The most effective sphere of action. ..will be the affective. Emotions and feelings will prevail over the intellect; aimed toward the unconscious they will influence critical judgment, directing it toward certain predetermined effects. Manual of the Argentine Armed Forces on "Psychological Operations"

As we saw in earlier chapters, separating the children from their legitimate families was one of the strategies of the military regime. Aimed at resocializing the children and at terrorizing their families, the technique was chillingly effective. After the fall of the regime the Grandmothers found out that some of the kidnappers had left the country and were living abroad with the children. The Grandmothers requested that the United Nations investigate these second disappearances, insisted on the difference between appropriation and adoption, and called attention to the risks that the appropriations posed for the children's physical and mental health.

The idea of separating children from their families for political reasons in order to erase their identity was not new. During World War II the Nazis kidnapped Polish, Czech, Yugoslav, and Russian children and gave them to German families. From Poland alone they took over 200,000 children. Survivors have described methods similar to the ones uncovered by the Grandmothers. "Psychological methods were used to make a child forget or even hate its parents[;] ...the object was to give a child a sense of inferiority about its origins and of gratitude to the Germans who had rescued it from the degeneracy of its home environment.")

At the end of the war, the Allies failed to return those "adopted" children to their countries of origin, on the grounds that it was in the children's best interests to leave them where they were. Concerns about how the children might suffer if "new dramas" were created and if they were taken from comfortably off families and given to poor ones ensured that they remained in Germany. Only 15 percent of the Polish children taken from their families to be Germanized were repatriated. When some of the adoptions were challenged in court, many of the judges-ex-Nazis themselves-sided with the German families and ruled against restitution. The last Polish child to be repatriated, in 1953, subsequently reflected: "I had become a fanatical Nazi. I wept with rage when the men condemned at the Nuremberg trial were hanged. It took years before I stopped hating the Poles, as I had been taught, and then the French, who occupied our city of Koblenz."

More recently, in the 197os, East German authorities declared that parents who had tried to flee to the West or were convicted of espionage were unfit to raise their children; the children were given for adoption to officially approved families. "It is now clear that the state acted as a kidnapper,.. said Thomas Krueger, Berlin's minister for youth in 1991.

The case of the Finaly children in France after World War II bears a striking resemblance to the situation of some of the children in Argentina. The Finalys were Austrian Jews who took refuge in France, where their two boys were born, in the late 193os. In 1944 the Gestapo arrested the couple and deported them to Germany. The two children were placed in a Grenoble nursery, whose director took a special interest in them and had them baptized as Catholics. At the end of the war, when the children's relatives in New Zealand and Israel tried to reclaim them, their caretaker refused to return them. Years of endless legal proceedings went by while the boys grew up as Catholics, ignorant of their family history. When the World Jewish Congress and the Catholic Church finally reached an agreement about their custody, the children were nowhere to be found. Their caretaker/appropriator had smuggled them into Franco's Spain. During the next five months, their case made headlines in all the major French newspapers and their fate remained unknown. Finally in June 1953, eight years after their relatives had started searching for them, the children were found; earlier that year, the Grenoble judicial court had recognized that they had been kid- napped, and at the end of July they rejoined their family in Israel. As adults, they have expressed their satisfaction in having been raised by their relatives and having had the opportunity to return to the Jewish faith.

In Australia and in the United States, indigenous people have long suffered such attempts by the dominant group to absorb their children. In Australia, some of the children were so young when taken that they did not remember where they had come from or who their parents were. The white government, which saw the Aboriginal way of life as a "positive menace to the State," decided that the children should adopt the values and belief system of the dominant white culture. Laws and procedures ensured that children could be removed without parental consent as a matter of the "child's moral or physical welfare": it became the parents' burden to demonstrate "that a child had aright to be with them, not the other way around. " A child could be taken away simply "for being Aboriginal."5 Cut off from their families and communities, many children became ashamed of the color of their skin and drifted into lives of isolation, despair, and alcoholism. These practices supposedly ended in 1969 with the abolition of the Aborigines Welfare Board, but during this century the government took one out of six or seven Aboriginal children from their families. In 1997 a government- appointed inquiry recognized that the practice had been genocide. The report described the creation of a "stolen generation ": light-skinned aboriginal children had been handed out to white families for adoption, dark-skinned children put in orphanages. The report recommended that a national day of mourning be observed and that the government compensate all those affected.

