this long road, we Grandmothers got together and organized a group to look for the disappeared children, at first thinking that there were just a few of us, and then realizing to our horror that there were hundreds of us.
Maria Isabel Chorobik de Mariani (1986)

The majority of the children who disappeared in Argentina were kid- napped together with their parents or were born in captivity in the detention camps. Some were murdered. As of 1997, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo had documented the disappearance of 88 children and 136 pregnant women, but they estimate that the true number of missing children is around 500. The exact number may never be known, because fear is still keeping some abductions unreported. Moreover, when entire families disappeared, no one was left behind to tell what happened to them; and some families probably did not know that their daughters were pregnant at the time of their disappearance.

In 1984 General Ramon Juan Camps, former police chief of the province of Buenos Aires (eventually sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for his role in hundreds of homicides), stated: "Personally, I did not eliminate any child. What I did was to take some of them to charitable organizations so that they could find new parents. Subversive parents teach their children subversion. This has to be stopped." Human rights activist Emilio Mignone was told by Army General Jose Antonio Vaquero that "one of the problems we have to face is that of the children of the disappeared, who will grow up hating the military institutions." In the same vein, a well-known diplomat and politician, Mario Amadeo, reported that the secretary of the presidency called the separation of the children from their families a doctrine established by the high commanders to forestall hatred of the military in the children of the disappeared.

General Camps's plan of finding "new parents" for the children meant, in practice, that many of them were given-like pieces of property or war booty-to highly placed government officials, to members of the military, or to police officers. Others were abandoned in the street or left at orphanages with no information about their origins. In targeting children as part of its repressive policies, the military devised an especially cruel way to discipline those the regime considered "subversives": it robbed them of a future by destroying the identity of their children. The military well understood the importance of families, particularly mothers, in transmitting values and identity from generation to generation, and it punished the women for raising those who would dare challenge the regime. A metaphor commonly employed during the dictatorship was "La Nacion Argentina es una gran familia." The military, as "father," saw itself as "saving" the young from becoming the next generation of subversives. Separating the children from their legitimate families was necessary in order to incorporate them in the "big Argentine family."

The case of Argentina was not unique in Latin America. We know that thirteen Uruguayan children disappeared in the 1970s. They were all kidnapped or born in captivity in Argentina, offering further evidence that the security forces of the two countries undertook joint operations. Recently, evidence has emerged that in the early 198os, during the civil war in El Salvador, children of guerrilla sympathizers and political activists were taken away and either given in adoption to foreigners from Europe and the United States or kept by the military.

The Grandmothers have coined the term desaparecidos con vida {the living disappeared) to describe the condition of these children. As an integral part of the Argentine human rights movement, the Grand- mothers' Association seeks truth and justice on many fronts, but its primary purpose is the identification and reunion of these children with their families. The Grandmothers feel great urgency, for they know that every day that goes by is one more day in which their grandchildren are being socialized in a world with a set of values dramatically different from those their parents envisioned for them.


On November 25, 1976, the day after the armed attack on, and destruction of, her son's house, Maria Isabel Chorobik de Mariani (known to her friends as "Chicha ") learned of the death of her daughter- in-law and the disappearance of her three-month-old granddaughter. She had gone to visit her ailing father. When she came back to her home, she found that she also had become a target:

When I got to my house I saw my neighbors in front of the house. They were crying. They thought I was dead inside. As I tried to go in, a neighbor warned me. There was an electric cable connected to the door, so that if I walked in I would be electrocuted. The house was totally ransacked. It was a wreck. There was nothing intact. And they had stolen everything.

Because her son had been away when his house was destroyed, he was still alive. She managed to see him before he went underground and they met a few more times during the following months, always in total secrecy. However, nine months later, Chicha Mariani received two more blows: an anonymous phone call informed her that her son had been killed, and some of her close relatives, who had managed to con- tact sources close to General Camps, were told that her granddaughter was also dead. In spite of this devastating information, Chicha Mariani started, against all odds, to look for her missing grandchild.
During one of her innumerable visits to police stations, army bar- racks, and courthouses, Chicha Mariani met Dr. Lidia Pegenaute, one of the few public officials who showed concern for her story. Pegenaute, a juvenile court judge, repeatedly told her of two other women also looking for their grandchildren. Chicha Mariani remembers:

I did not fully realize what she was telling me. I was crying all the time. Then, one day I finally understood. She had been trying to tell me that I was too alone and that maybe it would be better if I got together with the other women. When I realized what she was saying I asked her how I could reach those women. She jumped up and gave me the address of Alicia de de la Cuadra, and I immediately went to her house. Alicia herself, a tall, elegant woman with blue eyes, opened the door. I told her who I was, why I was looking for her, and who had sent me.

Alicia de de la Cuadra's daughter had been five months pregnant when she disappeared. From survivors of the secret detention camp where her daughter had been taken, Alicia had learned that she had given birth to a baby girl that she had named Ana. She also learned that the baby weighed 3.75 kilos and that four days after the birth the baby had been taken away from her mother. The meeting between the two grandmothers lasted hours. They exchanged stories and ideas, thus beginning what would become a long and devoted friendship. Alicia I told Chicha Mariani that she had been attending the weekly gatherings of the Mothers at the Plaza de Mayo, and Chicha Mariani decided to I join her.

In the spring of 1977, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance visited Argentina. The Mothers organized a demonstration and approached him with petitions regarding the situation of their missing children. It was Chicha Mariani's first demonstration. She froze and could not deliver her message:

A woman came next to me and said: "What? You did not give him your petitions' She took the piece of paper from my hands, went back through the barrier of soldiers protecting Vance, and gave him the message. It was Azucena Villaflor de DeVincenti. That day, Azucena showed me that we were capable of doing things that we could never have imagined. We all knew that we were risking our lives. But there was no other way.

That same day, at the demonstration, Alicia introduced Chicha Mariani to other women whose pregnant daughters had also disappeared. They decided to meet again to discuss their common plight, thinking that together they would not be so easily dismissed by the authorities.

Haydee Vallino de Lemos was another of the original members of the group. Both her son and her daughter, who was eight months pregnant, disappeared. Haydee's family went broke looking for her children. She recalls the early days:

I was a member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Yes, those that go around in the Plaza….At first when my children disappeared I just laid down in bed, looking at the ceiling, blank. That was all I could do. My weight went down to forty kilos. One day my husband brought the newspaper and said: .'Look, people are getting together." I jumped up saying, "Then it is not me alone, there are others." I started to go to the Ministry of the Interior. There I met a woman who said to me: "Why don't you come on Thursday to the Plaza de Mayo? Take a little nail; that is how they will recognize you." So I went, and I sat on a bench and my husband sat a little away from me. I had this little nail in my hand. and I saw that the others also had a little nail, and that is how I knew it was them.

