Buenos Aires - A verdict was expected Thursday in the trial of two Argentine former dictators accused of “systematically” kidnapping hundreds of babies from leftist activists killed during this country's 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Jorge Videla, 86, and Reynaldo Bignone, 84, are on trial, along with nine other defendants, for allegedly kidnapping 35 babies from parents who disappeared during the dictatorship.
“We have presented evidence showing that the kidnappers plotted to steal the children borne to women in captivity,” Estela de Carlotto, Carlotto is president of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, told AFP.
The rights group has fought in court since 1996, demanding restitution for the stolen children.
The group says in total some 500 children were kidnapped and then raised as their own by families close to the regime.
Videla defended his actions last week, saying in court that the children's mothers were “terrorists.”
“All those who gave birth, who I respect as mothers, were active militants in the machinery of terrorism. They used their children as human shields,” said the former general, who has already been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity.
The former dictator also has railed about “false” accusations against him declaring that there were “firm written orders to return destitute children to their families.”
A former US State Department assistant secretary for human rights, Elliot Abrams, revealed in January that the United States was aware of a systematic practice of stealing children.
“We believed there was a plan, because they were arresting or assassinating a lot of people, and we got the impression that the military government had decided that at least some of the children of those people would be given to other families,” he testified from the Argentine consulate in Washington.
“We knew that certain children had been given away while their parents were in prison or deceased,” Abrams said. “They took them and gave them away.”
The expected verdict falls on the 35th birthday of one of the victims, Francisco Madariaga Quintela, who learned of his real identity and was reunited with his biological father just over two years ago.
Quintela said he is confident that “justice will be done” as he pulled from his wallet a faded black and white photo of his mother, who was kidnapped at age 28, while pregnant, and whose body has never been found.
“My dad told me she was a doctor. And sometimes I think about how I am now older than her,” he said, looking at the image.
He said that another inmate from the same secret “El Campito” detention center where his mother had been detained escaped and told him how she was “tortured while I was in her belly.”
“The theft of babies was the most evil thing the dictatorship did,” he said, adding: “I have a black spot in my heart, but we must continue filling it with love.”
The woman accused of robbing him of his past by raising him as her own son, Susana Colombo, told the court that “at no time” did she suspect that her adopted son had been stolen from a leftist activist, who presumably had been killed.
Nevertheless she regretted “not having done differently,” said Colombo who faces 15 years in prison for her alleged crime, while her husband Victor Gallo could be sentenced to 25 years.
In the 35 abductions detailed during the trial, most of the mothers were held at ESMA - Argentina's Marine School of Engineering - a notorious torture center located in the heart of Buenos Aires.
The maternity ward was on the second floor, where there was hallway leading to the torture rooms that the executioners cruelly dubbed “The Avenue of Happiness.”
The inmates gave birth while shackled and hooded. Very few were ever allowed even to see the faces of their babies, according to survivor testimony.
In most cases, the baby was given to a soldier or the friend of a soldier, while the mother was later thrown from a military plane into the sea, naked and still alive.
Argentina's amnesty laws of the late 1980s were annulled after the election of former president Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007), who died in October 2010. That annulment allowed the Latin American nation's judiciary to reopen a number of cases.
To date, all the people prosecuted for the kidnappings have been found guilty.
Some 30 000 of the regime's opposition were killed or disappeared during the military dictatorship, according to human rights organizations. - Sapa-AFP