In the United States, Native American children were indoctrinated to be subordinate to the white majority. Attendance at mission schools was mandatory on many reservations. The children were compelled to undergo instruction in Christianity and English, while indigenous religion and languages were prohibited. When the U.S. commissioner on Indian affairs in 1886 determined that, in the words of one recent scholar, day schools "afforded students far too much proximity to their families and communities-and thus a continuing interaction with their own cultures," the government opened boarding schools where the children could be effectively isolated from their culture of origin. The students were not allowed to visit home; and after their training was complete, they were placed with white families for three years. The sys- tem often worked as it had been intended, and the children saw their true families again only when they were sent back to their communities at age seventeen or eighteen. Their long years away made many of them functional outcasts; in some cases they became agents of the white power structure, trying to "undermine and eventually replace the traditional forms possessed by their peoples."

Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines "genocide" as follows:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group [my emphasis].

By this definition, it seems that in all the cases discussed above except that of East Germany, genocide occurred. However, some have criticized the United Nations for defining genocide too narrowly, arguing that political groups should be included in the list of possible victims. If this wider definition were accepted, the East German case would fit as well.

In Argentina, human rights organizations have often used the term genocide to describe the crimes committed by the state. As we have seen, children were forcibly separated from their families, and their parents, the so-called subversives, were disappeared. The UN report on the disappearance of children in Argentina (discussed below) stopped short of calling the Argentine case '.genocide" but stated that .'the activities of the appropriators can be compared to those described in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" (my emphasis). The report called not only for effective domestic legislation to deal with the captive, children but also for international cooperation in designing mechanisms to help find those children outside Argentina and return them to their legitimate families.


In Argentina the judicial delays and obstacles that the Grandmothers faced after locating the stolen children made it possible for another form of abuse to take place. In several cases, the kidnappers escaped to other countries with the children. The Grandmothers coined the term segunda desaparici6n (second disappearance) to describe this new turn of events. By 1987 the Grandmothers knew of at least seven children who had been taken from Argentina to live in Paraguay with their captors. Paraguay, on Argentina's border, was then governed by the longest-ruling dictatorship in the hemisphere-the notoriously corrupt regime of General Alfredo Stroessner, which ran the country from 19 54 to 1989. Paraguay was one of the members of Operacion Condor, the network of Southern Cone security forces that collaborated to ensure the kidnapping of "subversives" and their forced return to their countries of origin. That the government of Paraguay, famous for its own human rights abuses, would side with the kidnappers was a given. It was one of the most logical places for them to go into hiding.

Thus military physician Norberto Atilio Bianco and his wife, Nidia Susana Wherli (see chapter I), fled to Paraguay in 1986 after Argentine authorities ordered genetic testing to determine the identity of the two children whom they claimed as theirs. Major Bianco was accused of kidnapping them after they were born in the Campo de Mayo hospital during their mother's captivity. The judge in charge of the case traveled to Paraguay, where he argued for the extradition of the appropriators and the restitution of the children to their legitimate families. The Paraguayan authorities allowed neither him nor the Argentine ambassador to see the children or their kidnappers. Accusing the Grandmothers of Marxist-Leninist leanings typical of "subversive" groups, the attorney general proclaimed:

We Paraguayans are, by nature, against any type of pressures. ...Defending the human rights of the accused, we must reject the request for extradition. ...[T)he defense is right in qualifying this as political persecution[;] ...the intervention of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in the judicial matters of our country must be avoided. While the influence of that pressure group in the Argentine Republic is considerable, here it must be rejected in order to respect our political sovereignty, based on nonintervention in internal matters and the self-determination of peoples.

