After 12 years and hundreds of hours of testimony an Argentine court is finally poised to pass judgment on former dictators accused of After the mothers were killed the babies were handed over to be raised by military families according to the “western and Christian” values that the generals claimed to defend..
Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, dictators who led the bloody military junta that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, face long sentences for allegedly masterminding what prosecutors hope to prove was a predetermined plan to “rescue” new-born babies from their “terrorist” mothers.
After the mothers were killed the babies were handed over to be raised by military families according to the “western and Christian” values that the generals claimed to defend.
Some lower ranking officers have already been convicted for taking the babies. This trial is set to decide whether the crimes were part of a systematic plan ordered from above.
“This will establish once and for all that these infants were not appropriated on a case-by-case basis by low-ranking officers who otherwise couldn’t have children, but that this was a plan decided at the highest level of the dictatorship,” said Alan Iud, a lawyer in the case for the group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.
The association of now elderly women has, for 30 years, been at the forefront of resolving these crimes and identifying abducted children through DNA tests.
About 500 babies are believed to have been born to women who were held captive in the military’s death camps. So far 105 such children, now all in their 30s, have been united with their biological families by the grandmothers’ association.
Videla, now 86, dismissed the charges last week. “Although I respect them as mothers, the pregnant women mentioned by the prosecution were activists who used their embryonic children as human shields during combat,” he told the court.
The son of one of these murdered mothers, 34-year-old Francisco Madariaga, said he knew from painful personal experience that the plan existed and that the couple who raised him, pretending he was their own, were mixed up in it.
“They formed part of this systematic plan,” Madariaga said. “I lived it, I was breast-fed this. This notion that guerrilla women used their children as shields is something I grew up hearing in that family. It’s just another one of their idiotic excuses and nobody believes it.”
Madariaga, who said he was raised in an extremely violent environment, discovered his true identity only two years ago, through a DNA test, after being found by his father, Abel Madariaga, who had been searching for him for 32 years.
His mother, Silvia Quintela, gave birth to him at the Campo de Mayo army base, where thousands of people were killed. Shortly after giving birth she was sent on a “death flight” in which drugged victims were thrown alive into the freezing waters of the south Atlantic.
The infant Madariaga was handed over to Victor Gallo, an army officer, and his wife, Susana Colombo, both of whom will be sentenced on Thursday along with other former officers.
Iud said: “A guilty verdict would be very important because if the existence of a plan is proven then these cases will be classified as crimes against humanity.”
Among the accused is Jorge Acosta, the navy captain in charge of the ESMA (La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada) torture and death camp, in Buenos Aires, where about 5,000 people were murdered and where many of the pregnant mothers were taken from other camps to give birth.
Long sentences are expected as well for a number of other former high-ranking officers, including Jorge Magnacco, a doctor, who delivered many of the babies born at the ESMA camp.