At a demonstration, a woman began to tell me her story and. when she learned that I had a pregnant daughter disappeared, she took out a little notebook and put me on her list. She also had a disappeared pregnant daughter. ...

In the Plaza we secretly passed notes about where our meetings would be. We met in churches. ..we met in my house. in my sister's house. ...My sister lived on the twelfth floor. and we did not want to take the elevator and make noise. We were quite a few, and the meeting was at an hour when the janitor was sleeping. So we went tiptoeing to the twelfth floor. And then, what a moment! When we got together, we discussed about whom to send letters. we collected signatures, we brainstormed. Each meeting was bigger than the one before. We were simply housewives. Most of us had never done anything outside the home. I did not even know how to take a bus alone. I was not used to going out without my husband. Even now I do not think I could do the things I did then.

Raquel Radio de Marizcurrena, also one of the founding Grand- mothers, lost her son, kidnapped on his twenty-fourth birthday, along with his wife, who was four months pregnant. She remembers her arrest after one of the marches at the Plaza de Mayo:

I joined a small group of women who had started to meet at the Plaza de Mayo. One day. while at the Plaza. the police stopped three buses. They got all the passengers out and they herded us in. They took us to the police station. As soon as we got out of the buses we ripped every piece of paper we had in our purses. anything that could be used to incriminate us. The street turned completely white!

I was arrested with Azucena Villaflor de DeVincenti. Azucena was a fantastic woman. She would call you. organize you in the churches. in the public squares. anywhere and everywhere. One day we would go to the botanical garden. the next day to the zoo. We would spread out on the benches, and we would sign petitions. And every single Thursday we went to the Plaza.

Soon, however, Raquel remembers, some of the Mothers started to raise the issue of their missing grandchildren:

One day Chicha said, "Let's celebrate the day of the child; let's take the pictures of the children to the Plaza." So, we did a big poster with all the pictures of the children and the pregnant women. That marked our separation from the Mothers. Two Mothers did not want us to be in the Plaza. They said that if we wanted a plaza we could go to another plaza, the Plaza del Congreso, that the Plaza de Mayo was the plaza of the Mothers. But it was only two of them, and it happened only once. So, we kept going to the Plaza de Mayo. I think what happened is that they thought that we wanted to divide things. That because we were looking for our grandchildren we were abandoning our children. But that was not the case, we never forgot our children.

Delia Giovanola de Califano, a founding Grandmother whose adopted son and daughter-in-law, eight months pregnant, disappeared, remembers her initial skepticism about meeting with other Mothers:

At first, I thought it was a waste of time to talk to other mothers who were in my situation. I wanted to find my son and I did not see the connection. What was the use of speaking to others who were going through the same? But another mother kept insisting and one day I finally agreed and went to the Plaza with her. We were very few, just two or three mothers; it was right at the beginning. She introduced me to Azucena Villaflor. Azucena took out pencil and paper and wrote down some notes. The group kept growing. The police ordered us to keep moving and we walked around the pyramid. One day somebody stood outside the circle and, as we passed by, she asked if anybody had a pregnant daughter or daughter-in-Iaw disappeared. So I approached her and we started meeting on our own.

The Grandmothers started to meet in La Plata and in Buenos Aires and began compiling a list of names with the pictures of each child and pregnant woman kidnapped. They distributed the list to individuals and organizations in Argentina and abroad. The original group was composed of twelve women. They carried on their work in public places-coffee shops, restaurants, and bus stops-trying to look like conventional older women having tea and pastries, pretending to celebrate birthday parties or other family events. They developed a code to use on the phone without being understood: "The White Man " was the pope; the "pups," "the notebooks," or "the flowers" were the children; the "girls" or "the young ones" were the Mothers; and the "oldies," or "the old aunts," were themselves.

Rosa Tarlovsky de Roisinblit, the current vice president of the group, whose pregnant daughter disappeared in 1978, describes how she tried to get information about her daughter and how she learned about the other Grandmothers:

I presented a writ of habeas corpus, I went to the Ministry of the Interior. And I went to the Jewish organizations that, unfortunately, did not help at all. I want to say that clearly-although finally, after so many years, I almost can justify their failure to respond because the terror was so great. They probably did not want to get involved for fear that it would hurt other people in the Jewish community. I went to see Rabbi Marshall Meyer; he was very understanding. I was not the first one from the Jewish community to go see him. He gave me the address of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights. There, a lawyer received me, Dr. Galletti. He recorded my story and told me that a few grandmothers were going to his house to prepare a report for the Organization of American States. He invited me to join them.

I was terrified because I did not know who Dr. Galletti was and whether he could be trusted. I didn't know at the time that he also had a daughter disappeared. I was going blindly. But I mustered the courage and went, and that is how I started to work with the Grandmothers, who were not yet called Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. And that gave me a sort of internal peace. though I was still very worried, but at least I knew that I was working for my daughter and my grandchild.

The first name of the group, and the one they used to sign their petitions and advertisements, was Abuelas Argentinas con Nietitos Desaparecidos (Argentine Grandmothers of Disappeared Small Grandchildren). In 1980 they changed their name to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the name that people were beginning to call them, as they continued to gather every week at the Plaza. On their own they started preparing writs of habeas corpus, which they presented to the judges. Written on an old typewriter, one of the few items salvaged from Chicha Mariani's home, these documents represented the first visible results of the Grandmothers' organizing.

Much of the early work of the Grandmothers was centered on the juvenile courts, because they suspected that most of the children had passed through them on their way to being adopted, placed in custody, or transferred to children's institutions. The Grandmothers visited the courthouses and the juvenile judges of the province of Buenos Aires and wrote to the judges throughout the rest of the country. The judges were either disinterested or overtly hostile. It was eventually ascertained that many of the judges had given the children away for adoption without investigating their origins or family histories. In 1984 one of these same judges was the lawyer defending a policeman who had kept one of the children for himself. Dr. Delia Pons, a judge from a juvenile court in Buenos Aires, was particularly strident in her hostility toward the Grandmothers:

I am convinced that your children were terrorists, and .'terrorist" is synonymous with "murderer." I do not intend to return children to murderers because it would not be fair. They do not have the right to have them. So, I will rule not to return any children to you. It does not make sense to disturb those children that are in the hands of decent families that will be able to educate them right, not like you educated your children. Only over my dead body will you obtain custody of them.

