The continued tragedy of Argentina's Dirty War
June 22, 2011 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Ernestina Herrera de Noble heads up The Clarin Group and the Clarin newspaper (in Spanish), the largest in Argentina. She is the mother of two adopted children, Felipe and Marcela, heirs to the Clarin Group fortune. She has been a controversial figure for much of her life. Currently, her paper stands in staunch opposition to the administration of President Cristina Kirchner, who in 2009 successfully pushed through legislation forcing the Clarin group to sell off some of its holdings. President Kirchner recently announced she will be seeking a second term. However, Mrs. Herrera de Noble's legacy will probably rest on the suit brought against her by the Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo, forcing her children to submit DNA samples to ascertain whether they are the children of detainees killed by the military during Argentina’s “Dirty War”. The siblings and their mother have fought to avoid DNA testing, claiming it is a violation of their privacy, but there are families who claim that Felipe and Marcela are the natural born children of women pregnant when they were detained and subsequently disappeared. Ernestina insists that the adoptions were “legal”, and her children stand by her side. If a genetic link is proven to former detainees, Mrs. Herrera de Noble may face a criminal investigation.
posted by msali (30 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's really unclear to me (and I might have missed it in the links).. What's the crime ?

That she knowingly adopted the kids (that were born to prisoners believed to be executed) ?

I understand the need to track down orphans, but I'm not seeing where Ernestina is guilty here.

Ah, OK, in the TIME link, "If Marcela and Felipe are indeed the offspring of prisoners, and if Noble's enemies can dig up evidence that she knew they had been born in the camps, then she may be charged with what Argentine laws call crimes against humanity"

That's a whole lotta ifs.. Was Ernestina complicit in the dirty war via propaganda or other open/covert work ? Where did the kids come from ?
posted by k5.user at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2011

k5.user: “I understand the need to track down orphans, but I'm not seeing where Ernestina is guilty here.”

Look at it this way: during the time of the Dirty War, Ernestina Herrera de Noble was a wealthy and powerful media magnate. She has generally avoided implications that she was guilty during that time of complicity or illegal actions, but there have been doubts.

A rich and powerful person doesn't just happen to accidentally adopt a child that was abducted from murdered dissidents. It doesn't just happen without their knowledge. At the very least, it's hard to believe that she would not have know about where the children came from; and, if she did know, the fact that she's kept it covered up is telling.
posted by koeselitz at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The best link is the last one, to the Time article. I had really mixed feelings -- when I read about the description of how the police chased the kids down to get their DNA, it seemed very authoritarian and police-statey. But when I read that there is actually good evidence that the kids were stolen from political prisoners, I felt differently.
posted by yarly at 1:03 PM on June 22, 2011

Could someone provide a short synopsis of contemporary Argentine history for context? I've read the first few paragraphs of Dirty War from Wikipedia but it is pretty meaty to read for a quick understanding of how the conflict erupted and justified.
posted by wcfields at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2011

If they start quoting Keats and dressing like sailors, run!
posted by fullerine at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2011

Its not just about the dirty war, it also seems there is some sense of the ruling party using the grandmothers/mothers as their proxies to attack a political enemy.

Which isn't to say, she doesn't deserve to be attacked, or that she was entirely innocent of the actions she's been accused of.

Basically its very very complicated, and pretty much no one has the moral high ground on this particular issue.
posted by JPD at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2011

Shouldn't this, at the end of the day, be up to the 2 people whose DNA is being used as political fodder?

If the kids don't want to know, then the Grandmothers should go find someone else to use in their campaign.
posted by madajb at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2011

Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina was governed by a repressive military dictatorship. This government considered students, intellectuals, and politicians as dissidents and the dictatorial government severely censored and brutalized members of these groups. An estimated 30,000 people were kidnapped, tortured, and killed during these years. Because of these atrocities, the time period is often referred to as the "Dirty War." After people marked as dissidents were kidnapped from their homes, the government usually denied any information regarding their whereabouts; as such, the murdered people were referred to as "the disappeared."

