Buenos Aires - An elderly Argentine woman hugged her long-lost grandson for the first time on Wednesday in an emotional meeting, 36 years after he was snatched by the country's then dictatorship.
The heart-warming scenes came just a day after Estela Carlotto, the 83-year-old head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, learnt that her grandson Ignacio Hurban had finally been found thanks to DNA testing.
“Guido Montoya Carlotto was happily able to hug his family, which tirelessly searched for him without stopping for 36 years,” the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo said in a statement, using the name given to the grandson by his mother and pleading for privacy.
The “intimate” meeting took place in the city of La Plata, near the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.
The grandson, 36, was taken from his mother Laura shortly after she gave birth to him in detention during the dictatorship's “dirty war” and given to a couple in the countryside.
His uncle, Guido Carlotto, the human rights secretary of Buenos Aires province, said the meeting brought back memories of his sister Laura, who was imprisoned in 1977.
“After a whole afternoon with Guido (the grandson), I feel that I've recovered a large part of what I lost 37 years ago. Today I saw Laura and the 30 000 (people who disappeared during the dictatorship),” he wrote on Twitter.
Prior to the eagerly-anticipated first meeting, Estela Carlotto had beamed with grandmotherly pride as she recounted how the now adult man had asked an aunt “How is Estela?” during a phone call with his relieved relatives.
“You can tell he's an exceptional boy,” said Carlotto, who got the news from a federal judge after Hurban went in for genetic testing at a national commission that identifies missing people.
She said “many details of the story” were still being investigated, but that it appeared her grandson had been taken by an agent of the regime and given to a couple in the countryside to raise.
“I think they were workers and he was their boss,” she said.
“They must have raised him well in the countryside. They were very good people. Well, you can see that he's good anyway, so there's something of that in him.”
The story has revived deep emotions in Argentina, where about 500 children were taken from political prisoners during the 1976-1983 military regime.
Carlotto, whose grandson became the 114th stolen child to be found, said she would keep working to locate the nearly 400 others who are still missing.
“It doesn't end here. I will keep up the struggle. I'm going to keep working... to find all the others who are missing,” she said.
Hurban's other grandmother, 91-year-old Hortensia Ardua, broke into tears describing how he resembled his father, Walmis Oscar, in photos.
“Seeing him was like seeing my son, because they're exactly alike. It's overwhelming to know he's ours. I want to see him, to hug him, to know he's my grandson,” she told radio network Red.
There were joyous reactions to the news throughout Argentina, including from football stars and national icons Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
“Football isn't the only thing that can unite us,” Maradona posted on Facebook alongside a photo of Carlotto giving him a hug.
“Happy and excited about Estela Carlotto's grandson,” Messi wrote on Facebook. “We must keep up the fight, there are many more! You have our full support.”
Friends said Hurban, a jazz musician and composer who lives in Olavarria, a city about 350km south-west of Buenos Aires, had gone in for testing on a hunch and was himself caught off guard by the news.
He had been told the test results would take three months, a friend told newspaper La Nacion.
Instead, they came back in 10 days.
Laura Carlotto, a leftist militant, was three months pregnant when she was taken to a prison camp by the rightwing authoritarian regime in 1977.
She gave birth on June 26, 1978, while in captivity. She named the boy Guido but was killed two months after he was born. Her body was later handed to her mother.
The boy's father was also killed in captivity.
Many children taken from political prisoners during the dictatorship were raised by military and police officials. Others were even taken in by their parents' killers.
In 2012, former dictators Jorge Videla, who has since died, and Reynaldo Bignone were sentenced to 50 years and 15 years in prison, respectively, over the regime's theft of babies.
An estimated 30 000 people were killed or abducted and presumed killed during the dictatorship. - AFP