The Grandmothers began to accumulate convincing evidence that their grandchildren were still alive and had been given in adoption to families connected with the regime, or had been entered as NN into children's institutions. For example, in December 1976 Chicha Mariani had received a phone call from an acquaintance who wanted to meet with her in utmost secrecy:

The call was from a man I trusted. and he said that he had important news to tell me. Almost paralyzed by fear. he told me that my granddaughter was alive. and that he knew that for a fact since he had been like a father to the policeman who had been the chief of the operation. I went to see this policeman. and he confirmed that the child was alive. But he also said that he would never publicly acknowledge it. and that he would always deny that he had spoken with me.

Similarly, Alicia de de la Cuadra's husband was told by an auxiliary bishop in La Plata, Monsignor Picchi, that their daughter had given birth in captivity, that the child had been given to a very influential family, and that nothing further could be done.

Pressed by the Grandmothers, the politician Mario Amadeo reported that a meeting had been held between those we might call the "current parents" of the disappeared children and important members of the military to test their reactions to the idea of restituting the children. But the current parents, denying the origin of their children, were unanimous in asserting that they would never give them up.

In July 1978 the Grandmothers wrote to the Argentine Supreme Court in an attempt to reclaim their disappeared grandchildren. Anticipating the issues that would arise if the children were "legally" adopted, they asked the Court to prohibit the adoption of children who were registered as NN and to require thorough investigations into the origins of children three years old and younger who had been given in adoption since March 1976. The Court refused to take up their case, declaring itself incompetent to deal with the issue and claiming that the "separation of the different branches of government" justified its inaction.

On August 5, 1978, Children's Day, one of Buenos Aires' major daily newspapers risked publishing an open letter from the Grand- mothers addressed to whoever had their grandchildren. Titled " Appeal to the Conscience and the Hearts," it reminded the readers of La Prensa that the children had a fundamental right to be reunited with their grandmothers, who, in any case, would be looking for them for the rest of their lives.This document put the Grandmothers squarely in the public eye. There could be no further denial of their existence or their intentions. Their individual searches had converged and had created a movement. The open letter, reproduced thousands of times, shocked the world. In Europe-particularly in Italy and Spain, where many Argentines have family members-the strong reactions to the letter ranged from incredulity to outrage. It marked the beginning of what would become a wave of international attention and support for the Grandmothers' work.

In August 1978 Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the current president of the Grandmothers, joined the group. Her twenty-two-year-old daughter Laura, a member of the Montoneros, was two months pregnant when she had been kidnapped. She was held in a secret detention camp until she was killed. From the testimony of released prisoners, Estela de Carlot to knew that her daughter had delivered a child while in captivity. She recalls the day she found out about her daughter's death:

On August 25, 1978, the police in Matanza requested that we go to the police station. They informed us that Laura had been killed. They said that she had been in a car and had disobeyed the order to stop. It was all a lie. We were not able to have an autopsy done. 1 could not get a physician that would certify the cause of death. When I asked about the child, the officer said he knew nothing about that.

Estela de Carlot to and Chicha Mariani shared a fateful history: Estela's daughter and Chicha's son, also a Montonero, had been close friends. He had been assassinated after helping her move, and she was the anonymous caller who phoned Chicha Mariani to inform her of her son's death. Each one had information that helped fill the gaps in the story of the other's child. With their strong and charismatic personalities, they would become an unstoppable team for the cause of the Grandmothers in the years to come.

The Grandmothers' work style was collaborative and informal. They worked in teams, and when visiting judges they went in threes. Chicha Mariani would often write the letters and public announcements. Since they lived far from each other, when it became too cumbersome to gather their signatures, Chicha Mariani would bring blank pages that all would sign; the text of the letter would be added later.

As their work started to be known and respected, it became necessary to create some type of structure to allow them to deal efficiently with their network of supporters. They formed a board of directors, with officers elected annually. The first president, in 1978, was Alicia de de la Cuadra; when she went to Italy for an extended period of time, Chicha Mariani took her place, with Estela de Carlotto as the vice president. In 1989 Estela was elected the Grandmothers' third president. Rosa Roisinblit recalls how she came to be the treasurer, a position she held for seven years:

We received a donation from Canada, the first country to help us, from an organization named Desarrollo y Paz (Development and Peace). They sent us $10,000, which for us was a huge sum. Three of us went to the bank to get the money and we had to decide where to put the money. A bit nervous, I said: "Look, I have a safety box in the bank. We can put the money in the safety box and as we need it I'll take it out." And they agreed. As we started receiving money from other organizations, we also put it in my safety box and when we formed the board of directors, I became the treasurer because 1 was the one who had access to the money.

Grandmothers from various parts of the country joined the organization. Soon they had contacts and branches in other cities, including Mar del Plata and Rosario, and in the provinces of Cordoba, Tucuman, and La Rioja. Otilia Lescano de Arganaraz, a grandmother from Cordoba, joined the organization in 1977, after the disappearance of her daughter:

My daughter was six months pregnant. We know from survivors from the camp where she was taken that she was well treated because they had their eyes on the baby. They gave her vitamins. a real mattress. and made her believe that they would set her free. Our work in Cordoba was and is very hard. because of the lack of resources. The office of the Grandmothers is in my house because we do not have enough money to pay for rent. A group of grandmothers from Cordoba. in Spain. gave us a typewriter. That was a big help.

As the Grandmothers started to organize and became increasingly visible, they began to receive threats. A masked man in a car followed Chicha Mariani. Alicia de de la Cuadra was almost hit by a car. Emma Spione de Baamonde, who was looking for her three-year-old grand- son, found the walls of her apartment complex covered with huge red graffiti saying "Mother of a subversive, Mother of a communist," and received death threats over the phone. When a policeman appeared at her house to inquire about her participation in the Grandmothers' activities, she answered with aplomb: "Yes, I am part of the Grand- mothers' organization. And so? I have every right to do whatever I choose with my life. I do not disturb or harass anyone, I am simply looking for my son. Do you understand what it means to look for a son?" A military officer warned one woman looking for her grand- child, Julia de Grandi, to keep away from the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo if she wanted to find the child. She responded:

Look, colonel,' want you to know that this is the last time that I come to see you.1 have joined the Grandmothers and from now on I, too, am going to the Plaza de Mayo. And you know why? Because when I go alone the judges do not even receive me. But when the Grandmothers go, yes, they do receive them.

