The practice of “getting a child” always existed, with the complicity of midwives and civil registries and silence from society. The repressors of the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) mounted in this old gear their system of theft of babies from political militants tortured and murdered in their clandestine detention centers. But trafficking, appropriations and adoptions continued in parallel, outside the barracks. This is proven by the overwhelming number of those born during the period of State terrorism who have irregular documentation and seek their origin. They face an extraordinary problem: as they are not considered children of the disappeared, they are not part of the National Genetic Data Bank [BNDG], which since the return of democracy has allowed the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo to identify many of their grandchildren born in the military dungeons.
The BNDG opened in 1987. In 35 years, the collation of the biological samples of the families of disappeared by the dictatorship and people who doubted their identity allowed the identification without margin of error to 130 of the 500 grandchildren sought by Grandmothers. But the process accumulated more than 12,500 negative results along the way: people who grew up with the substituted identity, but are not the wanted grandchildren. The problem for them is that, after the negative report, they have no other options to trace its origin. And the problem for the State is that these cases grow to 100 per month, while the grandchildren – the reason for being of the BNDG – have stopped appearing. The last announcement was two and a half years ago.
But something is changing, little by little. Twelve negative BNDG cases received good news: their mothers were alive. They are not missing nor were they. The identification was possible because the agency added to its file of families who are looking for grandchildren stolen by the military, another of mothers, who are looking for children stolen outside of State terrorism. The figures were confirmed to EL PAÍS by Mariana Herrera Piñero, BNDG director since 2015, although she warned that “they are dynamic.” The sum of reunions shows the potential of this partial opening of the BNDG DNA file.
The first cases came through the courts and allowed to resolve stories in Rosario, Tucumán, Buenos Aires and Neuquén since 2009. This is: women who find children and children who recover their identity. Facts without correlation with the dictatorship. In a 2018 case, the justice asked to compare the blood of a domestic worker who was looking for a baby born in 1976 in Vicente López (suburbs of Buenos Aires), taken by her bosses and given to a couple, with the negative BNDG cases. Threatened by them with also losing her eldest son, she was silent for decades. The crossing was successful: her daughter doubted her origin and had asked to be compared with the BNDG DNA bank.
Other mothers then went to the National Commission for the Right to Identity [Conadi], and there were more meetings, two of them last November. Nélida Soria is the mother who starred in one of them and moved the town of Colón, Entre Ríos. In 1978, this Uruguayan woman without political activity lived in Buenos Aires with her husband, a young daughter and a baby who had not been registered. A raid forced them to leave the country and temporarily leave the baby with a neighbor: they did not see her again. Lourdes, that’s what she is called, grew up in Córdoba with a different surname and years ago she asked if she was the daughter of the disappeared. His DNA was left with the BNDG and his story remained unresolved. Nélida has just found her because an acquaintance told her that they now receive DNA from mothers. Yy tried.
In this case, the Conadi official Manuel Gonçalves (who is also one of the 130 recovered grandchildren) told the Citizen Radio from Entre Ríos: “We have many samples of young people between 40 and 45 years old who have tested negative, and many mothers who are in this search. We have managed to enter them into the BNDG; From this work we have solved several cases and we hope to solve more ”. They can join the DNA bank if they gave birth between July 1974 and December 1983, exclusively. It doesn’t matter if a child was stolen or handed over for not being able to raise it.
“We need mothers to find us. We are waiting for them, ”says Mariano Landeira, one of the 12,500 cases that were unsuccessful in the gene bank. Landeira was born in February 1975 in a clinic in Wilde (Buenos Aires) that sold him to his foster family. And he dreams of filling “an empty part” of his life. In the BNDG there are already 250 mothers not linked to cases of State terrorism. One is María Alicia Pedrazzi. She gave birth at the Pedro Honaine clinic in San Martín (Buenos Aires) on November 30, 1983 and was told that her baby had died. Over the years he found that it had been changed. Herrera Piñero explains that “the incorporation of mothers serves for possible reunions, which are always a good thing and we want them to happen. And it is also an ideal scientific solution, because negative cases, if they do not recover their identity, remain in the database for life, being constantly compared, something that damages the work of the BNDG ”.
A broad identity law
The iconic BNDG is the sounding board for a great conflict. In 2009, during the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the law that governs it was hardened to optimize its goal: to find the grandchildren of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. For the activists of the right to identity (a conglomerate of NGOs and heterogeneous virtual communities) that law was an arbitrary decision. They consider that this laboratory, which depends on the Ministry of Science, should take all cases, with or without relation to crimes against humanity.
“The claim and the demand are genuine. But how do they have to be conveyed? It is more complex than a genetic analysis. It’s a bigger discussion, ”says Herrero Piñera. “There must be a commitment from the State so that there are no more administrative agencies complicit in the appropriation, and a federal law of identity of origin. The BNDG could be the center, but that the forensic laboratories of the provinces participate and feed a common database ”.
Is it possible, then, to open the BNDG to the whole community? “The search in the BNDG is effective because it is limited to about 500 family groups, plus these mothers who are looking,” warns Herrero Piñera, current director of the gene bank. “But if the universe were opened to other periods, the universe would be enormous and the search more complex. Processing those samples would be impossible with your human resources and technology, and would lead to failure. But a law where the BNDG, with its experience and expertise, would administer the base, would not violate its activity and would allow efficient searches ”, he concludes.
Subscribe here to the newsletter of EL PAÍS América and receive all the informative keys of the present time of the region.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.