New Argentine magnate is accused of adopting children taken
Isabel Vincent, The National Post
December 19, 2002
The owner of Argentina's largest newspaper remains in police custody
as part of a judicial probe into the disappearance of children born
in captivity during the country's 1976-83 military dictatorship.
Ernestina Herrera de Noble, the owner of Clarin Group, which controls
the country's largest newspaper, is accused of falsifying documents
in the adoption of her two children.
A human rights group in Buenos Aires alleges the children, now both
26 years old, were born to imprisoned left-wing rebels who were
killed in a concentration camp after giving birth. The two children,
Felipe and Marcela, have been ordered to give
blood samples for DNA testing.
Mrs. Herrera de Noble's arrest is the first of a prominent member
of Argentine society in connection with one of the most disturbing
practices of Argentina's Dirty War against left-wing dissidents.
As many as 200 children born in prison were kidnapped by military
officials and put up for adoption.
Many of the mothers were never heard from again, joining the ranks
of the disappeared, the term used in Argentina to describe the estimated
30,000 people who were tortured and killed during the military dictatorship.
In the past, most of those detained by authorities for allegedly
trafficking in the children of the disappeared have been military
officials, some of whom sold the babies to colleagues who could
not have children.
Human rights officials in Argentina have said some of those involved
justified the trafficking scheme in political and social terms.
They described it as a way to ensure the children of dissidents
would grow up in law-abiding and Roman Catholic homes, and not be
influenced by the ideas of their "subversive parents."
"The stolen children became war booty, and were falsely registered
as babies of military officials," says a document on the children
of the disappeared prepared by the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (the
Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), a
non-governmental group that has been tracking the children for several
Members of the group have been protesting outside the presidential
palace in Buenos Aires for more than 20 years, demanding a succession
of Argentine governments release information on their missing children.
Several years ago, the Abuelas, as they are known in Argentina,
accused Mrs. Herrera de Noble, now 77, of falsifying documents in
the adoption of her children.
"We only ever wanted to interview [Mrs. Herrera de Noble]
because we want to know if these children were really the children
of disappeared so that their family can stop looking for them,"
said Rosa Roisinblit, a spokeswoman for the Grandmothers.
So far, the group has identified 73 children stolen from their mothers
after they were forced to give birth by Caesarean section, often
blindfolded and chained to their beds in Argentina's most notorious
One of the last children to be identified in this way was Mrs. Roisinblit's
grandson, who was found only last year. Rodolfo Perez grew up thinking
he was the biological son of two civilian employees of the air force.
But the Grandmothers discovered he had been kidnapped four days
after his mother, Mrs. Roisinblit's daughter Liliana, gave birth
to him in a concentration camp.
With the aid of a local university, the Grandmothers have set up
a huge DNA bank that has allowed them to track down the children
born in captivity.They have placed ads in the print and broadcast
media, asking any young people with doubts about their identity
to come to their office and take a blood test.
"The issue of the missing children is the one that still arouses
the strongest emotions in Argentina," said Sebastian Brett,
a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, in a telephone interview
from his base in Santiago, Chile, yesterday.
For this reason, when former Argentine president Carlos Menem declared
a full amnesty for military officials who took part in the Dirty
War, he excluded those allegedly involved in the theft of babies.
As a result, military officials who committed human rights abuses
against dissidents are protected under the "impunity laws,"
said Mr. Brett, but those suspected of stealing babies are not.
Roberto Marquevich, the federal judge who ordered Mrs. Herrera de
Noble's arrest on Tuesday, has been investigating stolen baby cases
for many years. He is one of the first judicial officials in Argentina
to recognize the thefts were a systematic practice, rather than
just a few isolated cases, Mr. Brett said.
For her part, Mrs. Herrera de Noble has denied her children were
born to disappeared mothers.
Arte Grafico Editorial Argentino, a company in the Clarin Group,
issued a statement calling her arrest "an abuse of constitutional
rights and due process."
© Copyright 2002 National Post