Tears and anger for Argentina’s stolen babies

Teresa Bo, based in Buenos Aires, covers Latin America for Al Jazeera.

Teresa Bo

Emotions where everywhere on Thursday night outside this courtroom in Buenos Aires. Tears, clapping and anger.

Unlike previous human rights trials, in this one the victims are still alive, but remain missing.

They are the babies, born in captivity to women accused of being left-wing fighters during Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976-1982, who were stolen from their parents.

Around 6.30pm local time there were celebrations, 50 years in prison for Jorge Rafael Videla, Argentina’s former military ruler during the dictatorship, who was behind the systematic operation. 

Videla was on trial for the abduction of 35 babies born to women held in captivity. Women who were later executed 

For many this trial is historic as it’s the first time that the leadership of the dictatorship has been found guilty of putting together a systematic plan which entailed stealing babies from so-called political prisoners, and giving them to close allies of the government.

Former military leader Jorge Videla sentenced to 50 years for stealing babies to give to families close to his regime.

These human rights trials are not only meant to judge the events that took place in the past, but also to find out more information about what happened to those children.

Human rights groups say an estimated 500 babies were stolen from their parents. Only 106 of them have been reunited with their biological families.

Alejandro Sandoval was born to disappeared parents and given to a family.

He recovered his identity in 2006 and says he is still trying to cope with his new life.

“My life started all wrong. I was born in a clandestine detention centre, my mother was probably killed after she gave birth to me, so it’s a sad life. But today there are reasons to celebrate,” he told me. 

He also said that “he hoped that eventually those on trial will break down and give some information about those who are still missing”.

During the military dictatorship, thousands were detained and tortured, accused of being fighters.

Human rights groups say 30,000 people were killed. Official record say that figure is closer to 13,000. 

Most of them, referred to in Argentina as desaparecidos, simply went missing. 

Videla was not the only one to be sentenced. There was also former President Reynaldo Bignone who received 15 years in prison, and other military personnel who were involved in the abductions.

The babies were taken away because their families were considered communists and thus not fit to raise a child.

It is the grandmothers of those babies, the mothers of those killed by the military, who have been fighting for years for justice to be served.

Buscarita Roa’s son was one of those killed. She found her granddaughter when she was 22 years old.

She doubts that former members of the military will contribute information, but says the trials are still important.

“Many women in our group have not been able to recover their grandchildren,” she told me.

“Many of them are very old but at least with these trials those who killed our children get the punishment they deserve.”
Statements during this trial shocked many Argentines.

Videla went so far as to blame the pregnant women of using their unborn babies as human shields.

On the other side, there was the statement of Francisco Madariaga, one of those babies that was separated from his mother, who accused his kidnappers of using him as a war tool.

A former undersecretary of human rights from the United States said that his government, a key ally of the dictatorship at the time in the fight against communism in the region, said that his government knew that babies were being stolen, and that they knew that they were not isolated incidents.

Videla and many others are already serving life prison sentences for human rights abuses.

This verdict sends a strong message that the crimes of the ‘dirty war’, however long ago,  will not go unpunished.

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