The story of Guido, Laura and Walmir
What steps should a person follow to look for a grandchild? Estela Barnes de Carlotto dialled her phone and Alicia “Licha” Zubasnabar de la Cuadra picked up the phone. “Sure, I’ll be there,” Estela said and, for the first time since her daughter’s abduction by the military, she did not feel so lonely. In 1978, the woman met for the first time a group of grandmothers who wanted to know where their children’s babies were. Estela was not the founder of the group but she is, doubtlessly, the most iconic member of the movement created in the last months of 1977. Last Tuesday, her telephone rang at noon. It was Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría calling. She had important news to tell her, the judge said. Two hours later, Estela was weeping. She had found her grandson, the reason of her struggle — thirty-six years later.
That night she slept as she had never done before. She went to the hairdresser’s. She wanted to look pretty.
Over the past 36 years she had dreamed of the day that she would look at her daughter’s son. He knocked on the door. Everyone was staring at him. He did not look like Laura. “But when he started talking about music, we realized he was a Carlotto,” Estela’s eldest son, Guido ‘Kibo‘ Carlotto said in conversation with the Herald. In the 1970s, “Kibo” wanted to be a rock star but he had to leave his dream and his guitar behind when the repression halted his world.
When Estela was 24, she had her first baby, Laura Estela, in 1955. Two years later, Claudia was born, and in 1959, “Kibo”, who had the closest relation with Laura. Remo was born in 1962 and he still has the last letter his eldest sister sent to him.
“This massacre and persecution we are suffering , like many others, cannot be eternal. We are many those who want justice and we’ll be victorious and we’ll be together again.”
Laura was a member of the left-wing Peronist armed organization Montoneros. In order to dodge persecution, she left the city of La Plata and she did not visit her mother’s house. Her father, Guido, used to meet with her in BA City. The young woman used to phone her mother while she was working at a school. During the last talk they had in 1977, Laura gave Estela a clue that she was not able to figure out then.
— I’ve not been feeling well recently.
— Oh, take care, please.
— I think I should arrange an appointment with the gynecologist.
On November 26, 1977, Estela woke up suddenly. She knew that something was not going well with Laura. She then learnt that she had been abducted by a dictatorship death squad and reportedly taken to the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), where she stayed for a week. Then she was transferred to a clandestine detention centre known as “La Cacha” in reference to a popular cartoon character of a witch that was able to disappear things. In “La Cacha”, repressors had the power to make people disappear and Laura was one of their victims.
Her boyfriend, Walmir Oscar Montoya, was another member of Montoneros and he was reportedly taken to the concentration camp located next to the Olmos Penitentiary Unit in La Plata. He was executed in December 1977 and buried in an unidentified grave.
Laura knew about his execution and she told some comrades in the clandestine detention centre that repressors were merciless with him because they knew Oscar was a top member of the organization.
Estela did not know what to do. She worked along with Reynaldo Benito Bignone’s sister and she thought the man — the last Argentine dictator — could give her some details of Laura’s situation. But he didn’t. He placed a gun on the table, that was his response to Estela’s request.
On New Year’s Eve, Estela found a note. “Your daughter is fine along with her husband under the supervision of the security forces.” Estela made a toast. Laura was alive. It was in April when Estela received more information. Elsa Campos, a woman who had been taken to La Cacha, arrived at Guido Carlotto’s hardware store and told him that Laura was pregnant and that the baby was going to be born in June. “Be ready to look for the baby in the maternity ward. Laura wants to name him Guido after her father.” Estela started preparing to retire from work. She needed time to raise a baby. She needed time to prepare a layette but she was never able to use it with her new grandson, Guido.
On June 26, 1978, Laura was taken from La Cacha to a hospital. It is not clear if she was taken to the BA City Central Military Hospital or to another clinic in the city of La Plata. She gave birth to a baby boy. She only held Guido in her arms for five hours. That was all the time she had to sing lullabies and to repeat his name. When repressors arrived at her hospital room, she refused to give them the baby. She was injected and she woke up again in La Cacha.
Weeks later, one night, Laura started to cry. She wanted her baby back. “They are not going to release me. They took my baby. They say they gave him to my mum and they also say she does not want to see me again,” she wept. She was only 23-years-old and the other prisoners could not find the words to heal so much pain.
Laura, “Rita” as her comrades recall her, used to talk to María Laura Bretal, another prisoner who was pregnant. “Laura told me that she had been pregnant twice before and she could not believe that her baby survived this time in spite of torture,” the survivor said before several courts.
Her baby, Guido, was for Laura a reason to resist the repression, her reason to be alive. On a cold evening of August 24, 1978, the head of the clandestine detention centre told Laura to get ready. She was leaving to face a military court.
On August 25, Estela received a notification. It was addressed to “Laura Carlotto’s parents.” They had to go to a police station in Isidro Casanova, La Matanza, Buenos Aires province. Estela’s brother, Ricardo, joined her and her husband Guido.
“Maybe they’ll give us the baby,” the woman said. But soon she realized that she was not going to listen to good news.
— She passed away.
— What? You killed her, murderers! Where is the baby?
— That’s all the information I have.
“Kibo” and Remo cried together when they received the phone call. Claudia, who was also pregnant, learnt about this some time after. Claudia and her husband, Jorge Falcone, were underground activists, trying to dodge repression. Jorge’s sister was 16-year-old María Claudia Falcone, one of the schoolgirls abducted in the so-called “Night of the Pencils” on September 16, 1976.
Jorge’s mother, Nelva, was the person who asked Estela to join a group of ladies who were looking for their missing grandchildren.
Once she contacted “Licha” de la Cuadra, Estela became an active member of the group. Four months after Laura’s murder, María Isabel “Chicha” Chorobik de Mariani — who was searching for her missing granddaughter Clara Anahí — came back to the country. The two women met and soon after they were elected president and vice-president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.
In 1980, Estela and “Chicha” travelled to Brazil. There they met a survivor from the Argentine concentration camps.
— There was a girl, Rita, who was released.
— She was my girl but she was killed.
— No, she was released.
Estela met lawyer Alcira Ríos, who confirmed that Laura had given birth to a baby boy.
Guido or Ignacio
It took 36 years but on Friday Estela had her first photograph with her grandson. The picture was tweeted on Ignacio Hurban’s account. That’s the name the people who raised Laura’s son gave him.
Glad to know the truth and of being Estela’s grandson, the 36-year-old musician headed a press conference in the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo headquarters. He said that he wanted to keep his name, Ignacio, and that he was little by little learning about his real identity.
“Two days ago, I discovered who I am,” he said.
Ignacio (Guido) arrived at the human rights organization office last month with doubts about his identity. He sensed that nothing would come of this. On Tuesday, Claudia Carlotto, the head of the National Commission for the Right to Identity, phoned to tell him that he was her nephew, Estela’s son, the long-awaited Guido. The reason of their life-long struggle.
Brought up by a couple who worked as farmhands for a ranch owner in Olavarría, Buenos Aires province, he did not understand many things.
“I did not know why I loved music so much. Now I can understand,” he said. His father, Walmir, who left Santa Cruz to move to La Plata was also once a musician. His uncle “Kibo” wanted to be a rock star and one of Claudia’s children, Juano, is the leader of a band. Juano wrote a song, Five hours, making reference to the time Guido or Ignacio — as he wants to be called — spent with his mother.
Ignacio also wrote a song for remembrance long before knowing that he was one of the reasons for keeping memory alive.