Jacob Sugarman reported from the Casa Por La Identidad.
A middle-aged man in a white Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo tee-shirt and jeans bellowed “Vamos!”. The packed auditorium at the Casa Por La Identidad (House of Identity) erupted in applause.
On Friday, the human rights organization led by Estela de Carlotto held a press conference at the ex-ESMA — a former detention center turned national museum of remembrance — to announce that it had identified the man as the 133rd “grandchild”, born in captivity to parents illegally detained and forcibly disappeared during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Grandchild 133 is the son of Julio Santucho, who is still alive, and Cristina Navajas, who was kidnapped on July 13, 1976, and remains disappeared. During the conference, he declined to offer the name that he will be using. Grandchild 133 was registered as the son of a member of the security forces and his wife, who was a nurse, on March 24, 1977.
Julio Santucho is the youngest brother of Mario Roberto Santucho, who founded the Workers Revolutionary Party (PRT) and led the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) — a left-wing guerrilla group that fought the dictatorship.
Mario was killed during a standoff with a task force linked to Argentina’s armed forces on July 19, 1976 in the province of Buenos Aires. That year, Julio went into exile, where he searched in vain for his wife and his sister, Manuela Santucho. He finally moved back to Argentina in 1992.
Flanked by friends and family, many of whom were crying tears of joy, he recounted the moment that he learned of his son’s identity.
“I was in Tucumán presenting a book and found out there,” he said.“I spoke on the phone with him again yesterday. And today I finally got to hug him.”
Grandchild 133 had doubts about his true identity for years, but didn’t know where to start looking for answers, according to Julio. His search was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a victory for democracy and a defeat for the dictatorship, which tried to take our children away from us. But we are recovering them.”
Grandchild 133 revealed that he was playing with his dog in Rome when he got the call. “It all happened very, very fast, and it was all very, very beautiful,” he said, his voice quavering.
“I have the feeling I have found a luminous person, someone really special. I am sure we will be together now for the rest of our lives. And he is a Boca fan, like me.”
The news was first relayed by Victoria Montenegro, 47, who was recovered by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in 2001, and later confirmed by the human rights organization on Twitter.
“Almost 40 years after the beginning of the longest democratic period in our history, we continue searching for our grandchildren every day. Every restitution is a reaffirmation that the Argentine people accompany us and have decided not to forget.”
The discovery comes 211 days after the group announced they had successfully identified grandchild number 132, Juan José Morales, in December of last year.
“To us old ladies, this news makes us younger”, said Abuelas president Estela de Carlotto.
“There are very few of us now, so this task will be left for our grandchildren. The future belongs to them, and they are already working. The handover is all set. As well as with the institutions that work with us, such as the National Bank of Genetic Data,” she added.
“We are surrounded by love and support. Waiting.”
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The story of Grandchild 132
Juan José Morales, who was born in 1975, contacted human rights organizations in 2004 after finding out the parents who raised him were not his biological family. In 2008, the National Genetic Data Bank confirmed he was the son of Mercedes del Valle Morales, a 21-year-old farm worker in Tucumán. Mercedes was a militant in the PRT-ERP guerrilla, and was kidnapped in May 1976, when Juan José was a 9-month-old baby. She and most of her family remain disappeared.
Juan José was raised by the owners of the farm where she worked, as a child of their own. In the intervening years, the organization has been conducting analysis to clarify his origins. In December, the National Genetic Data Bank filed a report showing that the man who raised him wasn’t his father, which confirmed that Juan José was appropriated. He is searching for information about who his father was.