Prompted by the Grandmothers, the Argentine delegate to the OAS, Leandro Despouy, denounced the second disappearance of Argentine children. Despouy pressed the OAS to broaden the PanAmerican Convention of Human Rights to provide additional protection to the rights of children, invoking as well the Montevideo Treaty, which mandates the extradition of those accused of kidnapping. Only in early 1997 were Major Bianco and his wife finally extradited.
At the United Nations, the Grandmothers urged the Human Rights Commission to form an expert group that would investigate the situation and ensure that there were no further second disappearances, and the forty-three countries constituting the commission unanimously agreed to nominate such a group. The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, which endorsed the commission's decision, authorized the secretary general to provide all the assistance necessary for its implementation. In April 1988 Theo van Boven, a Dutch diplomat and former director of the UN Center for Human Rights, was appointed to carry out the task. Van Boven proceeded to inform the Argentine and the Paraguayan governments of his plans to visit both countries and asked for cooperation from the authorities. While the Argentine government responded positively to his request, the Paraguayan government let him know that "the question of the children was under examination by the courts and that under these circum- stances a visit to Paraguay was not opportune because it could be considered as interference in the judicial process." Consequently. the UN report on the situation of the children was based only on van Boven's visit to Argentina, including his consultations there with members of human rights organizations, psychologists, health professionals, and government officials. He fully confirmed the Grandmothers' views:

Promptness and effectiveness in the handling of evidence and in taking measures to return the children to their legitimate families depended on the judges in charge of the proceedings. Some acted promptly, but many delayed cases unnecessarily by procedural means and by refusing to implement measures requested by the children's families, In many cases, years went by before the judges ordered haemogenetic tests to determine a child's real identity, thus establishing the commission of offenses of abduction, detention and concealment of minors and of the suppression of records and forgery of public documents. As a matter of fact, abductors usually registered the children as their own and forged the documents required to establish their identity.

Several judges failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the alleged abductors from fleeing, leaving the country or hiding so that the latter managed to remove themselves from the judges' jurisdiction, In a number of cases where such measures were ordered, the authorities responsible for keeping watch on the abductors did nor appear to have carried out court orders properly, since several of the abductors managed to leave the country and are now living in Paraguay, where they have taken the children.

The Argentine authorities challenged the van Boven report, and at their prompting some members of the Human Rights Commission objected to it, thus preventing it from receiving the full discussion and general attention it deserved. At the national level. the Grandmothers asked President Alfonsin in November 1988 to pressure the government of Paraguay and to appoint a special public defender to expedite the legal work on behalf of the disappeared children. This resulted in the creation of a four-member commission of federal prosecutors to help investigate and resolve these cases.

Two stories in particular drew considerable attention from the media because of the wide-ranging and complex ethical and political questions they raised. The cases of Mariana Zaffaroni and the twins Gonzalo and Matlas Reggiardo Tolosa illustrate the tragic effects of judicial lethargy on the lives of these children and their legitimate families. Growing up in the homes of their kidnappers and absorbing their values, these children were put in an unbearable situation. Because they were isolated from information and support that would have provided an alternative vision of the world, their life experiences were molded by the military and police communities in which they were immersed. As the repressors attempted to turn these children into their own and to become the "new parents" that General Camps had envisioned, they led the children to violently reject their legitimate families' values and ideals. One of the leaders of a revolt against the Alfonsfn government in 1987, Colonel Mohamed All Seineldln, acknowledged what had taken place: "We did for them the best that we could; we gave them our own homes and our own families." And the youngsters incorporated the worldview of the repressors.


Mariana Zaffaroni was eighteen months old when she was kidnapped with her parents in San Isidro, a Buenos Aires suburb, in September 1976. The family had sought refuge in Argentina from persecution for their political activities in their native Uruguay. Their disappearance in Argentina offers yet another example of how the repressive forces of the two countries coordinated their terrorist activities.

The two grandmothers, Marta Zaffaroni in Brazil and Marua Ester Gatti in Uruguay, became very active with the Grandmothers' Association as they searched for the child. During their investigations, they also found that Mariana's mother was three months pregnant when she had been kidnapped. In 1979 Marta Zaffaroni went to Chile to look for Mariana. She hoped that since the Julien Grisonas children (also from Uruguay; see chapter 3) had been found in Chile, Mariana might also have been taken there, but her visit bore no fruit. In 1983 Marta Zaffaroni was able to meet with an Argentine intelligence officer, a member of the SIDE directed by General Otto Paladino, who was in charge of the secret transfer of Uruguayan prisoners from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, Uruguay. The officer told her that Mariana was being well taken care of in the hands of one of his friends, also a member of SIDE. But he refused to tell where the child was or to identify the appropriator.

In May 1983 Mariana's grandmothers published an advertisement in the newspaper C/arin, asking the Argentine population for help in their search. Twenty days after the ad appeared, CLAMOR, in Brazil, received an anonymous tip with the name and address of the kidnapper. The two grandmothers went to Buenos Aires, where they were able to see Mariana as she was leaving school: they had no doubt about the child's identity. However, her birth certificate registered her as Oaniela Romina Furci, the daughter of Miguel Angel Furci and Adriana Gonz3lez, and her birth date had been changed.

