For some, it breathes new life into the long-running quest to bring justice to the victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship of 1976 – 1983. For others, it symbolises the strength and courage of the women who have spent decades demanding the truth about what happened to their loved ones. For sections of the press, it is a ‘miracle’.
But, for Estela Carlotto, who, as President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, has worked harder than most to uncover the dark secrets of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, only one thing matters: the fact that 36 years after her pregnant daughter Laura was detained and later murdered by the military authorities, Estela is to be reunited with the grandson she has never known.
In July, 36-year old Ignacio Hurban, a married musician living in the city of Olavarría in Buenos Aires province, took a voluntary DNA test after having doubts over his true identity. The results, announced on 5 August by Judge María Romilda Servini of the Federal Tribunal No. 1, confirmed that he was in fact Guido Montoya Carlotto, the biological grandson of Estela Carlotto and son to Laura Carlotto and Walmir Oscar Montoya. The news triggered celebration in the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other human rights groups across the country.
“I want to touch him, to look at his face, to see if he is as we dreamed” said Estela when the news was broken. “Now he can be where he belongs. Laura is smiling from heaven and saying: my mother never forgot what they were doing to me.”
The case of Guido Montoya and his murdered parents is one that is painfully familiar in Argentina. Laura, 22-years old, and Walmir, 23-year old, were members of the Peronist Youth, a political group inspired by the ex-president Juan Peron with close ties to the Montoneros left-wing guerrilla movement. In late-1977, the young couple were abducted by the authorities and taken to the clandestine detention centre La Cacha in the city of La Plata.
As interrogators sought information about Montonero members and activity, Walmir was tortured and then killed by his captors. Laura, who was three months pregnant when arrested, was held at La Cacha for several months before being transferred to a military hospital.
It was here on 26 June 1978, handcuffed to the stretcher on which she lay, that Laura gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Guido after both his uncle and his grandfather. She spent only a few hours with Guido before he was taken from her and she was returned to La Cacha. A few weeks later, she was taken to an isolated location and shot.
Unlike so many other families, the Carlottos were able to bury their daughter after the military returned her body. It was through a neighbour who had seen her in the military hospital that the family first learned of Laura’s pregnancy. However, it wasn’t until 1985 when Laura’s body was exhumed that the birth could be confirmed. Forensic analysis also found that she had been shot in the head at point-blank range.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was founded in 1977 to spearhead the truth and justice movement. Members of the Grandmothers and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are identified by the white headscarves they wear. Estela Carlotto joined the Grandmothers in 1979 and became the organisation’s president ten years later.
The group campaigns to find the estimated 500 children in Argentina who were taken from their parents during the dictatorship, often to be brought up by those involved in human rights abuses. The first missing grandchild was located in 1984. Guido Carlotto is the 114th. After decades of looking on as grandparents, brothers and sisters are reunited with lost relatives, it is now finally Estela’s turn.
“My nephew had been having doubts about his identity for several years,” said Estela’s son, Guido ‘Kibo’ Carlotto. “Two months ago he decided to go for analysis. It was my sister, who works at the Institute of National Identity, who told him ‘I’m your auntie, you’re the son of Laura Carlotto, my sister, Laura.’”
Guido has not found only one long-lost grandmother. In Cañadón Seco, a village in the province of Santa Cruz, 91-year old Hortensia Ardura de Montoya welcomed the news that she had “a grandson who looks like Walmir.” An auditorium bearing the murdered music student’s name was opened in the village a number of years ago. It now emerges that jazz pianist and Miles Davis fan Guido Montoya, the son Walmir would never know, inherited his father’s musical talent.
The Argentinean president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, who had congratulated Estela Carlotto by telephone, tweeted that “most important is the knowledge of truth, the persistence of memory, and the triumph of justice.” Her sentiments were echoed by the opposition Radical Civic Union, whose leader Ernesto Sanz said “if anyone ever needs an example of perseverance and love, they should review the story of the reunion between Carlotto and her grandson.”
Around 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the authorities during the dictatorship. While several of the perpetrators including the dictator Rafael Videla have received prison sentences, many of those involved in human rights abuses remain free. Videla died in prison last year, but as the Carlotto case shows, there is still a very long way to go before closure can be brought to this tragic phase of Argentinean history.
“This is a triumph for all Argentineans,” said Estela. “I didn’t want to die without hugging him.” At 83-years old and after what must at times have seemed an eternal struggle, she can finally put her fears to rest.
Nick MacWilliam is a British freelance writer, editor and translator based between Chile, Argentina and London. As well as LAB, he contributes articles on culture and politics to Open Democracy, Pluto Press, the Quietus, Remezcla Magazine, Left History, the Comment Factory and various other publications. He is assistant editor of the online magazine Sounds and Colours, which focuses on South American music, cinema and literature, and the managing editor of Revolver Santiago Magazine, Chile’s main English-language cultural review. Follow him on Twitter at @NickMacWilliam.