Antonia Acufia de Segarra, a grandmother from Mar del Plata, recalls:

We received many threats over the phone. Once they called and said that I should go to the cemetery, that there they would tell me what had happened with my three children. On another occasion, they threatened several Mothers in Mar del Plata and I received a letter saying that I too would disappear any moment. But after what had happened to us, after they took away the best that we had, our children, I had to disregard those threats.

None of the Grandmothers disappeared. They credit the recognition and support they received from international organizations and foreign governments with preventing their own disappearances and enabling them to pursue their work.


The Grandmothers, many of whom were observant Catholics, looked for support and solidarity from influential members of the Catholic Church. With few exceptions, the church ignored their concerns. They wrote to the president of the Argentine Bishop's Conference (CEA), Cardinal Raul Primatesta; to the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Juan Carlos Aramburu; and to the representative of the pope, Archbishop Pio Laghi.

In one of their visits to Archbishop Pio Laghi, they obtained further confirmation of their suspicions. Trying to reassure them, the arch- bishop's secretary told them, "1 do not think you should worry about the future and the fate of your children. Those who have them have paid a lot for them. It clearly shows, by their attitude, that they are people with great resources. That means that the little ones will never suffer the deprivations that derive from poverty. Even more, I would say that their future is assured. "

The Grandmothers sought help from those priests they knew person- ally. Chicha Mariani went to see Monsignor Montes, an auxiliary bishop to the archbishop of Larlata, who had been present at the marriage of her son. At first, he received her cordially, but the politeness was short-lived; eventually he screamed at her, accusing her of not having enough faith and insisting that the solution was in prayer. She also visited Monsignor Emilio T. Grasselli, a military chaplain who had built a reputation as an ally to the thousands of families looking for their missing relatives. Monsignor Grasselli acknowledged that her granddaughter was in the hands of "powerful people," but told her that nothing could be done. Grasselli is now suspected of having played a dual role. While appearing to be sincerely interested in helping the relatives, he collected information, verified familial relationships, created confusion, and tried to placate the families of the disappeared. Emilio Mignone, himself a Catholic who has analyzed the role of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church during the repression, has no doubts: "Given the knowledge of the facts that Grasselli came to have, thanks to his daily contact with hundreds of witnesses, one can only assume that, under the direction of the vicar, his function was that of an accomplice within the sinister machinery of genocidal repression."

When Grandmother Mirta Baravalle asked a priest to celebrate a mass for her disappeared daughter, he refused, not wanting to mention disappearances in public. Mirra recalls:

I asked him if he didn't know what was going on in the streets. "I know nothing," he told me,"1 don't know what you are talking about; I work with the souls. which is the mission of the church.'.

I could not control myself. I grabbed one of his arms. violently. I pushed him toward the door. and I screamed that if he didn't know what was going on he should go out and find out. Surprised and agitated, he said, "Madam, Madam, calm down. don't scream, or something may happen to you too."

The Grandmothers finally realized that even though highly placed members of the church hierarchy knew the fate of some of the disappeared children, they would not openly denounce the crimes. They decided to pressure the Argentine Bishops' Conference, the most powerful body of the Argentine church. From April 1978 on, Mothers and Grandmothers regularly gathered at the location on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where the CEA met for their deliberations. Heavily armed police protected the bishops while the women tried, unsuccessfully, to deliver their petitions. One grandmother bitterly commented, "What can these men know of our pain; they will never know what it means to have a child."

In January 1978 the Grandmothers attempted to reach Pope Paul VI. The letter they mailed him still remains unanswered:

We are addressing ourselves to your Holiness to implore you, in the name of God, to intercede before whomever you consider appropriate, so that our small grandchildren, disappeared in the Argentine Republic, will be returned to us. We are some of the Argentine women who have suffered the disappearance or death of our children within the last two years. And to this wrenching pain of the loss of our children has been added the pain of being deprived of our grandchildren, newly born or a few months old. We do not understand this. Our minds do not comprehend why we are subject to this torture. We are Christian mothers. We do not know if our children are alive, dead, buried, or unburied. We do not have the consolation of seeing them, if they are in prison, or praying at their tombs, if they are dead. But our small grandchildren have also disappeared: Herod has not come back to the earth; consequently somebody is hiding them, we do not know for what. Are they in orphanages? Were they given as gifts or sold? Why do they have to grow up without love, when their grandmothers have so much love to offer them? In some cases, the child who we are searching for is our only descendant: there is no future for us, only abysses of pain renewed daily in the incessant search for these innocents, lasting thus far months and even in some cases more than a year. We have knocked on all the doors but we have not had a reply. So, we beg Your Holiness to intercede to end this Calvary that we are living.

Every time the Grandmothers traveled to Italy they asked to be received by the pope. Chicha Mariani recalls:

On one of our trips Alicia de de la Cuadra and I went to the Vatican and we requested an audience. They told us to place ourselves in the first row so that the pope would see us. We prepared a poster with the name of our group and we placed ourselves in the first row. When the pope appeared. the men dressed in black that followed him told him something and he skipped us. He saluted those before us and shook the hands of those after us. It was a terrible blow. Every time we went to Rome we requested an audience and every time we left our folder with the pictures and all the information about the children. But he never did anything. he never spoke up in behalf of the children. It was a big disappointment.

Nelida Gomez de Navajas, herself a practicing Catholic, comments:

I have been very saddened and disappointed with the Catholic Church, my religion. The church has not been coherent with its beliefs. They have killed so many priests and the church said nothing. I believe that the young priests that work in the slums. laying bricks, helping people, are the ones that represent the true Christian religion. a religion of solidarity, of stretching hands. Not those that operate under pomp and riches and fancy appearances.


The Grandmothers had declared that their organization was "dedicated specifically to demanding the return, investigating the events in the disappearance of, and searching for our disappeared children." Demonstrations, appeals to the courts and to the church, and paid advertisements in the major newspapers were the beginnings of their public efforts in Argentina. Soon though, they started reaching out to the rest of the world. Realizing that the image of the Argentine government was rapidly deteriorating abroad, the Grandmothers looked to international pressure to help their cause. They became great communicators, writing extensively to international human rights groups, international organizations, foreign embassies, newspapers, and prominent politicians. The Vatican, the United Nations, the World Council of Churches, the Organization of American States (OAS)-all heard from the Grandmothers. During the first two years of their work they contacted more than 150 international groups and politicians from other countries.