The Grandmothers started legal proceedings to reclaim Mariana. Three different judges refused to work on the case; a fourth finally ordered genetic testing in June 1985. At that point, Furci showed up at the police station; he claimed that his wife had left him, taking the child with her, and that he did not know their whereabouts. A few days later, he was nowhere to be found. Furci had been active in the Automotores Orletti, the secret concentration camp to which practically all Uruguayan citizens kidnapped in Argentina were taken. Testimony from a survivor of the camp established that Mariana and her mother had been seen there. In Uruguay the flight of the Furcis provoked a wave of indignation, and 80,000 signatures demanding justice were collected and sent to President Alfonsin.

At that point Mariana's maternal grandmother, Maria Ester Gatti, received a telegram and two letters signed by Mariana, then ten years old. Hostile in tone, the letters accused her of being an atheist and a member of the Uruguayan Communist Party. Raising ethical issues and matters of family and religion, they reflected a confused and extreme right-wing perspective, and revealed the environment in which the child was being raised--0r, more accurately, indoctrinated. Her grandmother comments:

These letters tell me clearly what kind of a person Furci is. when he makes a child sign such letter. Using the name of the child to sign a letter that is a true melange. mixing the Bible with the manuals of the armed forces. ... When I get these letters I ask myself: What do they teach her- How do they teach her-Which values are they giving her~ It is evident that all that they are teaching her does not have anything to do with what her parents would have taught her, nor with what she would have learned had she been with any of her grandparents.

In 1989, after the Furcis secretly returned to Buenos Aires, the Gatti grandmother and Furci met in an attempt to negotiate a solution. When that proved impossible, the authorities again tracked down Furci. In June 1992 the genetic testing was carried out, and the couple was arrested soon after. Furci was sentenced to seven years in prison and Adriana Gonzalez to three. They were found guilty of kidnapping, illegal imprisonment of a minor, and falsification of documents. The mid- wife who had signed the birth certificate admitted that she had lied and had never attended the birth. In passing sentence, the judge stated: "There is no precedent that I know of for this type of case-the secret police systematically stealing the fruit of the womb of the people they tortured and killed. If anything, we owe it to these children to tell them the truth and punish the crime."25 However, he allowed Mariana to remain with the Furcis' family, awarding custody to Adriana Gonzcilez's mother. Adriana Gonzcilez herself was released after only three months of prison, and eighteen-year-old Mariana rejected the attempts of her legitimate grandmothers to establish a connection with her. She was not willing to listen to the truth about her origins. She told the judge that she did not want to see her maternal grandmother because "each time I see her she says things that hurt too much."

Maria Ester Gatti reflects:

She evidently does not understand the situation or does not want to under- stand it so as not to suffer. She rejects many of the things that we tell her. She realizes that if she accepts them many of the ideas and beliefs she holds would crumble. And that will provoke guilty feelings, pain and emotions that could cause depression. What she is doing now is defending her life. ..she does not want to suffer anymore. She wants to live, how can I say it? in peace.

Mariana maintains a close relationship with Furci and visits him often in prison, but Maria Ester Gatti feels that she has provided Mariana with the knowledge she needs, the pieces of a puzzle that will enable her eventually to construct her own story. Gatti believes that when Mariana marries and creates her own family, she will need to confront her history. For the moment, she keeps her distance, respecting Mariana's wishes

Estela de Carlotto presents the point of view of the Grandmothers:

With the optimism that characterizes us, we say: Mariana knows who she is. She has been restituted, even if she does not live with her family of origin. She has her own documents, knows her real name. She will travel through life with that name, and, as she faces questions and doubts about her history, she has the information for her to one day make a choice: she can choose freedom with her family or she can stay with her parents' murderers. In any case, whatever she decides, she will be an adult, choosing her own destiny. We Grandmothers do not have a crystal ball, nor can we think that we are omnipotent and can control the personal journey of every child we find.


