EL PAÍS offers the América Futura section open for its daily and global informative contribution on sustainable development. If you want to support our journalism, subscribe here.
For several decades, Sonia Torres has woken up every morning thankful for a new day to look for her grandson, a man who should be 46 today, but whom she has not yet been able to meet. “At first we cried, but we realized that they would like us to look for them with joy,” says the 93-year-old woman, who today is in charge of the Córdoba branch of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, one of the five national headquarters of the non-governmental organization that was created in 1977 to locate the children who disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. “We strengthen ourselves with that and we wake up thinking: ‘This is the day: at some point they will play the door of Abuelas or our house and they will say: ‘Grandma, the search is over, here I am.’ With that phrase, we draw strength and continue, always believing that tomorrow will be the day of the match. We are walking like this, ”he says.
This is the way Torres and other mothers and grandmothers keep going. They are women who began searching in the 1970s for their detained and disappeared sons and daughters and, later, for their granddaughters and grandsons who were born in the torture rooms and who were appropriated and stolen from their parents in the so-called ‘years of lead’. ‘. Torres is the mother of Silvina, a 20-year-old student who was arrested on March 26, 1976 when she was six months pregnant, two days after the coup, and later murdered. She is also the grandmother of that 46-year-old grandson whom she does not know, but whom she tracks down and continues to wait for.
Although he has his personal story, Torres prefers to talk about the collective search in a country torn by torture, murder and the disappearance of more than 30,000 people. In this group of women, each restitution of identity is celebrated as a historical reparation and, although sometimes her voice breaks thinking about her struggle, she says that the grandmothers “have hope tattooed on their souls of tomorrow”. In the living room of her house, she has a photograph of her daughter to whom she promises every day that her grandson will appear and that she will not leave the world without meeting him. “I’m alive because I have to find him,” she emphasizes.
But he is aware that time is running against him. The few remaining grandmothers are older and many have died without being able to hug their children’s children. So far there are 132 restored grandchildren, but some 370 born in captivity or kidnapped are missing. To speed up the location of those who remain, the Cordoba branch of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo asked the provincial government to digitize the birth certificates between 1976 and 1983 preserved on paper. On March 24, 2019, National Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, which commemorates the victims of the last dictatorship, the agreement was signed to start the program for identity.
In three years, 510,453 items were digitized and the uploading to the database will be completed in the coming weeks, in the year that marks 40 years of uninterrupted democracy in Argentina. Calixto Angulo, secretary of Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice of Córdoba, points out that the ignorance of the whereabouts of more than 300 people is a debt to democracy. “A State that provides information and provides collaboration to the associations that seek is a State that breaks the pact of silence of the genocidal”, he assures. The organization of Abuelas participated in the design, implementation and control of this public policy, in a joint effort with the Government and the National University of Córdoba (UNC).
In Córdoba, the Memory Law has been in force since 2007, which created the Commission and the Provincial Archive of Memory, which develops State collaboration tools to clarify crimes against humanity. The Archive is located in the building where the Department of Information 2 (D2) operated under the Cordoba Police, a special division designed to persecute and repress and which was used as a detention center. There today a light is turned on for each recovered grandson.
Three members of Abuelas work to execute the program, who scanned 3,500 volumes of paper minute books, and more than 50 UNC university students. “This work was done with students who were not born when the events occurred. For us it is very important because we also contribute to the State paying off the debt it has with the whole of society and trying to close that wound”, says Juan Saffe, secretary of University Extension of the Faculty of Economic Sciences. “Beyond what the laws, treaties and regulations on the right to identity recognize, many of the victims of that atrocious genocide were from our community, students, teachers… So, the University is also closing its own wound” , add.
Cecilia Díaz is the director of the digitization project, which works together with Abuelas in a symbiosis that combines technique with experience and care for information. “What we are doing seems beautiful to me: clarifying something so dark that happened in our country, having been traversed by the dictatorship and always committed to human rights organizations. When they summoned me, I undoubtedly said yes. Before, before each investigation they had the bureaucratic delay, depending on physical access, the volume, scanning, photocopying… ”, she details.
