DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Argentina went through a vicious period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was known as the Dirty War. The country's military dictatorship imprisoned or killed at least 9,000 people said to be political dissidents. Some say that number could be as high as 30,000. Many had babies were taken by the military and adopted into families. For decades, a human rights movement called the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo has fought to find out what happened to those children. The president of that group, Estela de Carlotto, held a press conference in Argentina this week. Carlotto just learned that the grandson she has long been searching for has been found.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ESTELA DE CARLOTTO: (Through translator) The empty chair is now going to be filled by him. The empty picture frames that were waiting to be filled are now going to have his image.
GREENE: Carlotto's grandson volunteered for a DNA test after having doubts about his identity. He's the 114th so-called stolen child found so far by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Writer Francisco Goldman has been chronicling Carlotto's story over the years. He joined us to explain who these young dissidents were, what happened to them and to their babies.
FRANCISCO GOLDMAN: The people that disappeared were often taken to secret detention centers and tortured, kept prisoner for a while and, in most circumstances, finally disappeared, their bodies just buried in anonymous graves. But what made Argentina really unique and different was that when they had pregnant prisoners - 'cause these were very young women, student-aged women, young mothers who were being kidnapped - and when they noticed that somebody was pregnant, they kept them alive until the baby was born. And then, they would take those babies away and kill the mother.
GREENE: So these children go to families who supported the government in some way. Their parents usually were executed after the mother gave birth. And this, over the years, became really the fuel for what has become one of the most important human rights organizations in Argentina. And it's been led by Estela de Carlotto. And what exactly is her story?
F. GOLDMAN: Well, Estela Carlotto took over in the 1980s. It was first led by a woman named Chicha Mariani. Estela Carlotto, her story is really stunning. I don't think she even knew that her daughter had been necessarily involved in anything. But one day, she was called into a police station, and her daughter's body was given to her and her husband - no explanation. And she immediately went and joined the Grandmothers, the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, the families of the disappeared group, the very next day.
GREENE: This is the organization we're talking about, this human rights group.
F. GOLDMAN: Right.
GREENE: And we should say - and this is - I know this is graphic. But she has talked about that there were actually bullet holes in her daughter's stomach, which she has taken to mean that someone was trying to make it seem like her daughter wasn't pregnant when she was killed.
F. GOLDMAN: Right. There were bullet wounds in her abdomen and womb, which she later interpreted to mean that they were trying to hide that she had been pregnant - absolutely.
GREENE: I wanted to ask you about the adoptive parents. It's hard to know. I mean, in some cases, they might have been complicit in some way that might mean they did something unlawful. But in other cases, you found that that's not always the case.
F. GOLDMAN: No, they might've just, you know, gone through the church. And this was the child that was given to them. You know, they might have done it completely in a pretty straight-up way.
GREENE: So now Estela de Carlotto says that there's DNA evidence, that she is going to be reunited with her grandson.
F. GOLDMAN: Yeah, and this is 36 years later.
F. GOLDMAN: She was - oversaw the discovery and reuniting with families of over 100 of these missing grandchildren. And you just can't imagine the love these children who get their heritage sort of given back to them had for her. And everybody felt, well, it's 36 years. It's been a long time, you know? So as the years went by and the campaigns to publicize this phenomenon went on and as the profile of the grandmothers grew nationally and internationally, so many years have passed. And nobody really believed, anymore, that she would ever find her own missing grandchild. And that he suddenly turns up now is extraordinary.
GREENE: Could this be a turning point because Estela de Carlotto is the leader of this organization? She has now - you know, it appears going to be reunited with her grandson. Could that mean, with all the news coverage that's getting, that there might be people, grandparents or some of these kids who are now in their 30s - more people might come forward?
F. GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that outpour of emotion over this will probably motivate something like that.
GREENE: Francisco Goldman, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate it.
F. GOLDMAN: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.