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Saturday, December 7, 2013
Gustavo Capdevila interviews ESTELA DE CARLOTTO, president of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo
- A second term for Argentine President Cristina Fernández would make it possible to continue ushering in the changes “we want and that our children wanted” when they were forcibly disappeared or murdered during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, said longtime human rights champion Estela de Carlotto. The president of the Grandmothers, as they are familiarly known, said the association she has led since its founding in 1977 backed both the centre-left government of the late President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and that of Fernández, his wife and successor, because they acted to put an end to impunity, resume trials against human rights violators and help find their stolen grandchildren.
Fernández, whose husband Kirchner died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 27, 2010, announced Jun. 21 that she will run for another four-year term in the Oct. 23 general elections. She is the current favourite in the polls, well ahead of the candidates of the fragmented opposition.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, an association working to find and reunite with their biological families almost 500 (now-grown) children and babies who were kidnapped with their parents or born to political prisoners in clandestine torture centres, was founded by a group that branched off from the world-renowned Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group.
As of April, 103 of the children had been found. They had been illegally adopted by military families or others, and their identities were kept secret by the de facto regime that was responsible for the forced disappearance of about 30,000 people, according to human rights organisations.
Barnes de Carlotto arrived in Geneva Jun. 23 to attend an event at the United Nations to promote the nomination of the Grandmothers’ Association for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Q: What was the Grandmothers’ reaction to the news that Fernández would stand for re-election? A: The Grandmothers’ Association was delighted. It’s very good news. We have been very supportive of both Kirchner and Cristina’s administrations, not as a political party but because of the decisions of state they have taken on human rights issues.
There has never been such decisiveness, openness and awareness within the state for solving and responding to our demands, for instance the repeal of the “Full Stop” and “Due Obedience” laws (the amnesty laws passed in the late 1980s that let military human rights violators off the hook).
They also converted the clandestine torture and detention centre in the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA, in the Argentine capital) into a museum of memory, like other concentration camps all over the country that have now become memorials.
In addition, (the two ‘Kirchnerista’ presidencies) made reparations for human rights violations, held consultations, showed respect, and opened up the government house to every human rights event held to make reparations.
We really appreciate these actions, and we firmly believe that if Cristina can continue her policies for four more years, the kind of country that we want will be consolidated. At bottom it was also what our children wanted: social justice, the elimination of poverty and a decent life for all, not a wealthy one but a dignified one, in Argentina.
Q: Human rights organisations in Argentina have been shaken in recent weeks by the legal charges that Sergio Schoklender, the financial manager and legal adviser of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, his brother Pablo and others embezzled the organisation’s funds. What is your view of the case? A: Actually it was something we could see as outsiders, that this young man Schoklender had really bizarre attitudes, flaunting money and a luxurious lifestyle. He was also a permanent fixture in the institution, as if he were the one in charge of everything.
This came to light because of a dispute between the two Schoklender brothers. Let’s remember their history: they spent many years in prison for the murder of their parents (in 1981). Well, they did their time, so they have the right to reintegrate into society. But in this particular case it seems they have misappropriated and misused funds from the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Foundation.
This is an injury that touches us all. We have made a public statement about the difference between the two organisations. The Grandmothers’ Association is a completely separate group with our own views and minimum funding; we have clarity in all our actions and our handling of donations is transparent.
We are constantly being audited, and the auditors’ reports congratulate us for our close financial control and our tidy accounts. As the head of the organisation, I have the obligation of knowing whether things are going properly.
But in this case, I don’t know what happened to Mrs. (Hebe de) Bonafini (the head of the Mothers group), who apparently didn’t know what sort of persons she was dealing with. Now love has turned to hate and she also wants the Schoklenders punished to the full extent of the law.
What do the human rights organisations want? For the justice system to find out what happened, and if a crime has been committed, for the guilty parties to be punished.
Q: Another important issue is the investigation of the identity of the young man and woman who were adopted as young children at the height of the dictatorship by Ernestina Herrera de Noble, the main shareholder in the media group that includes the newspaper Clarín. What do you think about their acceptance of DNA testing to determine their parentage, after 10 years of refusals based on legal arguments? A: The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo were very pleased to hear that the lawyers, who say they are defending these young people, announced that they had agreed to have blood, saliva or hairs tested by the National Genetic Data Bank, to compare with all the families waiting to find our grandchildren by this means.
This was a new development because they had systematically refused to be tested for the last 10 years, through their lawyers, using specious arguments, and the judges have allowed the prevarication and prolonged the anguish of not knowing whether they are someone’s missing grandchildren.
We don’t know if they will turn out to be the children of disappeared persons or not, but we have got to the point where we can arrive at the truth. That, for us, is the most important thing.
The case of the Noble children is just another case, to us. It’s not because she’s the owner of the Clarín media group that we “want to take away”, quote unquote, her children. The point is, there were serious irregularities in the adoption process, with the adoption papers of both of them containing flaws and untruths. And their refusal made it all but impossible to find the truth.
Now if they get tested, with all the right safeguards and help from experts for both sides, and the lawyers and everything done according to the law, it will be discovered whether they are the grandchildren we think they are.
If it turns out that they are not, they will carry on with their lives and continue waiting to find out their identity. Once their blood samples have been processed and stored in the Bank, they remain there for the future, so that if there is a late claim from a search for a stolen child, they may perhaps discover the truth. I hope they are our grandchildren, because they will receive nothing but freedom, love and family.
Q: Why have you accepted the initiative by the organisation Grandmothers for Peace, that is campaigning for your association to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? A: Well, the idea was proposed in Argentina many years ago. But it was Senator Daniel Filmus, formerly education minister under Kirchner, who sent our credentials to the Nobel Prize committee, and our nomination was accepted and we became candidates.
We know that we were very well placed last year, but the prize was awarded to (U.S. President Barack) Obama.
Obama should really have refused the prize because of what he was going to do the next day (increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq). But that is the way things are.
This year we have been nominated again, and we have been invited to come and talk to people, so they can get to know us, because you can’t promote or nominate what you don’t know. And this group Grandmothers for Peace, a non-governmental organisation, has invited us to give a talk, like those we routinely give, not in pursuit of prizes but for the struggle to continue.