Reunions a Milestone for Argentina's Stolen Victims

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Paula Logares as an adult pictured beside her parents, who died in Argentina's Dirty War. i

Paula Logares as an adult, pictured beside her parents, who died in Argentina's Dirty War. Logares was illegally appropriated during the Dirty War. Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
Paula Logares as an adult pictured beside her parents, who died in Argentina's Dirty War.

Paula Logares as an adult, pictured beside her parents, who died in Argentina's Dirty War. Logares was illegally appropriated during the Dirty War.

Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
Marcos Suarez, pictured on the left, was taken from his parents and given to a nurse. i

Marcos Suarez, pictured on the right, was taken from his parents during the Dirty War and given to a nurse. He was introduced to his biological grandmother last year. Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
Marcos Suarez, pictured on the left, was taken from his parents and given to a nurse.

Marcos Suarez, pictured on the right, was taken from his parents during the Dirty War and given to a nurse. He was introduced to his biological grandmother last year.

Courtesy of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
An estimated 30,000 people vanished or perished during Argentina's Dirty War. i

An estimated 30,000 people vanished or perished at the hands of the military dictatorship that ran Argentina from 1976 to 1983. At rallies of remembrance -– this year marked the 30th anniversary of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo –- demonstrators unfurl banners that stretch the length of two football fields, containing photographs of the victims of Argentina's military junta. Julie McCarthy, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy, NPR
An estimated 30,000 people vanished or perished during Argentina's Dirty War.

An estimated 30,000 people vanished or perished at the hands of the military dictatorship that ran Argentina from 1976 to 1983. At rallies of remembrance -– this year marked the 30th anniversary of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo –- demonstrators unfurl banners that stretch the length of two football fields, containing photographs of the victims of Argentina's military junta.

Julie McCarthy, NPR

Thirty years after Argentina's Dirty War ended, the country is going through a series of wrenching human rights trials.

Thirty-thousand people had been killed or made to "disappear" under the dictatorship that ruled from 1976 to 1983. No crime committed during the junta seems more diabolical than the theft of babies born to mothers who were later murdered or made to disappear at the hands of the military junta.

It's believed that nearly 500 children were given away to childless military families, sold on the black market, or abandoned at hospitals. In the intervening years, 88 victims have found their biological grandparents in what has been, for many, a painful ordeal.

A Discovery, a First Reunion

Paula Logares was just 23 months old when she and her parents were kidnapped and brought back to Argentina from neighboring Uruguay in 1978. Her parents had been part of the leftist armed rebellion that fought the Argentine dictatorship.

"My parents had been 'Montoneros,' but had quit the group by the time they sought exile in Uruguay," Logares said. She remembers nothing of the kidnapping that ended with her parents' disappearance. Nor does she remember her adoption at age 2 by a police officer, rumored to have been her parents' oppressor, and his wife.

She vividly recalls, however, the courtroom drama six years later when she was forced to confront her real grandmother and the fact that her own identity had been a lie perpetrated by the police officer couple who had appropriated her.

"I was a very small girl ... and I remember that when my grandmother was trying to approach me, I put distance between us. Not running, but just moving to the other side of the table. At the beginning it was total rejection," Logares said.

Retired Judge Andres D'Alessio, who was among the jurists who tried the members of Argentina's junta, also made the landmark decision to return Logares to her biological grandmother in 1984. It was the first case of restitution of a misappropriated child. D'Alessio says the Lavallens — the couple who had taken Paula for their own — had poisoned the girl against her grandmother. When her grandmother produced a picture of Logares to prove they were family, Logares blanched.

"She said — 'This photo is too new, too intact to be from a time when I was a little girl,'" D'Alessio said. "And the grandmother very calmly said 'Well, I'm glad you are intelligent. Of course it's a new photo because as I knew I was going to see you today, I made it bigger — look.'"

Logares' grandmother retrieved from her bag the photo store receipt. Overwhelmed, Logares dissolved in tears.

"My reaction was to trust no one. I said they were all lying to me, and the emotions were so strong I just wanted to sleep," Logares recalled.

Sleep, Logares says, cleared her mind. She went home that night with her grandmother, with whom she lived on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

The police officer and his wife, however, continued to press for custody. After consultation with psychiatrists, D'Allesio decided that Paula should meet once more with the couple who had appropriated her. The decision infuriated the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo — the Grandmothers group who had been instrumental in finding Logares. The members argued that the encounter would traumatize the girl all over again.

But D'Alessio says the meeting was cathartic, and recalls the climax when Paula demanded to know where her mother and father were.

"That finished everything," D'Alessio said.

The couple's battle for custody ended in their indictment.

Help from the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

Today, Logares works at the National Memory Archive where the government compiles material on victims of the old state terror. Among them were the parents of Marcos Suarez. The 31-year-old discovered last year that he had been illegally adopted in the late 1970s by a nurse named America.

The hospital director had falsified a birth certificate to say that America was the birth mother, and that Suarez had been born at home. Over time, Suarez grew suspicious.

"I thought, how could a health care worker run the risk of her life and her baby's by giving birth at home? I also began to ask about my father — a taboo subject that nobody seemed to know anything about," Suarez said.

At the urging of friends, he went to see the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo last year. In their 30 years of existence, the grandmothers have examined thousands of public documents and gone undercover in search of their grandchildren. Suarez said a psychologist at the association convinced him that he needed to be looking not only for his father, but his mother, as well.

After tests confirmed his biological identity, Suarez was introduced to his grandmother for the first time last year. He describes a feeling of immediate connection — "we looked alike" — and he says "the ground trembled" when his grandmother showed him pictures of his mother and father, politically active medical students who had disappeared in 1976.

Suarez is just now finishing high school. He keeps his parents' memory alive with his real family name — Suarez. Asked if he is bitter at those who denied him his name when they fraudulently adopted him, Marcos says, "No. I feel no resentment ... They gave me everything, and that's why I was so cautious. I didn't want to hurt them."

Screening Victims

The scandal of the Misappropriated Babies of the Dirty War has reached Argentina's Supreme Court. A decision is expected soon on whether compulsory medical screening of anyone suspected of having been misappropriated is constitutional. Logares and Suarez believe the decision should be left to the individual. Human Rights advocate and Supreme Court Justice Carmen Argibay says it is a question of what prevails: society's interest in knowing the truth, or the individual's interest not to know.

"It's not an easy question. This is a person who has been probably a victim of crime. Should we double victimize him, re-victimize him or her if he doesn't want to give way to a test for something that he doesn't want to know?" Argibay said.

For her part, Logares, the first child to be reunited with her grandparents, said she "doesn't feel saved by the grandmothers." She says her struggle for identity is bound up with something much deeper than having discovered her biological family.

"I'll continue to look for who I am in a metaphysical sense, but my search is not locked in that past," Logares said.

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