Buenos Aires, Argentina – As a child growing up in the city of La Plata in the 1980s, Leonardo Fossati looked at himself in the mirror and thought that reality was on the other side.
It was a game the little boy was playing. He felt like he was living in a movie and that there was something in his own life that he couldn’t see. Years later, he would have come to understand the game better: one manifestation among others that there was more to its history.
In fact, his story was completely different. The people who raised him were not his biological parents and a DNA test in 2005 determined he was one of the Argentina’s stolen grandchildren: babies born in captivity during the military dictatorship that terrorized the country from 1976 to 1983 and who were given to other families to raise.
Her parents, Ines Beatriz Ortega and Rubén Leonardo Fossati, are among some 30,000 people who have been reported missing by security forces during this period and whose remains have never been found.
“No matter how difficult it is, the truth always creates a solid foundation from which to continue your life,” he said.
That Fossati and others like him know the truth, it is thanks to the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, (grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), an organization of women who defied a veil of silence over Argentina for dictatorship and held weekly marches demanding to know what happened to their missing children and grandchildren.
So far, the identity of 130 people has been restored through DNA testing. But the search continues for around 300 more – and a new campaign is trying to take advantage of COVID-19 vaccinations to help in this task.
“Help us find you”
With the 40-year-old – the age group that corresponds to grandchildren – now getting vaccinated in Argentina, Abuelas asks people to post pictures of their jabs on social networks with the hashtag #UnaDosisDeIdentidad (A dose of identity).
The messages are accompanied by a text that urges anyone born between 1975 and 1980 who has doubts about their identity to approach the organization, which constantly offers new ways to keep research alive.
“We saw it as an opportunity because in a short period of time the grandchildren we are looking for will be alert as they get vaccinated,” said Belen Altamiranda Taranto, the 88th identified grandchild, who now works with Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in the city of Cordoba.
This year, the government also launched a campaign targeting Argentines living abroad under the banner “Argentina Te Busca” – Argentina is looking for you. Several people have discovered their true identities after moving abroad as adults to Holland, the United States and Spain. Others have been found at a younger age in Chile and Uruguay.
“Help us find you,” Felipe Sola, the foreign minister, said in a video message urging people to contact an Argentine consulate with any questions.
Atrocities of the dictatorship
That so many grandchildren are missing is testament to the pact of silence that remains between those who have committed atrocities.
Under the pretext of eradicating left-wing rebels, the security forces unleashed a massive campaign of state terrorism that eliminated political dissidents, students, activists, labor activists, journalists and many more.
People were dragged from the streets, tortured, murdered, thrown from planes into the river below, or buried in unmarked graves during the dictatorship period. Young women who were pregnant at the time of their disappearance gave birth in clandestine detention centers and their babies were then placed in homes with families who supported the military, or with others who did not ask questions about their origins. children.
These were not isolated incidents, but a systematic plan of appropriation of children which constituted a crime against humanity, according to an Argentinian court in 2012. More than 1,000 people were convicted for their roles in this dark period.
Initiatives like the Una Dosis campaign offer a glimmer of hope to people like Anna Carriquiriborde, 41, whose aunt Gabriela Carriquiriborde disappeared in 1976 in La Plata. Her family is looking for her baby, born in captivity in December of the same year.
Witnesses say the baby was a boy, Carriquiriborde said, although a woman who believes to be Gabriela’s daughter is currently awaiting the results of a DNA test. Two other people also suspected they were Gabriela’s child, but tested negative.
“Obviously, I’m very anxious to meet my cousin,” said Carriquiriborde, who lives in La Plata but was born and raised in Sweden, which provided political asylum for her parents who fled the dictatorship. “We talk about it all the time as a family. It would bring us a lot of happiness, to find a closure in this story. “
The find would be particularly important to her father, she said; Like his missing sister, he was a member of the Juventud Universitaria Peronista, the academic wing of the Peronist political party, and feels guilty for what happened to him.
“I think this is all very infamous, and having held them captive to take their children away,” Carriquiriborde said. “They took away our present, which was my aunt, and also our future. The military dictatorship destroyed many generations.
It took years to generate collective awareness of what happened, and if there’s one thing that flies in the face of the research, it’s time.
“There are very few grandmothers left,” Taranto said. “They are very old and it is a feeling of great sadness and helplessness to see them leave us, without being able to find their grandchildren or the bodies of their children.
“Feeling of freedom”
Taranto and Fossati, both 44, described gaining a sense of empowerment once they were able to find out who they really are.
Taranto met the two groups of grandparents before their deaths. “It’s not a cliché, but you get a feeling of freedom – I’m free to do whatever I want with my story,” said Taranto, whose missing parents Cristian Adrian and Natalia Vanesa were members of the Revolutionary Party of workers.
In Fossati’s case, his mother was a member of the Unión Estudiantil Secundaria (Union of Secondary Students) and his father was a member of the Juventud Universitaria Peronista.
The couple who raised him had no connection with the military. One day in 1977, they received a call from a local midwife, who had a baby that she said needed a home. Fossati understood for himself that he was not their biological child and sought answers once he became a father.
“What happened to me was not an adoption, but an appropriation,” he said.
Now he runs a memorial space in La Plata in a former clandestine detention center where his parents were held. This is also where he was born.
“I have come to learn that you don’t just inherit the color of your skin, the color of the eyes or the stature of your genes,” said Fossati, who almost named his own child Leonardo, the name he took years later when he found out that was what his mother had called him. “Other things are passed on during pregnancy.”
Doubts, he added, are also inherited – so he urged anyone who could harbor them to seek answers. “Time flies, it’s worth overcoming your fears,” he said. “And it is your right to know your identity.”
Anyone who has doubts about their identity can contact Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo through their website.