Criminal Convictions in Argentina

Here’s a recent news story I wanted to flag to round out some earlier discussion here.   Leaders of Argentina’s military dictatorship have been convicted of charges arising from stealing babies from leftist opposition members and handing them (the babies) over to good military families.   The parents of the children were typically killed after the children were taken.   Sentences for these crimes range from 15 to 50 years in prison.

It’s been known for some time that these events occurred during the reign of the junta but I gather military leaders denied that they occurred as part of a systematic plan.   A sixteen year (really–it says 16 years) trial proved that there was indeed a plan.

I found this quote particularly striking:

“The kidnapping of newly born babies is the last crime that former members of the military regime are willing to admit,” says British journalist Robert Cox, who was one of the main witnesses at the trial last year. As editor of the small English-community daily Buenos Aires Herald in the late 1970s, Cox was one of the only journalists in Argentina who dared report on the crimes committed by the military as they happened, including their kidnapping of infants. “It’s like the Nazis, what they did was so terrible they could never admit it,” Cox said in Buenos Aires upon hearing the verdict that his testimony helped bring about.

The criminal prosecutions really are a tribute to the grandmothers who pursued their quest for the truth for many years.

I’m not a terrific fan of DNA as a defining feature of parenthood, so it seems to me all the more important for me to follow this story.   What was done here is abominable.   The harm done–to the parents who were killed, to the children who were denied all knowledge of the origins, to the grandmothers who searched years for lost descendants–is unfathomable.   It seems to me it is particularly complicated for the stolen children themselves, many of whom were raised by families that were grounded on a foundation of lies and violence.   That this all occurred as part of a systematic plan bespeaks a level of cruelty and barbarity that leaves me without words.

DNA evidence is incredibly important here.   It tells us something critical about historical truth.

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4 responses to “Criminal Convictions in Argentina

  1. Julie – this story has horrified me for years. Adoption can cover many crimes and this one is a blatantly horrific travesty AND brings it into the reality of people today who remember the 70′s…

    Many lesser crimes in adoption have been covered up as well. Victims dismissed.

    The untangling of feelings of loyalty to the new parents and the loyalty to your original family – those adoptees must be feeling torn in two – how can you make the choice – what choice do you make – everyone has lost and everyone loses.

    The longer I look at adoption the more I believe DNA testing must happen in every adoption – not just international but domestic as well – if only to ensure the truth is known.

    • I take it you mean DNA testing to ensure that the people offering the child for adoption are entitled to do so? Given the state of the law I’m sure that genetic testing will solve the problem. Two situations (one rather more quirky than the other) come to mind.

      First, imagine a couple (let’s say a married straight couple) use sperm from a third person to conceive a child. Once the child is born can the woman and the sperm provider authorize the adoption of the child without notice to the husband? In most places the husband is a legal father and so the answer is “no.” But if you relied on genetic testing, you’d find the two people presenting the child for adoption were genetic parents. Would this mean you went ahead?

      Second, though I know many people are unhappy about it, under current law unmarried men may have no legal standing vis-a-vis children concieved via intercourse. So a single woman may have a one-night-stand with some guy never seen again. If she goes to place the child for adoption genetic testing won’t get you anywhere vis-a-vis the man. Whether his consent is necessary depends not on genetic testing but on a bunch of other things he might or migh not have done–signed on to a putative father’s registry, say.

      Overall I agree that safeguards around adoption are crucial, but I worry that no matter what safeguards were in place they would have been overridden in Argentina at that time. It was a lawless regime, after all.

      Yet I don’t want to diminish the point that we need to do what we can to guard against abuses like this. And perhaps this is a moment to go back to tthe discussion of baby-boxes. Is there evidence that US safe haven laws are abused in ways we ought to worry about?

  2. Julie – I believe there have been some nasty cases where the husband (father) is not the genetic parent and has caused a lot of issues when the genetic father find out – no idea if any adoption was overturned in any specific case but why put anyone through it – despite not having a lot of rights – single fathers do have some rights especially in cases of fraud by the mother (except Utah of course and perhaps a few other states)…

    As to the US Safe Haven laws being abused – all you have to do is review the mismash of laws with the most obvious flaw being only a handful require checking missing person reports…how you would do dna testing in safe haven – it can be done – if I remember the intention is to not make it a crime to abandon the baby – and if the safe haven was the hospital like it always was before the safe haven laws – then there really should not be an issue – details provided / tests done – (still do not agree with the anonymous aspect though and never will).

    I just think it is time for adoption to move with the times in regards to protection of the adoptee – do the test – save the heartache – the test costs nothing in the grand scheme of things.

    • There are some indeed cases where the husband is not the genetic father–and in some pretty much everyone knows it (like the recent MD case) while in others some or all of the people do not know it. There are also cases where a man comes along when a woman is already pregnant (and thus, obviously everyone knows this man isn’t the genetic father) and marries the woman, thus putting himself into the “husband” slot. In some of these cases the husband is the legal father of the child and thus it is HIS consent that is needed for adoption, not the genetic father.

      Some of the frequent commenters here do not like this aspect of the law but for better or worse it is the law. And given this, DNA testing before adoption won’t always tell you what you need to know.

      To put this differently, if the law were that the genetic parents always had rights vis-a-vis adoption then DNA testing might make sense as a way to ensure that the right people are giving the child up for adoption. But it isn’t the case so it doesn’t. The truth is that there is no easy way to tell who the legal parents of a child really are. In theory the birth certificate does this–I know this leads to a host of other problems. And adoptive parents can produce the adoption papers to demonstrate legal parenthood. But natural parents (as the term is used in law–see earlier post) don’t go through a formal legal process and so I’m not sure what they can produce.

      I don’t mean that I disagree with your general impulse, but I’m just not sure we can make it work under current legal circumstances.

      On the safe haven laws–one thing I don’t know is how much they are actually used and by whom. Someone probably does collect this information. If you give birth in a hospital or with an EMT attending or anything like that, the birth will end up registered. You could still use a safe-haven law later, but I wonder if people do. It does, however, makes solid sense to me that reports of missing children should be checked as a matter of routine.

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