A particular aspect of the terror involved kidnapping pregnant women and taking them to secret detention centers where they were held until they had their babies. After giving birth, the mothers were killed and the babies were given to families that wanted children and that had close ties to the government. The children of people deemed subversive by the government were also kidnapped. Approximately 220 babies were raised in adopted homes as a result of these brutal practices.

posted by TheGoodBlood at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wait, so the president of Argentina is great pals with a guy who murdered his parents? Doesn't anyone there find it...problematic? Oof, image if Obama was a penpal to the Menendez brothers.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2011

If you are friends with the most powerful people in a repressive regime; if this friendship allows you to raise as yours kids of that regime's enemies; would it be just that the truth is revealed?

Maybe it's not clear that what happened is that the military was giving kidnapped babies to theirs friends as gifts. They were not legal adoptions. It's a very dark period of South American history.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 1:35 PM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

If this is true there's no doubt that the kids don't want to know. I'd be destroyed to find out something like that about my mom. God, but the strangeness of this world is never ending.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:44 PM on June 22, 2011

TheGoodBlood - I think a lot of the controversy isn't about the Dirty War and the juntas of the past, but rather about politics today. That's what makes it so messy and sort of dirty. Like you want to be on the side of those trying to uncover the evils of the past, but what if the reason why they are doing this now is to shut up a critic of the current regime.
posted by JPD at 1:46 PM on June 22, 2011

What if the reason why they are doing this now is to shut up a critic of the current regime?
I know, you have a point. But does it matter? If it's true, all Argentinians deserve to know. Political motivations and horrible clumsy police work don't eliminate that fact. And the Abuelas have been finding the true parents of other kids time and time again. Why should they stop at a powerful family?
posted by TheGoodBlood at 1:51 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This theme is so common in Argentina there are films about it.
posted by JJ86 at 1:51 PM on June 22, 2011

I would imagine that just about every person in Argentina who was born in the seventies or early eighties and knows they are adopted has probably at some point wondered about their parentage in the context of the Dirty War.

They are all adults now, and whether or not to pursue finding out about their biological parents ought to be up to them. Having it imposed upon them seems to be compounding the damage, not healing it.
posted by ambrosia at 1:56 PM on June 22, 2011

To add to what TheGoodBlood is saying, Jared Diamond, while not an expert in politics but an observer of animal behavior wrote this in The Third Chimpanzee:
...of the two patterns of genocide commonest among humans, both have animal precedents: killing both men and women fits the common chimpanzee and wolf pattern, while killing men and sparing women fits the gorilla and lion pattern. Unprecedented even among animals, however, is a procedure adopted from 1976 to 1983 by the Argentine military, in the course of killing over 10,000 political opponents and their families, the desaparecidos. Victims included the usual men, nonpregnant women, and children down the the age of three or four years, who were often tortured before being killed. But Argentina's soldiers made a unique contribution to animal behavior when they arrested pregnant women: the women were kept alive until they delivered, and only then were they shot in the head, so that the newborn infant could be adopted by childless military parents.
This isn't an issue about a shady adoption or a manufactured "where's the birth certificate" stunt, this is about genocide and crimes against humanity. Isn't there something to be said about having the courage to use modern forensic techniques to assess the extent of a previous regime's crimes?
posted by peeedro at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's really unclear to me (and I might have missed it in the links).. What's the crime ?
Stealing children of murdered political prisoners.
posted by delmoi at 2:11 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, it should be noted, that many of the children who were kidnapped actually wanted to have testing done and reconnected with their true families. In this case, it's more controversial, because the kids like their adoptive mother and don't want to be tested.
posted by delmoi at 2:14 PM on June 22, 2011

Can we say that chasing down the kids -- who are adults in their 30s now --- to get their DNA is a reasonable thing to do, but perhaps not making them strip in front of the police and taking their underwear? What about skin cells from the insides of their mouhs? Perhaps I watch too much crime tv.

I also don't imagine that the kids are forced to reconnect with their biological families.
posted by jeather at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2011

peedro - its only about genocide and crimes agains humanity if the DNA is going to be used to prosecute the perpetrators. If its just about telling some kids that their adoptive parents were kinda sorta complicit in the murder of their biological parents, then to me its just victimizing the victims once again.

Its a totally different situation as well if the kids themselves want to know, but to deny them the right to suspend their disbelief about the people who raised them just seems unnecessarily cruel.

layer on to that the modern political issues, and really the whole thing has no winners.
posted by JPD at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This theme is so common in Argentina there are films about it.