The pressure they put on the OAS is a good example of the impact of their international outreach campaign. In April 1978 the Grandmothers wrote to the agency in Washington, D.C. When no reply appeared, they wrote again four months later. This time they did get an answer: the OAS registered their complaint as "case #3459, the case of the disappeared children." After the organization's visit to Argentina in 1979, after which the OAS issued its report, the case of Chicha's grand- daughter was highlighted: for the first time, the agency brought the subject of the disappearance of children to the attention of the international human rights community. The Grandmothers often testified at OAS assemblies and held extensive discussions with the executive committee and its secretary, Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreno. Almost ten years after the Grandmothers had initially contacted the organization, the General Assembly of the OAS resolved in 1987, by consensus, to officially consider children in their next convention on disappearances. The Grandmothers' long and relentless work had finally borne fruit.

Most important, with practically no resources, they began to travel and tell their stories to a wide variety of audiences, from college students to women's groups to premiers and presidents of foreign states. Chicha Mariani describes one of the Grandmothers' trips to Rome:

Hebe Bonafini [the president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo] called me and said that she and two other Mothers were coming to Rome. She wanted me to arrange an interview with the president of Italy, Sandro Pertini, and with the pope. We all ended up sleeping on the floor. We used the Rome telephone books as pillows. We went to see President Pertini, who received us very well. But first we had to buy food, because we were cooking in the apartment. So, we went to the presidential palace carrying the groceries in a plastic bag.

In 1979 they managed to establish a very important connection with the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone (CLAMOR), a Brazilian human rights organization created under the sponsorship of Archbishop Evaristo Arns in Sao Paulo. Jaime Wright, a Presbyterian minister and one of its founders, became one of their most loyal allies and supporters. CLAMOR connected the Grandmothers with Argentine exiles living in Brazil and opened its archives to them. That gave them access to the testimonies of dozens of survivors from the secret detention camps, which the Grandmothers copied and smuggled into Argentina. The survivors testified about the presence of children in the camps, and about the children being used as hostages. They described the torture of pregnant women, their anguish about giving birth in captivity, and their anxiety about the fate of their babies. Estela de Carlot to learned from a couple who had been in La Cacha that there her daughter Laura, handcuffed, had delivered a baby boy and named him Guido, after her father. She also learned that Laura had been led to believe that she would soon be liberated and that her mother had refused to accept the child.

In August 1979, an event electrified the Grandmothers. Two disappeared children-Victoria and Anatole Julien Grisonas, ages four and six-were found in Valparaiso, Chile, where they had been living for two years with a couple who had adopted them, unaware of their origins. Chicha Mariani had sent a picture of the children-members of an Uruguayan family that had taken refuge in Argentina and had been kidnapped in 1976-to CLAMOR, which had published it in a bulletin. A Chilean woman from Valparaiso who saw the picture recognized the children. The oldest child remembered his real name, the name of his little sister, and their address in Argentina. He remembered that men with "big guns" had taken them and that after a "long trip in a big car, Aunt Monica " had left them in a public square. He said that his mother was not "feeling well"; in fact she was feeling so badly that she had fallen to the floor and there were red patches allover her. ... He also remembered that they had crossed high snow-covered mountains (the Andes Mountains that separate Argentina from Chile), before arriving in Valparaiso.

CLAMOR arranged for a Uruguayan exile who had known the family to go to Valparaiso and identify the children. The two grandmothers were informed and one of them went to Valparaiso, accompanied by a lawyer from CLAMOR, to meet them. Cardinal Arns's strong support for the work of the Grandmothers contrasted sharply with the silence and complicity of his Argentine brethren. The grandmothers decided that the children should continue living with their adoptive parents, and an extended visitation regime was established.

In consultation with the Grandmothers, CLAMOR developed other projects. For three consecutive years, the organization published and widely distributed a calendar with colored photographs and information in four languages about all the known missing children; it also published a book with the most complete list of disappeared persons in Argentina. This list was to be instrumental in helping the work of the National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP) in 1983.

The case of the Julien Grisonas children confirmed the Grandmothers' hunches. Yes, there was a network coordinating the repressive forces in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile that had made such kidnap- ping possible. But since these two children had been found alive, there was hope: other children would have been similarly treated, and they would find them.

In 1982 the Grandmothers were in Geneva, seeking an institution that would help them make a presentation at the UN Commission of Human Rights. When they learned about the International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples (UFER), a nongovernmental organization holding consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, they applied for membership.45 By 1984 they had gone abroad more than forty times, mostly to Brazil and to Geneva to attend the UN sessions on human rights. They had particularly fruitful visits to Germany and Austria, where the wide publicity for their search resulted in an outpouring of emotional and economic support.

The ongoing interest of international groups, religious communities, municipal organizations, and intellectuals all over the world created a network that enabled the Grandmothers to amass resources and com- pile information, both greatly aiding their work. Their travels abroad galvanized international attention and helped them develop useful contacts. The trips also gave them access to Argentine exiles and survivors of the secret detention camps who, as in the case of Estela de Carlotto's daughter, had critical information about the fate of their children and grandchildren.


Bolstered by the success of CLAMOR in finding the Julien Grisonas children, the Grandmothers continued the process of transforming themselves into detectives, following every trace and investigating every possible lead. Gradually, they started to receive tips; somebody would hand them a piece of paper with an address on a Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo; a Grandmother would get an anonymous phone call at her home; the answering machine at their office would record a message about a child who looked like one they were looking for. Emma Baa- monde recalls how she began to search for the children:

When we received a tip, we would go and survey the street in question. We watched endlessly. If the alleged kidnapper had a beauty shop we would go and have our hair done. Once I went to see a pedicurist with another Grandmother. While he was working on our feet we tried to get information. We worked like ants, we worked like spies. Nobody trained us. We learned everything by ourselves.

Chicha Mariani summarizes their work style:

There is nothing we are not able to try in order to learn something about the children. When we have some clues that a family is suspected of having unlawfully adopted a child, we start following the family very closely. There have been cases in which one of us has offered her service as a home helper in order to get into a house. In another case one of the grandfathers has posed as a plumber looking for a job.

But the biggest help is from the people. We periodically publish information in the newspapers accompanied by pictures of the missing children and people come forward with information about them. When we cannot get close to the children, we even use a telephoto lens to follow them from a distance.

The Grandmothers' investigations helped create what we might call a "methodology of hope." Determined to find the children, they became experts on how to search the area where a child had disappeared and how to check every lead. They also had to learn how to protect themselves, which minimal security measures to take, how to connect with people who knew the family where a child might be and who could provide information, how to get through resistant neighbors, and how to get close to the child or family involved without raising suspicion.

