Argentina: 120th “Stolen Baby” Recovered After 39 Years

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization, the human rights organization dedicated to protecting children’s rights and finding the true identities of babies stolen during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983), announced that it has found the 120th ‘grandchild,’ reuniting the man with his real family 39 years after his birth.

“The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo wish to inform with joy that we have identified and found the child of Luisa Pratto and Rubén Maulín, born while his mother was in captivity in March of 1977,” the organization said during a press conference led by Estela de Carlotto, the President of the Grandmothers.

In October of 1976, Pratto was four months pregnant when a group of armed security agents raided her home in the northeastern city of Reconquista. Pratto’s house was ransacked and she was forced to watch as her husband, her mother-in-law and other relatives were kidnapped.

Pratto was left alone in the home with her two young children and warned against leaving because she would be hunted down and murdered. For the sake of her children, she listened and stayed in her home, the same place where she would be repeatedly raped and tortured by visiting security agencies for several months.

In late March of 1977, Pratto was nearing the end of her pregnancy and was taken by agents to a private clinic where everything was already arranged for the birth of her child: the bed in the back room, the contracted doctor, the fake birth certificate reported to the Civil Registry and the name of the family that was to appropriate the newborn when he arrived on March 26.

The mother was then drugged, escorted out of the clinic and driven back to her home after being threatened yet again. Security forces did not make contact with Pratto after returning her to her home and as time passed, she became emboldened to search for her child.

A genetic test taken in 2009 confirmed the identity of the child, named José Luis Maulín Pratto, but the young man has since fought for the right to have his true identity officially recognized. “Even though 39 years have passed, the same crime that happened to my mother stays with me every day because of my name,” he said.

He is still hopeful, however, because he, along with his mother, filed a case in court for the first time against Cecilia Góngora de Segretín, his adoptive “mother,” and Elsa Nasatsky de Martino, the midwife present during the birth of the child and the woman responsible for taking the baby to Góngora de Segretín.

Last week, Maulín Pratto read an open letter to the court hearing the case, the Federal Tribunal of Santa Fe, with the intention of making clear the history, pain and anguish caused by the case of his appropriation for himself and his family.

“I am José Luis Maulín, but I am legally obligated to present myself as José Luis Segretín,” he read from the letter. “The same goes for my two sons, ages 12 and 16, ensuring that the horror endured by my family has continued on now through three generations.”

The case is scheduled to conclude in August and the judge will decide whether José will remain a Segretín or finally become a Maulín, his true name.

With the other recovered grandchildren, the process of opening and closing a case concerning the “abduction, concealment and identity falsification” took under a year to complete. At the end of the case, the recovered grandchild received their new DNI (national identity document).

According to De Carlotto, there are two factors at play in the case of Maulín Pratto: the first is that the appropriators were civilians close to members of the military but they themselves did not belong to any branch of the military. Secondly, Maulín Pratto lives in Reconquista, a small city of 100,000 some 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of provincial capital Santa Fe and 750 kilometers (465 miles) north of Buenos Aires.

“This is essentially a political issue,” De Carlotto explained. “When the case concerns civilians as appropriators, the case tends to linger more, especially in a smaller city in the interior of the country where the civilian-military complicity was quite strong and they really try to hide how strong these links were during the trial.”

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an offshoot of the Madres (Mothers) de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children had disappeared during the same period, have made it their mission to recover those grandchildren and by working endlessly over the years, 120 now people have discovered their true identities in a process the Grandmothers call “recovery.”

The group, commonly called just “Abuelas” (“The Grandmothers”) for short, is a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1977. The name stems from the Plaza de Mayo or May Square in Buenos Aires, the most important public square in all of Argentina, located directly in front of the Casa Rosada (Pink House), the office of the Argentine President.

The Grandmothers’ cause began just days after March 24, 1976 when a military-led coup d’état deposed Isabel Perón, who became leader of the Republic of Argentina in July of 1974 following the death of her democratically elected husband Juan Domingo Perón, and imposed in her place a right-wing junta led by the leaders of the Armed Forces, the Navy and the Air Force.

From the day the junta took power in March of 1976 until December 10 of 1983, the military leaders oversaw the “Dirty War,” a period the de facto government called “the National Reorganization Process.” During this era, some 30,000 people were killed and “disappeared” by the junta while tens of thousands of others were the victims of other heinous human rights abuses like assault, torture, rape and baby theft as part of a state-sponsored terrorism campaign.

This was part of Operation Condor, a period of systematic political repression and state-sponsored terror involving cooperating international intelligence organizations conducted by the right-wing dictatorships of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The targets, like Luisa Pratto and Rubén Maulín in this case, were individuals or groups that were considered opposition (real or imagined) against those dictatorships in the form of left-wing influence brought on by communist or Soviet ideas, and this continental oppression was all carried out with staunch financial, logistical and political support from the United States and its security agencies.

Rubén Maulín was a member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT), a left-wing political party that existed in the 1960s and 1970s until it was wiped out by the dictatorship. Although most of its members that were detained were eventually murdered, Rubén Maulín was held and tortured for five years but released in 1982, just one year before the dictatorship fell. Luisa Pratto was also tortured (and raped and had her child ripped away from her) but survived, making this case of a stolen baby extremely rare in that both parents survived.

Maulín Pratto lived a lie for several decades until he was approached by a young woman as he left his high school to walk home. The girl told him that she was his biological sister and she told him his real name, his real family and his real background, but he did not believe it and brushed her off.

The thoughts lingered in Maulín Pratto’s head, however, and he began to notice differences between himself and the people he thought were his parents. At around this same time, his adoptive mother Cecilia Góngora de Segretín informed him that he was not her biological child but rather a child that was the result of an affair between his adoptive father and a mystery woman. Góngora de Segretín told him that she agreed to raise him and accept him as her own.

Finally, after 32 years, Maulín Pratto decided to seek out the person that was his true mother through information given to him by his sister years prior. After the two spoke several times, they sent their genetic material to a DNA lab in Buenos Aires which confirmed their relationship but the case, due to the reasons outlined by De Carlotto, is still ongoing until August.

Néstor Kirchner, the now-deceased former leader (2003-2007) of Argentina and husband of former leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), was instrumental in tearing down an amnesty law called the Final Stop Law in 2005 that forbade prosecutions of Dirty War criminals (with the exception of 9 original junta members). The Final Stop Law was instituted shortly after the return to democracy by Raúl Alfonsín of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR), the first post-dictatorship leader (1983-1989).

As Kirchner lifted the amnesty law and former authority figures began to face justice, more light was shed on one of the aforementioned violations, the baby thefts. Babies were taken from murdered female activists that gave birth in custody and were then illegally adopted out to families with ties to the military and clergy, both in Argentina and abroad, most notably across South America and in Spain, Italy and France, among others.

As time passed, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, many of whose children were pregnant at the time they disappeared, realized that their children were allowed to carry their babies to term and that those babies were then given to different families.

Thus, the ‘Grandmothers’ offshoot (originally called Grandmothers With Missing Grandchildren) was formed with the intention of finding those grandchildren and has been active since (along with the Mothers), and both groups were instrumental in pushing for the repeal of the Final Stop Law and further judicial action against Dirty War-era suspects.

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