And another one from the first wave of films addressing the Dirty War, The Official Story (1985).
posted by marsha56 at 2:38 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

its only about genocide and crimes agains humanity if the DNA is going to be used to prosecute the perpetrators
It is going to. In other cases, the "adoptive" parents were persecuted and arrested (see the Time link: one military Dad was sentenced to 13 years, initially the son did everything he could to prevent an investigation). Adoptive parents were perpetrators too, they were accomplices. Some military are still being persecuted and arrested. You can decide to set them free and forget about the whole thing under a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that was not what the Argentinian people decided. So there's this mess.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

its only about genocide and crimes agains humanity if the DNA is going to be used to prosecute the perpetrators.

That's the idea: Naming and shaming—and bringing the whereabouts of the lost children and grandchildren to light—rather than the pardoning and forgetting that occurred under Menem. The point wouldn't be to prove something to the children, but to see whether Noble was complicit in a crime.

At least, that's the idea in theory. It seems like Kirchner has been targeting Clarin, and Noble, in order to silence criticism. The media law Kirchner's government enacted is supposed to promote competition and pluralization—good things! Only, conveniently, it will also have the effect of kneecapping a publication that has been critical of her presidency.

Holding the architects of the kidnapping policy responsible is important. But it's odd that Noble is being singled out. Are other non-government, non-military adoptive parents going to be taken to trial, as well? How likely is it that a court could prove an adoptive parent's complicity, if that parent wasn't directly involved in constructing or carrying out the policy?

Ick. Ick all around.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:19 PM on June 22, 2011

(If Noble is guilty, she is a terrible person. If Kirchner is exploiting human rights causes, and their earnest advocates, for her own political gain, she is too. Man, political and media dynasties can suck.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2011

To get an idea of the true magnitude of the Dirty War, compare the 30K they lost out of a population of 30M to the 60K we lost from 220M in Viet Nam, giving Argentina a death rate from the Dirty War around three and a half times higher.

So why did the Argentinian military make "a unique contribution to animal behavior when they arrested pregnant women: the women were kept alive until they delivered, and only then were they shot in the head, so that the newborn infant could be adopted by childless military parents."?

Very simple, really.

Because they were good Catholics, and killing those pregnant women would have been committing the Mortal Sin of performing abortions.

On a more practical level, they wouldn't have been able to secure the enthusiastic cooperation of the Catholic Church which was so crucial to the successful prosecution of the Dirty War if they had killed those pregnant women, thereby performing abortions.

In fact, I think this policy of holding pregnant women until they delivered and only then killing them is strong evidence the military asked permission from the Church for the Dirty War and received it, but only on condition they wait to kill pregnant women until after they delivered.
posted by jamjam at 3:34 PM on June 22, 2011

The other side of the coin is the montoneros organization, it is my understanding that the military was fairly well received at the very beginning due to the instability and state terrorism that was going on at the time.

The catch is that most of the people now in power were directly involved or had ties to the montoneros, so there's a lot of resentment and revanchism to go around.

Also, there's a payout of ~300k usd and a lot of political pull for each desaparecido found, so it's not uncommon to force people into the DNA tests even if the person itself is not interested in finding out.

Clarin has been on the goverment's side for a long time, and just when they change their minds and turn to the other side the goverment starts passing laws to cause them trouble, this issue here, sending thugs to stop the circulation, etc. Convenient.

I'm not justifying the military or Herrera de Noble here, it's just to say that it's fucked all around, and it's mostly a political game.
posted by palbo at 3:46 PM on June 22, 2011

Also, to follow up on JJ86, another excellent movie on the subject of adopted disappeared kids.
posted by palbo at 3:55 PM on June 22, 2011

Of the many hideous crimes routinely committed by genocidal regimes, the theft of children is particularly heinous. Ask aboriginal Australians or Native Americans.

Time does not make the crime fade. This isn't about justice for these kids or their dead parents(if it's true) but for every single family that was destroyed.

War is hell. But leaving this unexamined is unacceptable. Imagine if these kids might have been your cousins if your aunt and uncle hadn't been murdered?

And this is also about the future. Any regime that considers this tactic in the future needs to know the world won't look the other way, even decades after the fact.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:44 AM on June 23, 2011

Here is an update on the story, indicating that the DNA does not match those of the families who believed that the children were the those of desaparecidas. Thank you everyone for such a wonderful discussion on this subject.
posted by msali at 7:50 AM on July 12, 2011

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