"I didn't want to die without hugging him, and soon I will be able to."
With these words, Estela de Carlotto, the president of a group of grandmothers in Argentina who have been working for more than three decades to locate children stolen during the country’s terrifying Dirty War, announced on Monday the finding of Grandchild Number 114. Her grandson, Guido.
It was a revelation that electrified the public in Argentina.
The president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo herself had found the missing link in her family, a result of the legacy that Argentine society is still grappling with after the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 to 1983, took newborn children away from captured dissidents and changed the babies’ identities.
'The empty picture frames, the ones waiting for him, will have his picture.'
“Now I have my fourteen grandchildren with me. The empty chair will now be his. The empty picture frames, the ones waiting for him, will have his picture,” Carlotto told VICE News, after the confirmation that a 36-year-old man by the name of Ignacio Hurban was in fact Guido Carlotto.
“He is beautiful, he is an artist, a good kid,” she said, beaming.
Guido was born in captivity to Estela’s daughter, Laura, a Peronist student and militant in the armed guerrilla group Montoneros, which the Argentine junta brutally suppressed. Laura Carlotto was kidnapped in late 1977 by Argentina’s armed forces. She was three months pregnant.
Laura was held for six more months in a secret detention center called La Cacha. Then, on June 26, 1978, she gave birth to a baby boy at a military hospital. During labor, she was handcuffed and surrounded by military officials, according to testimonies collected since the end of the dictatorship.
She and her baby spent only five hours together before Guido was turned over to another family. Laura never saw him again.
The National DNA Data Bank in Buenos Aires, which holds DNA samples of leftists who were “disappeared” during the dictatorship, confirmed on Monday that Hurban is the son of Laura Carlotto and Walmis Oscar Montoya. Both were captured and murdered by the military junta under Rafael Videla, who ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1981.
Guido’s identity was proven after the man voluntarily submitted to tests upon suspecting that he was not blood-related to the family he knew. He also appears to have responded to a media campaign launched before this summer’s World Cup, in which Argentina’s national soccer stars, including Lionel Messi, urged average Argentines to “resolve your identity now” as part of the country’s ongoing search for an estimated 400 children who might have been stolen by the military regime.
Ignacio Hurban’s samples were cross-referenced with the national DNA bank at the Durand Hospital. Those studies found a 99.9% positive match with the Carlotto family.
Guido's birth was registered on June 2, 1978, as Ignacio Hurban. He is a jazz pianist and director of a music school in Olavarría, in the province of Buenos Aires. He has kept a low profile this week since the announcement of his identity, reports said, telling friends he would be staying home from work.
The story rippled through Argentina’s political sphere, dredging up fierce emotions in a country still haunted by a brutal crackdown on dissidents that left as many as 30,000 people “disappeared” or dead. The economy minister, Axel Kicillof, burst into tears during a radio interview on Tuesday after hearing the news.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also wept upon learning about Guido Carlotto, she said. “Today Argentina is a little more just,” she wrote on Facebook.
A search completed
For Estela de Carlotto, now 83, a quest that has lasted 36 years is now over.
She received her first clue that she might have a grandchild in April 1978, when a woman approached her husband’s paint-store business and told her that she had been detained by the military alongside Laura, who was well into a pregnancy.
On August 25, 1978, Estela received the body of her daughter, 58 days after Laura had given birth to Guido. Her face was disfigured by bullet wounds.
No one ever told Estela de Carlotto what had happened to her daughter. Later, she joined the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that would become internationally known for holding weekly vigils in hopes of reuniting with missing loved ones. The grandmothers’ trademark became the white handkerchiefs they would tie as shawls over their heads.
Although it is not certain if the family that raised Guido Carlotto will face prosecution, there are precedents in which such families did face kidnapping charges for being linked directly to the dictatorship.
On Wednesday, Estela de Carlotto and a small group of relatives met her grandson Guido for the first time. It was a private meeting, but while saying goodbye, Guido Carlotto reportedly told Estela, “Chau, abu,” an affectionate term for “grandmother."