‘Private labs will do the tests BNDG can’t’
The head of the National Genetic Database fights switch to national juridictionThe last three weeks have been marked by the recovery of the identities of two long-awaited grandchildren snatched during the 1976-1983 dictatorship: the grandson of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo head Estela Barnes de Carlotto and the granddaughter of the first president of the human rights group, Alicia “Licha” Zubasnabar de De la Cuadra. The National Genetic Database (BNDG) — an institution created in 1987 — played a key role in helping the two recover their identities. But the BNDG is mired in controversy due to a 2009 law that establishes its transfer to the national Science and Technology Ministry. BNDG director María Belén Rodríguez Cardozo, talked to the Herald at her office in the Hospital Durand to explain why she is opposed to the move.
Why are you against the transfer?
We want people to have access to a national institution as they’ve had before 2009. This is an important tool to solve the identity of Argentine society. That is why I did not take part in a public competition to continue leading the institution.
What should be done with the BNDG?
I think the bank should not be under the jurisdiction of the national Executive nor the Buenos Aires City government. It has to be independent, that’s why it should be run by both. I think the idea of decreasing the BNDG’s goals very disappointing.
What other cases — besides crimes against humanity — do you think the bank must analyze?
There are more than 200 people who have disappeared during democracy.
What is the relationship with Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo like?
It is the normal relationship between plaintiffs and experts. We do not have personal relations.
Science and Technology Minister Lino Barañao says you would have the same working conditions after the transfer to the state.
They can’t say that. The law has made several mistakes regarding this particular topic.
The law says that you can only lead the BNDG for four years. I am 50 now. In four years, I’ll turn 54 and I will be dismissed.
Barnes de Carlotto says you are the head of the BNDG because you lead the Hospital Durand’s Immunology department. Is that true?
No, I have never been the head of that area. In fact, I worked with Ana Di Lonardo for 13 years and in 2009 the City’s Health minister suggested I request a promotion. I am not the head of the BNDG by chance.
Di Lonardo was harshly criticized by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo because after she was the head of the BNDG, she went on to represent Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera in the case to determine if they were the children of disappeared parents. It was also suggested that she had information confirming that there were no links between their DNA and the samples given by families.
I don’t have any evidence of that.This is very sensitive. Saying that and not filing a criminal complaint is just a piece of gossip.
A DNA test will be conducted on a boy who is thought to be María de los Ángeles “Marita” Verón’s son. Can the BNDG take part in that test?
No. The test has to be performed by private labs. For instance, two private experts who ran private labs — Daniel Corach and Mariana Herrero Piñero — took part in the debate over the law. All the tests that the BNDG is not going to perform will be done by private labs.
Should the BNDG be under the Judiciary’s supervision?
Yes, we should be overseen by the Supreme Court.
You filed a request to declare the 2009 law unconstitutional. What happened to your request?
It has to be analyzed by the Supreme Court. We say that only two articles are unconstitutional. We think that the right to identity has to be universal, not just for people born between 1976-1983.
Did more people come to the BNDG to undergo testing after the identification of Ana Libertad and Ignacio Guido?
Yes, but that trend started earlier, mainly because of campaigns by NGOs and human rights groups. But what I criticize is that those who come here and do not find his or her family has nowhere else to go. In this country, if you are not the child of disappeared parents ,you have no other way to learn of your real identity.
You were criticized after the identification of Estela Barnes de Carlotto’s grandson because you sent the information to the National Commission for the Right to Identity (Conadi) first and directly informed Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría. Why did you do that?
In 2008, they issued a judicial writ ordering me to inform the judge of any news regarding Laura Carlotto’s baby. I did not make a decision. When Estela was informed, the judge showed her the writ, explaining her why we were there. I sent the file to the Conadi the next day.
The National Genetic Database (BNDG) was created in 1987 by late former president Raúl Alfonsín. In 2009, the Kirchnerite administration sealed an agreement with Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to resolve an earlier complaint. The organization had filed the complaint following a 2003 ruling from the Supreme Court, which did not allow an alternative method to identify a daughter of disappeared parents than the BNDG. The country agreed to update the BNDG and submitted a law to transfer the bank to the state, a decision that was backed by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. A group of human rights leaders opposed the transfer and filed an injunction request to prevent it from taking place and also filed a request to declare unconstitutional the articles of Law 26,548 which establish that the BNDG will only examine cases until December 10, 1983. Last year, Federal Judge Ernesto Marinelli agreed with the transfer, a decision that was backed earlier this year by the Federal Administrative Appeals Court.