As the work of the Grandmothers grew in volume and complexity, they formed teams (legal, medico-psychological, and investigative) to deal with the myriad of details that emerged from every case. Rosa Roisinblit explains:

In the beginning, we did all the research ourselves. But the moment arrived when we became too well known; people knew our faces and we could no longer go ourselves to do the investigating, so we formed an investigation team. As time went on, different teams were needed. After we started to receive tips about our grandchildren, we needed judicial expertise to pre- sent our claims to the courts, so we formed a legal team. Both our families and ourselves were in pretty bad shape from an emotional point of view. We needed psychological help, for us, for the children, and for the families that would receive their found grandchildren. So a team of psychologists joined us.

In March 1980 the Grandmothers were rewarded with their first success at home: two sisters, Tatiana Ruarte Britos and Laura Malena Jotar Britos, who had disappeared in 1977, were found living with a family who had adopted them in good faith. The same judge who three years earlier had presided over their adoption now contacted their paternal grandmother and asked her to identify the children. In the Grandmothers' long experience, this was the only instance of a judge able to change his mind and recognize the legitimacy of their demands. However, he was extremely cautious and wanted incontrovertible evidence of the origin of the sisters. The Grandmothers faced a crucial problem, as they realized that locating the missing was only the first step. They now had to prove to the judges that these children were indeed their relatives. Old photographs and hair samples were not considered sufficient evidence. And what about the babies who had been born in captivity, who had left behind nothing tangible? How could they be identified? Chicha Mariani explains:

The quandary we faced had been born in the uncertainty of how we would identify the first two little girls we located in 1980. We had photos and other evidence, but that wasn't enough. The judge wanted more. It had been three years since their kidnapping and they were taller and of course they had aged. And so we asked ourselves, "What are we going to do with children who were born in detention' In some cases, we didn't know their sex, or even to whom they belonged. Well, we thought of everything possible. For instance, I had cut locks of hair from my granddaughter before she was kidnapped. sent them to Amnesty International to see if they could be used to identify her. I received a reply saying it would be difficult, particularly because the hair had been cut many years before and because it didn't contain follicles. Other grandmothers asked,"1 have a baby's tooth which I've kept of my grandchild, could it be used in identifying him or her~.. Then one day in 1981 I read an article in El Diario del Dia, a newspaper in La Plata, that said scientists had found a way of identifying a person through analysis of the blood. Well, I did not understand all the scientific terms but the gist of it was that there was an element in the blood that repeated itself only within the same family.' cut it out. And when I traveled abroad I'd take it with me. asked scientists and doctors and scientific institutes if this new discovery would help us identify our missing grandchildren.


After Chicha Mariani learned that blood testing made it possible to establish the biological link between a child and her or his parents, the Grandmothers, during their travels abroad, started to ask scientists about the feasibility of developing a test that would show biological affiliation even when the parents were dead. Argentines in exile proved helpful once again. Dr. Victor B. Penchaszadeh, currently professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, had left Argentina in 1975 after the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A) attempted to kidnap him in the middle of the day in down- town Buenos Aires. In November 1982 a group of Grandmothers who were visiting the United States contacted him. Penchaszadeh recalls:

The Grandmothers came to New York for one of their presentations at the United Nations and they called me. They had my name as a member of AISC [Argentine Information Service Center] and they knew I was a geneticist and a supporter of human rights. We met one afternoon in a coffee shop. I knew about their work and had heard about the disappeared children but I did not know the details nor the magnitude of the problem. They had a lot of information. It was still during the dictatorship and they were working under threats. The key question they had was how could they check, when they found a child, if that was one of the children they were looking for. I told them about paternity testing and that for their situation, what was required was a statistical modification of the information used in standard paternity testing to account for the fact that the parents of a given child had disappeared. I started to search to see who would be the geneticists who knew about genetic markers in the blood and I put them in touch with Dr. Fred Allen from the New York Blood Center.

Dr. Allen agreed that with the appropriate mathematical formulation, a "grandparentage" test could be developed. The meeting with Allen confirmed the soundness of the Grandmothers' idea and greatly strengthened their determination to find scientific support for their work. With characteristic persistence, they began an international search for scientists who would help them. By following every lead, they eventually made it possible for their idea to become a reality.

During one of their trips to Washington, in October 1983, the Grandmothers met with Eric Stover, director of the science and human rights program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Another Argentine living in the United States, Isabel Mignone (Emilio Mignone's daughter), had arranged the meeting. Stover himself had been briefly "detained" during a trip to Argentina in 1976. He was immediately supportive and attentive as the Grandmothers posed one question: How could genetic testing be applied to deter- mine grandparenthood? Stover remembers, "The Grandmothers came to my office and we started talking. I will never forget it. They had already seen Penchaszadeh. I discussed the issue with Cristian Orrego, a Chilean scientist working at NIH [the National Institutes of Health), and he contacted researchers at Stanford who referred him to Mary- Claire King, a geneticist from Berkeley, California, as a person who could help develop the statistical treatment that was needed."

Orrego, in turn, was struck by the Grandmothers' creativity: "The idea that the Grandmothers had, and it was their idea, was to use genetics to confirm circumstantial evidence."51 Mary-Claire King, too, believed that genetic markers could be used to determine grandparent- hood with a high degree of certainty.
In 1983, after Raul Alfonsin became president, CONADEP ordered the excavation of hundreds of mass graves. The exhumations were callous and primitive, as hundreds of bones were piled next to the open graves, making any identification impossible. In February 1984 the Grandmothers met with CONADEP and urged the commission to con- tact Eric Stover at the AAAS and to request his advice about the proper procedures to be used.

In June 1984 the AAAS sent a delegation of forensic scientists to assist in the exhumations and to make recommendations regarding the identification of the disappeared. The Grandmothers insisted that Mary-Claire King be added to their number to work on the genetic testing. CONADEP, which was starting to take an interest in such testing, had previously arranged a meeting between the Grandmothers and two Argentine scientists who were experts in the field. The Grandmothers rejected them: one of them worked in a military hospital, which created a potential conflict of interest that might endanger the integrity of the work. The Grandmothers had shared with Allen and his colleagues their reluctance to work with the Argentine scientists suggested by CONADEP and their concerns about the lack of genetic experts in Argentina. Dr. Pablo Rubinstein (a Chilean) had then informed them that Dr. Ana Maria Di Lonardo, head of the immunology unit at the Durand Hospital in Buenos Aires, had a laboratory fully equipped to carry out the identification work that was needed. When Mary-Claire King arrived in Argentina the Grandmothers introduced her to Di Lonardo, and the two collaborated in developing the mathematical formula for the tests. King was impressed with the facilities, the cooperative spirit of the lab, and the sophistication of the Argentine scientists.