In late May and early June of 1994, the story of Gonzalo and Matlas Reggiardo Tolosa was covered relentlessly by the Argentine media. A well-launched TV campaign by conservative media personalities, front- page articles in newspapers, and numerous radio shows all put the case of "the twins" (as it was popularly called) at the center of the nation's attention. Their saga reveals the repression's horrors, the atmosphere of impunity that followed the end of the regime, and the mainstream media's complicity in creating a nightmare for them and their legitimate family.

In February 1977, a joint police and military commando unit kid- napped Maria Rosa Tolosa and Juan Enrique Reggiardo, both twenty- four-year-old architecture students, and Antonia Oldani de Reggiardo, Juan Enrique's mother. They all remain disappeared. Marla Rosa was seven months pregnant at the time. The following month, an anonymous telephone call informed the Tolosa family that the couple were in a concentration camp run by the army, outside Buenos Aires. The message suggested they contact Monsignor Grasselli (see chapter 3), secretary to the influential Monsignor Tortolo, general vicar of the armed forces. Monsignor Grasselli confirmed that the couple was indeed in a concentration camp and added that Maria Rosa would most likely deliver in a clinic where the army usually took the kidnapped pregnant women. Shortly thereafter, another phone call informed the Tolosa family that the birth had taken place.

Survivors of La Cacha, the camp in question, testified to the family's presence, the normal progress of Maria Rosa's pregnancy, and her removal to a different location to give birth. In an attempt to confuse and mislead those who might be searching for the children, the camp guards informed the other prisoners that Maria Rosa had delivered female twins. In fact, at the nearby women's prison in Olmos, Maria Rosa delivered male twins by cesarean, probably on April 27. She was most likely killed soon after the delivery. The twins were registered as born on May 16 in a Buenos Aires hospital to Alicia Beatriz Castillo, wife of Samuel Miara.

Also known as "Covani" and "El Turco Gonzalez" (Gonzalez the Turk), Samuel Miara was an active member of the police force,' infamous for his cruelty in several concentration camps. In the camps he chose who, among the prisoners, would be "transferred " and executed. Survivor Nora B. Durante identified him as the man who had raped her in El Banco. Ana Maria Careaga (see chapter I), seven months pregnant at the time, reported that he would kick her in the womb during interrogation sessions. Another survivor, Carlos D' Agostino, recounted Miara's brutal treatment of Jewish prisoners. Miara also used his position to amass personal wealth. Looting the homes of his victims, he would refill his stock of domestic appliances for his business. In addition, he was believed to be involved in several kidnappings in which hefty ransoms were paid to save the lives of his victims.

In 1984 the Grandmothers accused Miara of kidnapping the twins. By the time the judge ordered genetic testing done on the Miara couple, they were nowhere to be found. At the time of this second disappearance, the boys were eight years old. In early 1987 the Grandmothers informed the Ministry of the Interior that the Miaras were living in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Judge Miguel Pons traveled there and, armed with irrefutable evidence, ordered the Miaras extradited and jailed. In Paraguay the Miaras were living comfortably, socializing with their fellow kidnapper Major Norberto Bianco, and enjoying the protection of the Paraguayan police.

Finally in May 1989, two months after the overthrow of General Stroessner, Interpol was able to seize the Miaras, who were then extradited to Argentina with the twins. In October doctors and scientists at the National Genetic Data Bank demonstrated a probability higher than 99.99 percent that the children, now twelve years old, were the sons of Reggiardo and Tolosa. In spite of the test results and the confession from Miara and his wife that they were not the boys' natural parents, the judge, following the advice of the children's court-assigned defender-Dr. Carlos Tavares, who had defended General Videla in the junta's trial-gave custody to the Miaras. Tavares successfully challenged the genetic testing on procedural grounds.

In 1990, after a new judge, Ricardo Weschler, took over the case, two appellate court decisions affirmed the validity of the genetic tests and the identity of the twins as members of the Reggiardo Tolosa family. However, the twins continued to live with the Miaras. Concerned about the children's psychological well-being, one of the federal prosecutors charged by President Alfonsin to expedite and resolve cases of child disappearances requested a professional opinion on the assignment of custody to the Miaras. It was rendered by Dr. Ricardo Rodulfo, a psychoanalyst and a professor of clinical psychology of children and adolescents at Buenos Aires University: "To hide the truth about one's origin constitutes a true psychic catastrophe that breaks the continuity of the generational web in which the child rests. ...[W]e believe that to have the proof of the legitimate origin of these minors and to delay their restitution not only is without justification; it also becomes a day- to-day form of new violence." But Judge Weschler dismissed Rodulfo's concerns: "There is no doubt that the Miaras are not the parents, but for now I will not make any decision regarding custody. What is going on is that the children are doing well. Those. ..are psychologists. I am a father and a judge. That is what is important."

