MORON, Argentina: The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo are aging. Every day, the hope of finding their grandchildren, who were stolen and given up for adoption under the Argentine dictatorship, fades.
As many as 500 children were taken from their imprisoned mothers, most of whom subsequently disappeared under the country’s brutal military rule from 1976 to 1983.
Most of the children were offered to people close to the dictatorship, who wanted them to be raised as regime loyalists.
Only around 130 have been found so far, and the search for the rest – now adults in their 40s and 50s – continues.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, or Madres de Plaza de Mayo, is an organization founded in 1977 by women trying to find their arrested daughters – and the babies they carried into captivity.
These “abuelas” take their name from the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires where courageous women have organized demonstrations to demand information on the fate of their loved ones. They did so to no avail.
As the original grandmothers age, the organization has since been populated by a younger generation of scholars and advisers.
The advocacy body holds regular public meetings in hopes of reaching out to people who might have questions about who they are — questions that can be difficult to confront — and convincing them to come forward.
Those who successfully pass through a verification process may have their stolen identities “returned”.
But it is an increasingly difficult undertaking. Over time, those who believe they are the children of missing women are less and less likely to come forward.
“They come to us at various stages of doubt, some have carried the burden in silence for 20 years, sometimes more, without telling anyone, not even their spouse,” project coordinator Laura Rodriguez told AFP. identity of grandmothers.
Doubts can be triggered by a lack of physical resemblance to their parents, lack of photos of their pregnant mothers, or gaps in family history.
Some make several appointments for a consultation, but never show up.
Since June 2019, there have been no new renditions, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic which has hampered the activities of Grandmothers – research and interviews with potential victims.
Six of the original grandmothers died during the pandemic.
Jump into the unknown
In Moron, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Buenos Aires, six sensitization meetings are planned by the Grandmothers and the Argentine human rights ombudsman for the coming weeks.
But taking that first step is not easy.
‘It’s a leap into the unknown,’ said Guillermo Amarilla Molfino, once known as ‘Grandson No. 98’, who said it took him years to seek help , then go through the restore process.
He reunited with his brothers and acted as an advisor to the grandmother outreach team.
“There are a lot of fears, there is guilt, this guilt that silences us: ‘Why do I doubt my parents, why do I betray those who gave me food, a roof over my head? ?’ he recalls of his own experience. .
“Silence can become an ally you live with,” Molfino added. And finally, accepting that you’re not who you thought you were can “feel like you’re handing over your life” to someone else.
It’s also a difficult task for the researchers, said Luciano Lahiteau, one of the Grandmothers team members.
You have to carefully balance an empathetic shoulder, he explained, with the “not necessarily enjoyable duty to…choose reliable information from what a person tells us.”
Lahiteau and other researchers take volunteer histories and documentation, when available, and compare them to civilian and hospital records, and to evidence collected during military trials.
If evidence of a match turns up, the DNA can be matched against a database containing genetic information on many, but not all, families in search of a missing grandchild.
When a match is found, “it’s like winning the lottery!” Rodgriguez said.
But more often than not, hopes are dashed.
“We get a lot of people who are not children of missing women,” Rodriguez said.
Still, even for those who go through the process unsuccessfully, “it does a lot for identity,” Lahiteau said.
“It allows you to recognize: ‘OK, I’m someone who doubts my identity; I have the right to try to find out where I come from,” he explained.
“Really, each person comes out of the process better than they came into it,” Rodriguez added.