As King joined them, the Di Lonardo team had just completed the biological work on the case of an eight-year-old girl, Paula Logares, who was living with a policeman and whom the Grandmothers had identified as the granddaughter of one of them. Through genetic testing and by applying the new mathematical formulation, it was established with 99.9 percent certainty that Paula was indeed the granddaughter of Elsa Pavon de Aguilar. She was the first kidnapped child identified through genetic testing. On the basis of the test and circumstantial evidence, she was returned to her family of origin.

It was immediately clear that genetic testing would be a crucial procedure that could be ordered by the judges in future cases of found children. The Grandmothers had accomplished their goal. Scientific expertise had validated Chicha Mariani's hunch, and their investigative work could henceforth proceed on firmer footing. Empirical, objective evidence could now be used to convince previously skeptical judges. Faced with this new information, the government's Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Public Health of the city of Buenos Aires set up a technical commission to oversee the implementation of the genetic testing. And ironically, Dr. Penchaszadeh, who had once fled Argentina to save his life, became an adviser to the commission.


The Grandmothers lobbied actively for the creation of a genetic data- base to permanently store the genetic information of the families looking for the disappeared children, because there was no way of knowing when the last missing child would be found. The Grandmothers fought for the testing to be done in a public institution, both as a matter of principle and to ensure its accessibility to anybody who requested it. They thought that such a service was the minimal reparation that the state should make to the citizenry, given its culpability in the children's disappearance.

In February 1986, two years after first seeking it, the Grandmothers were finally granted a meeting with President Alfonsin. They presented him with four demands: that he publicly order all government officials to work toward the restitution of the disappeared children, that he call on the Argentine population to actively help find the children, that an official link be created between the president's office and the Grandmothers to facilitate communication, and that the proposal to create a National Genetic Data Bank be speedily sent to Congress. The accumulation of evidence about the children and the effectiveness of the test made a strong case, and President Alfonsin agreed to their request.

The Grandmothers, together with a host of governmental bodies and the Immunology Service of the Durand Hospital, drafted a law that was unanimously approved by Congress in May 1987. The data bank was created to solve any type of conflict that involved issues of affiliation, including cases of disappeared children. The law specified that the services of the bank would be free to the relatives of the disappeared; moreover, it mandated that every court in the nation perform the studies of genetic markers on any child with doubtful affiliation and established the procedures to be followed by relatives living abroad who wanted to make use of the bank. It also established that failure to submit to the genetic testing would be regarded as a sign of complicity in the kidnappings.58 Given the average life expectancy in Argentina, it is estimated that the bank will be used by the kidnapped children at least until the year 2050; at any moment in their lives, they will be able to be tested.

In 1987 for the first time a child born in captivity was returned to her family of origin after genetic analysis carried out at the National Genetic Data Bank gave proof of her identity. By 1996, 2,100 individuals had deposited their blood in the bank, representing about 175 family groups; and over thirty children have had their identity established by the work of the bank. That work benefits not only the disappeared children but also children whose parents disappeared (or were abandoned) and were left with no information regarding their identity.

Although all studies done at the data bank are carried out under court rulings and the bank reports to the judges, its work and very existence have constantly been threatened. The regulations establishing it in 1989 required the city of Buenos Aires to pay for the scientific equipment and personnel, while the Ministry of Health and Social Action would pay for the chemical reactives and other substances needed to conduct the testing. The reality, however, has been different. Dr. Di Lonardo explains:

The ministry never lived up to its obligation. Never. The municipality, half- heartedly, paid for part of the personnel budget. I had to make an appeal to the international scientific community. And they responded. Scientists from various parts of the world have helped. The French government and the French scientists have been especially helpful. The Foundation France Liberte, one of Danielle Mitterrand's projects, has been a great supporter of the bank, with chemicals and equipment. And in 1989 I was invited by professor Jean Dausset, [who won a] Nobel Prize for medicine, to work in his lab in Paris, to learn the new techniques of molecular biology with DNA that I could then apply to our work.

To maintain and update the bank has been-and remains-an uphill battle; it has become one of the main concerns of the Grandmothers. In September 1988 the Grandmothers met with government officials to pressure them to enforce the laws supporting the bank. Because of the lack of resources needed to perform the tests, the work had practically stopped. In November the Grandmothers met again with President Alfonsin and requested that he ensure the financial support needed for the bank to function. They also asked that he nominate a special prosecutor to follow up on the cases of the disappeared children in order to expedite the investigations. After listening to them, Alfonsin appointed a commission to speed both the investigations into these cases and the initiation of the legal proceedings necessary to resolve them.

Incessant rumors about the stability of the bank created a climate of deep insecurity.63 In March 1991 a judge responded to the complaints of a policeman who had abducted a child born in a secret detention camp by ordering members of the federal police to raid the bank. The police removed biological samples, and the work of the bank was interrupted. This episode clearly indicates that even under democracy, the Argentine judicial system has tended to ally itself with the perpetrators instead of with the victims.

But the bank, which offers a model of scientists working on behalf of human rights and justice, has an even broader mission. Di Lonardo gives an idea of what its future work may be:

The Grandmothers have done a great job spreading the news about the bank. Though its historical motivation was because of the disappearances. the law broadened the work of the bank to all cases where affiliation is an issue. Ten to 12 percent of what we do regards the disappeared children. The rest are requests. from all over the country. regarding paternity testing. cases of incest, rape. etc. Very serious cases. Of course, it is an ideal tool against the traffic of children. which is a significant problem in our country. Many times young people have come to the bank to ask for help to find out their roots. I see the future of the bank in the direction of assisting anybody who has doubts and wants to know about their origins. The bank will be able to help them.


In 1985 a group of forensic scientists assembled by the AAAS went to Argentina to train local scientists in the archaeological techniques used to open graves, remove skeletons, and determine the cause of death. Dr. Clyde Snow, a well-known forensic anthropologist from Oklahoma, who had participated in the work that led to the identification of Nazi scientist Mengele's remains in Paraguay headed the team. Jorgelina de Pereyra, the mother of a disappeared young woman, had learned that her twenty-one-year-old daughter, Liliana, had been five months pregnant when she was abducted. The police had reported that Liliana had been killed in a shoot-out in July 1978 and that she had been buried in a particular cemetery. After the fall of the regime, Liliana's mother began to check the cemetery records for the physical characteristics of the NN buried in July 1978. Through the Grandmothers' connections she found out about the visiting forensic scientists and asked for Clyde Snow's help in identifying the remains of her daughter. The grave presumed to be that of Liliana was opened and the skeleton was examined.

