Grandmothers hunt for kidnapped babies

The mothers of murdered Argentines are still tracing their grandchildre n, writes Phil Davison in Buenos Aires

As a middle-aged granny, she was an unlikely private eye. Pretending to read newspapers, Elsa Pavon, then 46, spent weeks on a park bench in the Chacarita district of Buenos Aires, watching the block of flats opposite. She was determined to find her missing granddaughter, who disappeared as a baby in 1978 in the military's "Dirty War" against left-wingers.

Mrs Pavon is one of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group less well known than the Mothers of the same square. The latter have demonstrated there every Thursday for 19 years, demanding news of their missing sons and daughters and legal action against their kidnappers and executioners. The Grandmothers are looking for "the living disappeared ones", the babies and children taken from women who were kidnapped and murdered under military rule from 1976 to 1983.

Recent admissions by military officers that atrocities took place have raised hopes among relatives of the missing that the people who adopted the kidnapped babies may come forward.

"Now it is up to [President Carlos] Menem, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to trace and return the missing children," Estela Carlotto, one of the Grandmothers, said.

As they searched for news of their missing daughters, the Abuelas (Grandmothers) found out that the military had allotted the children of kidnapped women to childless military or police families. Pregnant detainees were held until they had their babies. The mothers were then executed; the babies distributed.

Until military rule ended in December 1984, the Grandmothers met in secret, referring to themselves on the phone as "the old dears" and the missing children as "the flowers."

The Grandmothers havetraced 56 children. Most wereturned to grandparents or aunts. They are still looking for 217. But they believe there may be 200 or 300 more who have not been claimed, as their families did not know of the pregnancy.

Mrs Pavon's daughter, Monica Logares, and her husband Claudio Logares, were liberals who fled to Uruguay with their baby, Paula. They reckoned without the collaboration between the Argentinian and Uruguayan generals, however, and they disappeared in Montevideo in May 1978. Paula was 23 months old.

As the Abuelas became organised, they took out newspaper ads and published snapshots of the missing children. In 1983, the Grandmothers got an anonymous tip that a girl matching Paula Logares' description was living with an ex-policeman called Ruben Lavallen. After weeks of observation, Mrs Pavon overcame her nerves and knocked at the Lavallens' door, posing as a saleswoman.

"It was like looking at her mother, Monica, my daughter, as a child. It was uncanny," Mrs Pavon recalls.

Other Grandmothers posed as school-portrait photographers, to get pictures of Paula at school. The evidence was presented to a judge later that year. After hearings in which genetic tests showed that Mrs Pavon was almost certainly the child's grandmother, Paula was handed over to her.

In 1988, a judge granted Paula the right to change her name back from Lavallen to Logares and get new identity documents, listing her as the daughter of her true parents.

"Finally, justice was recognising her existence," Mrs Pavon said. "It was also recognising the existence of my daughter, Monica, and her husband, Claudio. They had tried to wipe my daughter from history, but they couldn't."

After the return of democracy, bodies buried under headstones reading N N, short for No Nombre, meaning No Name, were exhumed. They found Roberto and Barbara Lanouscou, aged five and six, both shot in the back. In a third small grave, where they expected to find the Lanouscous' baby sister, Matilde, they found a teddy bear. The grave had been a decoy. The baby was presumably given away. She is still missing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Recruitment Genius: Salesforce Developer

£50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued business growt...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss