After searching for more than 35 years, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina have finally found the grandson of one of their founders, Estela de Carlotto.
The recent discovery ends a long and painful journey for Carlotto, who lost her pregnant daughter, Laura Carlotto, during the days of the brutal military dictatorship of 1976-83 in Argentina, when she was abducted and imprisoned.
Henchmen of the dictatorship allowed Carlotto’s daughter to give birth to her child, a son. Then they took the infant and placed it with a childless family of their choosing, often selecting military families, just before killing Carlotto’s daughter shortly after the birth.
Since its formation, the goal of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo has been focused on the search for children, who were born in the clandestine detention centers of Argentina’s military dictatorship,
From the time of the dictatorship until today, ecumenical organizations in the region, including the World Council of Churches (WCC) and member churches in Latin America have accompanied the work of the “mothers” and “grandmothers.”
For Carlotto, who is viewed as a champion of the fight for human rights, her journey ended on July 5, 2014 when a 35-year-old man named Guido, a musician in the city of Olavarria, was discovered as her grandson after he volunteered to undergo a DNA test which turned out to be a match with Carlotto.
Guido took the test because of his own doubts about his identity and where he came from.
While there are other stories of grandchildren being found, this story was particularly poignant as it now touched the life of a woman leader known for seeking justice for other women who suffered a similar fate.
The story is also important because it keeps alive the on-going need in Argentina for unveiling the truth of the dark days of dictatorship.
Rewriting history, churches’ pursuit of justice
The finding of Carlotto’s grandson has also been hailed by ecumenical leaders in Argentina who have been involved with the churches in the process of rewriting that part of their country’s history and in the pursuit of justice.
Carlotto has on several occasions publically stressed and valued the unconditional support she and the other women have received from the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and from the member churches of the WCC.
The Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP) recalls that Carlotto often accompanied the churches and ecumenical organizations in several activities. “She was the one who travelled to Geneva in the late 70s to meet with Charles Harper, who was in charge of the human rights programs for Latin America at the WCC,” he said. “The claim of Carlotto, along with those of other leaders, always found very sensitive ears in the World Council of Churches and in the whole ecumenical movement,” added Schvindt.
In a public letter sent to Carlotto on July 6, the Bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina, Frank de Nully Brown, expressed joy and gratification that the search in which the mothers and grandmothers put so much dedication and effort has paid off once again.
“We thank God the giver of life for the recovered grandchildren, and we ask Him to continue to strengthen the mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in finding their beloved ones,” he said in the letter.
“The WCC was already committed to the active support of programs benefitting Chilean refugees fleeing the Pinochet regime into Argentina, right after 1973,” Harper said. “Member churches and related groups in Mendoza and Buenos Aires worked hand in hand with the efforts of the UNHCR to protect thousands.”
“When the 1976 coup d’état by the Argentinian military triggered instability and repression against both the refugee communities and its own citizens, members of the WCC’s member churches were among the first to alert the international ecumenical family to the sinister phenomenon of what was termed the “forced disappearance of persons,” he said.
Harper said that among the “disappeared” were hundreds of young political opponents, some of them parents of infants or children yet to be born. It was then that the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, building on their campaign as Mothers of Plaza de Mayo as well, sought support in their search for their missing grandchildren.
With the appearance of Guido, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have managed to find 114 of their lost children, who were illegally carried off under the military rule.
For many in Argentina, this accomplishment is not the end of a fight, considering that over 400 missing children, now adults, who were abducted and “adopted” by childless couples, of which the majority were from the armed forces or police, are still “at large,” according to Harper.
With reports from the Rev. Eugenio Albrecht, Evangelical Church of the River Plate; the Latin America and Caribbean Communication Agency of CLAI; Charles Harper, former WCC staff; and Marcelo Schneider, WCC staff in Latin America.