Premortem records confirmed that the grave was Liliana's. But contrary to the assertions of the police, the postmortem studies revealed that Liliana had died from a close-range gunshot wound to the head. Her death, said Snow, had "all the markings of an execution." It was also determined, from a study of the pelvic bones, that she had given birth to a term or near-term infant, confirming reports already received from her fellow detainees in the ESMA camp. This was a breakthrough for the Grandmothers. It was now possible, if remains of pregnant women were found, to obtain scientific proof regarding the birth of their grandchildren and continue their search certain that their daughters had delivered in captivity.65 Clyde Snow was hopeful as he presented the case of Liliana Pereyra at the trial of the juntas in 1985: " All this seems grim, but here at least, we have looked for death and found life. We were able to tell her mother that although her daughter is dead out there somewhere she has a grandchild. That opens the way for the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo to begin a search and possibly track down the child."

Clyde Snow's work also provided evidence of the military's careful cover-up techniques for concealing the kidnapping of children. In September 1976 the Lanuscou family, two parents and three children, disappeared. When democracy returned, the Grandmothers were informed of a set of five NN graves that matched the date of disappearance of the family. Snow remembers:

I was giving a presentation in La Plata and at the end of it. this group of older women asked a question: Would it be possible. could we expect the bones of a fetus to disintegrate in a graver I said no. fetal bones can last for centuries. I could not figure out what that question was all about. But later on at the break. they explained. They talked about the Lanuscou case. The bones of the family had been exhumed but they did not find the bones of the youngest child, Matilde. six months old. They were told that the bones had disinte- grated. I took the case and went through all the bones; we found the two older children, the mother and the father, but not a single bone of the child. We took a couple of bushels of sand and gravel that had been collected at the same time that the bodies had been exhumed and we sifted; we got some strainers and washed it. It took hours and hours. Every little speck of gravel and there was absolutely no evidence that there had been a child there.

All that was found was a teddy bear, a pacifier, and a few other objects. "Matilde was never in that coffin. It's as simple as that," Snow told the judge in charge of the case. Later on, circumstantial evidence indicated that she had been given for adoption by the military, whose cover-up had been exposed. Amelia Herrera de Miranda, the grandmother of the child, joined the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in their search for her granddaughter, strengthened by the hope that the girl was alive.


The support that the Grandmothers elicited from the international scientific community is unusual. A group of women with no scientific background, they used common sense and prodded scientists to develop the scientific tools that would put their work on a firmer footing. They offer an outstanding example of lay citizens enlisting scientists to work for human rights. It has become increasingly clear in our times that while presenting itself as "a neutral activity" based on rationality and objectivity, science in practice has traditionally been allied with the powerful and has represented the interests of an affluent white male elite. In our century the image of science has been tarnished by Hiroshima and by the obvious complicity of the scientific establishment in the nuclear arms race. Threats to the survival of the planet by technologies running amok-as well as the exploitation of genetics to modify life and control the future of our species-have made science appear to be an alienated and somewhat dangerous enterprise. In the midst of this dismal picture the use of science to support a worthy cause is indeed refreshing.

The scientists who assisted the Grandmothers have expressed their appreciation at being able to contribute to a cause that furthers justice and provides them the opportunity to fully engage, as whole human beings, in their work. Eric Stover muses:

What was so interesting was that it wasn't like this was just a scientific question .lt was a humanitarian question in which people who felt strongly about retrieving their children wanted science to help them. In the cases of Coque Pereyra and of Estela's daughter. we were dealing at a level of intimacy that you don't normally deal if you are a lawyer or if you are there simply to make a technical report. You have to be present to absorb the emotion, either when the identification was made or to share the joy when a child was returned. It is very powerful. I used to say that the only time I got really depressed was when I would come back from a trip to Argentina after working with the Grandmothers for weeks. and somebody called me and invited me to play tennis.

Theirs was really the first case in which science was used to further human rights: scientists as detectives. Since then we have had forensic science exhuming graves and determining the cause of death of people in at least fourteen countries: Bolivia. Brazil. Chile, Venezuela. Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico. Iraq-Kurdistan, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and the former Yugoslavia. So what started with the Grand- mothers has turned into this whole idea of using the forensic sciences for humanitarian questions. Their contribution has clearly transcended the Argentine situation.

Victor Penchaszadeh, at the 1992 International Seminar on Affiliation, Identity, and Restitution-organized by the Grandmothers to celebrate their fifteen years of struggle-further commented:

We are here to analyze the role of science in the defense and promotion of human rights and specifically. on the genetic identification of the children kidnapped by the last military dictatorship. ...Science is not "neutral" but it is influenced by the political and economic relationships in society. and in its turn it influences them through its applications. ...In the United States, at the beginning of this century. racist and elitist ideas helped promulgate laws that allowed the involuntary sterilization of tens of thousands of people labeled as "asocials," "retarded," or "defective." ...Nazi Germany raised the flag of "racial purity" based on the ignorance and distortion of the principles of genetics. ...The most famous German scientists pressured and convinced politicians of the justness of their views and contributed to giving a "scientific" facade to genocide. ...When Grandmothers Chicha Mariani and Estela Barnes de Carlotto asked me in New York in 1982 if it was possible to prove the identity of the children, having only grandparents and other relatives alive, they were making a social claim to the science of genetics. ...The challenge inherent in that claim resulted, a few months later, in the first identification and restitution of one of the victims: Paula Logares. And this made it possible for human genetics, which for so long served death and backward interests, to serve life.

Clyde Snow also credits the Grandmothers with the idea of using forensic science as a tool in human rights investigations:

Forensic science had not been used in human rights work. It really all started in Argentina. And the Grandmothers were instrumental in developing the idea. Personally. I had the privilege of recruiting young people in Argentina, of creating a team and having the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile. It brought me into a new area of work, and it opened a new world for me. Had the Grandmothers not come to my talk in La Plata and asked their question. I would have returned home and that would have been the end of it.

Snow's work in Argentina resulted in the creation of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a group of young professionals who were mentored by Snow and have learned the techniques to be used for the exhumation and identification of remains. The only such organization in the world, the EAAF continues to work in Argentina; it has also worked in several other countries where human rights violations have made its expertise necessary.

The Grandmothers have provided a model for laypeople and scientists working together, challenging the alienation of the scientific establishment and making it possible to imagine a different relationship between science and society. They have helped redeem science by offering a new type of partnership. The gift that the Grandmothers have given to science is really a gift to the world-to all those who desire a science that incorporates human values and is a positive and life- affirming force.