Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo identify 132nd stolen grandchild

Grandchild 132, Juan José Morales, was raised by the owners of the farm where his mother worked

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who search for people illegally taken from their parents as newborn babies during Argentina’s last dictatorship (1976-1983) and raised under a false identity, announced Wednesday that they had found their 132nd missing grandchild, a man born in 1975 named Juan José Morales. 

Estela de Carlotto, chairwoman of Grandmothers, read a statement during a press conference held at the ex-ESMA, a site which used to be one of the dictatorship’s harshest detention centers. “We meet again to reveal the resolution of a new case,” she said. “Following analysis by the National Genetic Data Bank, a court in Tucumán informed Juan José that the people that raised him were not his parents, and that he was a victim of kidnapping and identity substitution in the context of State terrorism.”

Juan José Morales, who participated in the conference via Zoom, 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. 

Yesterday morning, the National Genetic Data Bank filed a report showing that the man who raised him wasn’t his father, which confirms that Juan José was appropriated. He will keep searching for information about who his father was. 

Horacio Pietragalla Corti, the Human Rights Secretary and a grandchild with a restored identity himself, pointed out that the case shows how civilians took part in the dictatorship’s crimes. “The mother, Mercedes, worked for the people who appropriated Juan José,” he said. 

“Today, we embrace Juan José as our 132nd grandson, and he starts a new journey to find his father – just like a puzzle that never fully ends,” said de Carlotto in the press conference. “They killed all of his family, but they’re watching from heaven now: we’re here with him, and we’ll have his back,” she ended. 

A prosperous December

The announcement came only six days after the 131st grandchild was found. Last Thursday, Estela de Carlotto, Chair of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo Association, confirmed that they had found the son of Lucía Angela Nadín and Aldo Hugo Quevedo, a couple from Mendoza who were kidnapped in 1977.

On that day, de Carlotto asked anyone who had information or suspicions about possible grandchildren to come forward. “Our grandchildren are already around 45 years old. We appeal to the whole of society to join us. Any piece of information or suspicion is enough to come to us. Don’t keep your information to yourself. Don’t keep your doubts to yourself. Break the silence. Our grandchildren are among us,” she said. 

The Grandmothers, called Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in Spanish, started meeting in 1977 to locate an estimated 300 children who were abducted during the dictatorship’s repression and then illegally adopted. Among them, there are children who were born to mothers in prison and were later “disappeared” by the military. 

In some cases, the regime kept pregnant women alive in detention centers until they gave birth, before murdering them and taking their children. The Grandmothers work with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the National Bank of Genetic Data (BNDG, its Spanish acronym), which use DNA analysis to identify the children.

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