Now, the name of the child, the parents, the hospitals, the midwife or the official who certified the birth are uploaded into a database that can provide crucial information to the victims of dispossession. “That will speed up a lot and I am very hopeful that we will soon have news,” says Díaz.
Lilén Casella is an archivist and member of Abuelas in the digitization team. “The Provincial Civil Registry is a centralizing body for the 619 offices in the interior. We are talking about a very large archive, a selection had to be made, survey the status of that documentation and based on that, determine if it would withstand the physical and mechanical work to which books that are over 40 years old are subjected.” , Explain.
Search without borders
María Teresa Sánchez, a lawyer for Abuelas, says that the mothers went out to track down their daughters at the very moment of their disappearance. “They always say that at first it was a solitary search, they went to juvenile courts to ask about their grandsons or granddaughters at the time they were due to be born,” she recounts. “An official from the Judiciary told them: ‘Many grandmothers come asking the same thing, they are not going to achieve anything by themselves, why don’t they get together?’ In 1977 the grandmothers formed the organization”.
The investigation included foreign countries and requests to the United Nations. During the dictatorship they demanded the truth under the slogan ‘They were taken alive, we saw them we want them’. Later, the cry was ‘Trial and Punishment’ and since 2003, the motto that unites human rights defenders is ‘Memory, Truth and Justice’. Even today the investigations cross the Argentine borders. In the United States, Canada and Spain, for example, there are Grandmother nodes to receive queries and provide information. “They sold our children to the US, to Paraguay, anywhere,” recalls Torres, and thinks that perhaps his grandson Daniel, like others, is abroad. “If not, how can they not look for us?” asks the last grandmother alive in Córdoba.
Sánchez explains that Abuelas has always worked with the State, although human rights policies have varied with the governments. “We had a very close relationship with Raúl Alfonsín, in his government the National Genetic Data Bank and the main human rights pacts were approved”, he remarks, in relation to the first constitutional president elected in 1983. Under his mandate the Trial of the Juntas was carried out, as the process and sentence against nine hierarchs of the dictatorship was called.
Sánchez believes that the digitization of the minutes adds to memory and truth. “Keeping memory alive is not only a tribute to the disappeared, but an opportunity for the younger generations to understand what happened and why we are talking about ‘Never again’, that the terrible crimes of the dictatorship do not happen again,” holds.
María Belén Altamiranda, 45, is a recovered granddaughter, coordinator of the Grandmothers Memory Commission and part of the minutes digitization team. She is the daughter of Rosa Taranto and Horacio Altamiranda, militants of the guerrilla movement Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores – Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (PRT-ERP), kidnapped in 1977 in the town of Florencio Varela, province of Buenos Aires, and locked up in the clandestine center of detention El Vesuvio. Rosa was seven months pregnant, she gave birth to her daughter at the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital and the baby was handed over to the Christian Family Movement, which gave her up for adoption.
María Belén always knew that she was adopted and in 2005 she began the search for her origins. The Genetic Data Bank confirmed her identity. “It was the State that kidnapped, murdered, stole our identity and it is the State itself that helps in the search,” Altamiranda emphasizes, in relation to the agreement for birth certificates. “What plays against us is time because we want the grandchildren to be able to meet her grandmothers,” underlines Belén, who met all four of her grandparents.
“Identity is everything. It is finding the pillars of the beginnings, it is knowing the truth, what happened, who your parents were. I collaborate with Grandmothers so that there is memory, so that it is counted and known. The word disappeared is so ugly… But as long as we remember them they will be. Something we learned from the Grandmothers is that nothing is with rancor or revenge. We only ask for the justice that they did not have with our parents”.
#digitalization #birth #certificates #hope #grandmothers #stolen #babies #Argentina