In May 1993 an important new development took place: one judge annulled the birth certificates of the twins, while another ruled that the children would carry the last name of their true parents but keep the first names given to them by their kidnappers in order to "avoid confusion." The twins, now sixteen years old, continued to live with Beatriz Miara. In August the International Commission of Human Rights of the OAS, prompted by a complaint from the Grandmothers, called on the Argentine government to resolve the twins' custody issue. It pressed the government at least to put the twins in a foster home temporarily and to provide them with psychological counseling by a professional chosen by their legitimate family. The decision about restitution was now in the hands of yet another judge, Jorge Ballesteros.

In November 1993 Judge Ballesteros moved the twins into a foster home, and in December he ruled that they would live with Eduardo Tolosa, their maternal uncle. Furthermore, he prohibited contact with the Miaras. In a short time, the twins met their paternal grandfather, uncles, aunts, and other relatives, and started the process of learning about their family. The judge's decision was based on Article 8 of the United Nations International Convention on the Rights of the Child- the right to preservation of identity, an article for which the Grand- mothers had lobbied extensively at the United Nations (see chapter 7).

Enter the mainstream media. Over the following months, the lives of the twins were scrutinized by the same agencies of mass communication that had kept silent about their kidnapping and their parents' disappearance. It turned out that the youngsters had difficulties with their uncle. Their different political perspectives caused friction, and they accused him of not allowing them to attend their private Catholic school and of trying to limit their freedom. In spite of Judge Ballesteros's admonition that to protect their psychic and physical health the twins should not participate in media events, producers from a succession of high-visibility TV shows pounced on them.

Beginning with an appearance on a show hosted by a right-wing politician, the twins appeared on some of the most popular prime-time programs; they consistently expressed their desire to live with the Miaras, because "they gave them all their love." Carefully chosen images and words-Beatriz Miara embracing the twins, shots from the movie The Official Story (an Oscar-winning Argentine movie about a woman who suspects that her adopted daughter is the child of a disappeared), the right music, and the incessant use of key terms such as "mother country," "freedom," "rights," and "father"-manipulated the audiences to favor the Miaras. Avoiding any reference to the history of the case, the TV programs criticized the judge's decision to restitute the twins to their family and expressed sympathy for the kidnappers, calling them "love parents" and even inventing a new term to describe them: "historical parents. " No mention was made of the legitimate parents, and the Grandmothers were negatively portrayed. A box was delivered to Judge Ballesteros's home containing two grenades ready to explode.

Soon thereafter, the judge reversed his decision. The twins went to live with a foster family, were allowed to visit the Miaras, and returned to the private school they had previously attended. Their uncle, Eduardo Tolosa, gave up custody. While denying that he had ever curtailed their freedom, he recognized that in the seven months that they were with him "he might have committed mistakes." He also pointed out that it was impossible in only seven months for the twins to fully absorb the truth of what had happened to them. Tolosa expressed his hope that "one day the twins will realize that they have been victims of the dictatorship, just like their parents. "

One of Argentina's best-known journalists, Horacio Verbitsky, underscored the unusual treatment that the media had given to the twins' case by comparing it to the recent kidnapping of a newborn baby in a Buenos Aires hospital. The same newspapers and magazines that extolled the "historic parents" vehemently condemned the abduction of the newborn, offered thousands of dollars as reward for information, and demanded swift and harsh punishment to make examples of the lawbreakers.44 The analysis of Julio Strassera, the prosecutor of the 1985 trial of the military commanders, was even more pointed: he saw the appearances of the twins on television as part of a campaign to legitimize the crime of kidnapping, noting that the journalists involved had had excellent relations with the repressive regime. He maintained that it all amounted to an attack on the restitution process, which had worked extremely well for all the children who had been found and returned to their families. To him, the twins were like the children of divorced parents who tell the judge they want to live with one parent or the other, with the difference that in the latter case "the information is not publicized nor is there an effort to demonstrate, through the TV, that one parent is good and the other is bad." Strassera also stressed that if the judicial system had worked properly the twins' situation would have been resolved five or six years earlier.

