Children of a Dirty War
Argentina struggles with the legacy of a horrible crime
Many Argentines have been aghast at pre-trial testimony in the Videla-Bianco-Massera case. Nurses, obstetricians, and other hospital workers have recounted how women gave birth while chained to their beds and sometimes begged in vain to hold their babies. According to one poll in Buenos Aires, 74 percent of the capital's residents now want abuses from the dirty war to be investigated and prosecuted. And crowds gather nightly outside Videla's home to jeer the old general.
While the question of how to deal with the past plagues all of Argentina, the most excruciating dilemmas are faced by the young adults known as the "children of the disappeared." They must cope simultaneously with the awful fate of their biological parents and with their attachment to those who raised them, often lovingly. The central question is: Should these children be reunited with their biological families by court order? The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo answer, unequivocally, "Yes." But some of the children say, "No."
Runaways. Pablo and Carolina Bianco, for example, have fled to neighboring Paraguay to avoid taking court-ordered blood tests. Her eyes flashing, Carolina turned on a television crew that confronted her last summer. "It's not true what they are saying. It has not been proven," she said. "I don't care about Videla. All I want is my father and mother back."
Madariaga, who believes he is Pablo's real father, is sympathetic. "We realize that it's difficult for them," he says. "Facing the truth means realizing that the people they think they love have filled their heads with lies. But it is the lie, not our search, that is damaging them."
Elena Gallinaris was tracked down by her grandmother and uncle when she was 10. Blood tests proved they were related, and all of a sudden, a judge told her about her birth. Now 21, her loyalties are firmly with her blood relatives. She says the first decade of her life was a cheerless time, living with a policeman and his wife who slapped her for the slightest infraction.
Gallinaris now wants to learn everything she can about her dead parents. Comfort comes in piles of newspaper cuttings and photos from the '70s. She spends hours going through them, imagining her mother and father, how they dressed, what issues they would have discussed. Her longing for them is in sharp contrast to the attitude of Carolina and Pablo Bianco, who use the term "subversives" when they talk about the people they are told are their biological parents.
A common dread. Elena does have one thing in common with Carolina and Pablo: She dreads the Videla-Bianco-Massera trial--but for different reasons. As she hears midwives testify how they attended births, she fights off images of her mother broken by torture, blindfolded, and tied down. One midwife recalled that a military doctor congratulated a mother as he carried her child away. Another midwife, Rosalinda Salguero, described a mother pleading to nurse her baby just one time: "I remember her saying, 'Dear child, we will never see each other again,' then she gave me her child, and I took it to where the others were. The next day the woman was gone."