An iconic member of the rights movement
Estela Barnes de Carlotto is probably one of the most iconic members of the human rights movement in Argentina. Her struggle is well-known in the country and abroad. As soon as Guido Montoya Carlotto, her grandson who yesterday recovered his real identity, decides to meet his family, he will learn of her struggle.
Estela did not know that her daughter Laura was pregnant when she was abducted. “I started looking for Laura. Then a survivor told me that she was pregnant, so my search focused on her and her baby,” the 83-year-old said yesterday. A retired teacher, she devoted her whole life to looking for missing grandchildren.
Barnes de Carlotto has four children: Laura, born in 1955; Claudia, born two years afterwards, Guido “Kibo,” born in 1959 and Remo, born in 1962.
Estela always remembered that she celebrated in 1955 when Juan Domingo Perón was overthrown. But the last military coup changed her life. In August 1977, her husband Guido was kidnapped and tortured by a death squad when he was trying to meet his daughter Laura, who was a clandestine militant. Guido appeared but then another tragedy shook their lives. Laura was kidnapped on November 26, 1977 from her home in Buenos Aires City.
For months, Estela only contacted her eldest daughter via letters or when her daughter phoned her. Estela did not know her daughter’s boyfriend and she did not know about her pregnancy. She learned of the news when a survivor appeared at Estela’s husband’s hardware store to tell them to look for the baby that Laura was going to give birth to in a couple of months.
Estela’s other daughter, Claudia, left the country with her baby girl and her husband, Jorge Falcone, who is the brother of María Claudia Falcone, one of the schoolgirls kidnapped on September 16, 1976 in the city of La Plata during the infamous “Night of the Pencils.” Kibo also left the dangerous city of La Plata.
Estela did not just suffer the abduction of her husband, the murder of Laura, the appropriation of her grandson but also the dismantling of her family. Her story shows the effects of the state violence but also the struggle of many activists, like her, who 38 years after the military coup still fight for truth and justice.
Estela’s husband, Guido, passed away in 2001. Her children have always been involved in politics. “Kibo” is the BA province Human Rights Secretary, Remo, the head of the Lower House of Congress Human Rights Committee and Claudia, the head of the National Commission for the Right to Identity.
Remo and Claudia led the efforts to identify Laura’s boyfriend. They surmised that he could be Walmir Oscar Montoya and it turns out that they were correct. They requested that Montoya’s parents provide a blood sample to be kept at the National Genetic Database (BNDG), created after the return to democracy to identify the children snatched by the military during the last dictatorship. Oscar was born on February 14, 1952 and he was also a member of the left-wing Peronist organisation Montoneros.
According to Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, he was probably held at the clandestine detention centre known as “La Cacha,” where Laura was also held. His remains were identified in 2009 in the Berazategui cemetery, where he was buried on December 27, 1977. Laura at the time was still alive and pregnant. Laura’s remains were given to Estela, her husband and brother after a meeting she held with the last Argentine dictator Reynaldo Benito Bignone. “I told him to give me my girl back. I wanted her alive,” Estela yesterday recalled in a press conference.
‘We have a grandson’
Laura was buried on August 25, 1978 and her remains were exhumed in 1985 by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). Then the EAAF founder, Clyde Snow, after examining Laura’s bones, told Estela: “You are a granny. Your daughter gave birth to a baby.” That was her first confirmation, though she previously had met survivor Alcira Ríos in Brazil, who told her that Laura had spent five hours with her baby before being taken back to the concentration camp.
Ríos said that the repressors told Laura that the baby was going to be raised by Carlotto. They lied but Estela’s struggle made a reunion possible.
Montoya’s mother is 91 years old and she was delighted when she heard the news that Guido had appeared, one of his uncles told one of Estela’s children.
“She was saying: ‘I have a grandson, I have a grandson,’”Claudia Carlotto yesterday said in the press conference held at Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo headquarter.
Estela smiled and said: “We have a grandson. We have a grandson.”