Grandmother Estela de Carlotto comments:

We believe there is a campaign out there, the work of what I call "the club of the appropriators,'. which targeted this case. trying the break the backbone of our organization. ...They spread lies about our work and try to create a positive image of the kidnappers. even those who were involved in the murders of the children's parents. I point my finger to the yellow press because they have helped to create this situation, calling the kidnappers "parents'. before millions of spectators. I think that they hope to stop us, so that the hundreds of children still missing will not be allowed to be reunited with their families and learn their true history.46

Finally, in December 1994, Judge Ballesteros condemned Samuel Miara to seven and a half years in prison and Alicia Beatriz Miara to three years. Because Miara had been in pretrial detention since 1991 and because Argentine law counts each day of detention without sentence as two days of time served, one day after sentencing-and with unusual speed-the judicial system allowed Miara to walk free. At the end of 1994, Gonzalo and Matfas were living with a foster family, saw the Miaras weekly, and had no contact with their uncle or their grandfather.


In a report prepared for the First Argentine Congress on Adoption in 1986, the Grandmothers articulated some of the important differences between appropriation and adoption. They called attention to the fact that in adoption, the parents or other relatives freely and consciously give up their parental rights, while the mothers and fathers of the children who disappeared or those born in captivity were in no position to exercise their rights as parents. The children's relatives, unaware of these "adoption proceedings," of the children's whereabouts, or indeed of their very existence, were equally unable to participate in the process.

Judge Juan M. Ramos Padilla, a judge who acted swiftly and honor- ably in these cases, commented sadly in one of his rulings that the appropriation of minors in Argentina carried a penalty of three to ten years in prison, while armed car robbery was punished with nine to twenty years. He, too, stressed the difference between appropriation and adoption: "The situation with which we are dealing, which is surrounded by fraud and forgery, and in which there is no law or truth but only the absolute power of the abductors, undermines what should be a parent-child relationship. As a result, it damages the child's psyche and the society as a whole, which sees a mockery being made of such important values as truth, justice, identity, and family." Moreover, he dismissed the argument that the abducted children had been well provided for, surrounded with material comfort, and treated as "their own" by the appropriators: "That the children might have been given good care, luxury, and even affection does not constitute mitigating circumstances. ...This situation might be compared to that of a domestic animal, which is afforded every luxury and even affection, but solely for the purpose of its master's satisfaction. "

As renowned psychologist and psychoanalyst Eva Giberti comments:

While we professionals try to spin ideas, the grandmothers keep on rescuing the children who, unlike adopted children, were not abandoned by their parents, but were snatched. ...When I speak about slavery in regard to these children I am not using a metaphor: their chance to choose to continue the story of their lives as it was planned by their original families has been nullified. ...(I]nstead of continuing with the likely story of their lives, together with their relatives, they have been subjected to a mutation.

She points out that if the hundreds of children that disappeared were to tell their stories, enormous social upheaval would result. Fear of that possibility drives the state-sanctioned effort to transform and neutralize the children's experiences by allowing their appropriators to keep them and by negating what really happened. As a result, the children pay a price, becoming "absent to themselves, foreigners to their original identity." Giberti believes that the rescue of these children is not only a matter of justice but also a necessary act to repair a damaged social equilibrium; otherwise, a kind of social insanity will continue.

Giberti also notes that the appropriations have forced the professional community dealing with adoptions to address new questions and dilemmas. Families that had adopted children in good faith started to wonder about the children's origins, and the children themselves raised questions about their history. It became increasingly clear that the experience of the Grandmothers would have an impact on the laws regarding custody and adoption and that a new area of work was opening up for the organization (see chapter 7).


The Grandmothers note that kidnapped children and children born in captivity are at risk for many reasons: the violent separation from their mothers, the concealment of their history, the systematic and continuous lies on which their family life is based, and their deliberate isolation from the networks of social information that would enable them to learn about their country's recent past-and thus about themselves. These factors, the Grandmothers argue, endanger the physical and mental health of the children; only restitution can create the optimal conditions for the healthy development of the children.

Theo van Boven's report came to the same conclusions:

[The children] live at present in family settings which, in view of the atrocities committed in the past and the involvement therein of the heads of those families, are an affront to internationally recognized humanitarian and human rights principles. Under such circumstances, they are being denied the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity[;] ... they risk not being brought up in a spirit of tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood. In fact, they continue to be treated as the "booty" of a "dirty war" and this situation persists as long as their right to keep their identity and to live with their legitimate families is not recognized and made effective. ...[T]he author of the present report has come to the firm conclusion that nearly without exception the return of the child to the legitimate family is in "the best interests of the child."

Psychoanalyst Fernando Ulloa, former president of the Buenos Aires chapter of the Argentine Psychiatric Association, supervised the psychological treatment of some of the children restituted to their families. He observed that the great majority of the found children, in spite of the terrible wounds that they suffered, benefited greatly from the restitution process. He also expressed his concerns about the children still in captivity: "Those that present themselves as parents, having been appropriators and kidnappers, control an atrocious secret. ..the effects of which are quite terrible. When a family lives in such a situation, the truth emerges in subtle ways, through doubts and hesitations. ...It can be affirmed that the appropriated children know the truth." The emotional dynamics that permeate the appropriator/victim relationship are far from healthy:

Many times the appropriators show a display of intense love that has all the connotations of fetishistic love. That display of love of their "trophy children " is the only means they have to negate their crime. It is as if they are saying, "It is not true that we are criminals when we offer so much love and dedication to these children. " This is, paradoxically, the most sinister effect. The children are subjected to the tremendous contradiction of having to live, on one hand, with those signals which simulate love, but that in reality cover up for a crime of which they are the victims. That is what is called the fetishist effect: when through this simulation of love, even if felt, a veil is extended over the crime.

Alicia Lo Giudice, a psychoanalyst and child psychologist who has worked with some of the restituted children, similarly warns of how damaging appropriation can be:

The child becomes an object for the appropriators. In the case of a child who was kidnapped when she was almost two, she was able to keep her name because she kept insisting on it, but the kidnappers tried to have her repress the memory of her life up to that moment. She was already talking, was toilet- trained, and they tried to force her to forget about her mother and fathcr. They tried to turn her into a newborn, to negate her previous life, to make her believe that she was not who she had been. This is a very powerful intervention in the life of a child whose psyche is in the process of formation. That is why the situation is so serious. The Grandmothers' position was to say no, this is what happened, let's face it, let's find the children and set the truth straight.


As the saga of the Reggiardo Tolosa twins developed, Adriana Calvo de Laborde-a member of the Association of Ex-Detained-Disappeared and one of the few women who gave birth in captivity and was not killed (see chapter I )-wrote an open letter to one of the judges involved in the twins' case. She reminded him that she had been kid- napped when she was six and a half months pregnant and that, blind- folded and handcuffed, she gave birth to her daughter on the floor of a police car. At that moment, she swore to herself that she would dedicate her life to ensuring that the truth was known and justice won. She had shared her captivity with many other courageous women, six of whom also were pregnant. None of them survived. She wrote to Judge Wechsler that she was witness to those mothers' desire that their children be with their legitimate families. In her own case, she noted, nobody could convince her that had she been killed, her daughter would have been better off in the hands of the repressors.

In 1995 Calvo de Laborde's daughter, Teresa, celebrated her eighteenth birthday and spoke of what her life might have been if she had been kept captive:

It is a miracle that my mother could deliver me and that 1 was not stolen. I believe I am one of the few cases in which they left a newborn with her mother and did not give her to families related to the security forces. If that had happened, my life would have been very different: they would have given me another kind of education and way of thinking. Maybe I would be living with a military man and his wife, and I would love them. But I would not know the truth, because in those cases you never know the truth. If I was living with a father who tells me that he stole me or he bought me, who tortured or was a friend of torturers, I don't know if I could love him..

The children still captive do not have a voice. The process of recovering their identity and their truth may take many more years. This is why the National Genetic Data Bank will keep blood samples of their relatives up until the year 2050. Some of the children may have heard the message of the Grandmothers. Some of them will, undoubtedly, begin to question their history and their origins. The Grandmothers believe that eventually, as the children become young adults, some will come forward and begin searching for their legitimate families. Indeed, this is already starting to happen: as the next chapter explores in more detail, more than a hundred young people have contacted the National Commission for the Right to Identity and asked for help in finding the truth about their origins. As one of them, a nineteen-year-old man, has said: "For now, what I want is to know the truth. Afterward I will decide what to do." The Grandmothers are waiting to assist and sup- port them in their search.