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‘Ana Libertad wants to know about her story’

Estela de la Cuadra holds a picture of her disappeared brother Roberto José, Ana Libertad’s uncle.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
Estela de la Cuadra talks to the Herald about the identification of her niece

The search took more than 37 years but on August 22 Estela de la Cuadra was finally able to speak to her niece, the baby whom her sister Elena de la Cuadra gave birth to at police station number 5 in the city of La Plata during the last dictatorship.

“What a day,” says Estela, the daughter of Alicia Zubasnabar de de la Cuadra, who was the first president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and who passed away in 2008 without being able to hug her granddaughter.

On August 22, Estela received a phone call but did not pick up. Her sister Soledad then received a call from employees of La Plata courthouse. A couple of minutes later, they arrived there along with Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo lawyer Emanuel Lovelli, who broke into tears. “They told us that they had identified Ana, that she had agreed to provide the sample and that she was willing to know,” Estela recalled in conversation with the Herald at her home in La Plata.

“We phoned her and she started laughing,” Estela said. “She wants to know.”

As soon as Ana — who lives in Europe decides to come to Argentina — she will have the chance to learn about her mother, Elena de la Cuadra, and her father, Héctor Baratti, who were both members of the Communist Marxist-Leninist Party (PCML) as well as her uncle Roberto José Baratti. All were abducted between 1976 and 1977.Estela’s eldest son was also kidnapped along with his father, Estela’s husband Gustavo Fraire, for a day before his grandparents were able to find him. Estela, her children and her two others siblings went into exile in Europe. They eventually decided to come back to the country to continue their search for Ana Libertad.

— They say Ana is similar to your sister Elena. Is that true?

— Yes, they’ve said so.

Estela did not initially seem keen on speaking. “There is a judicial investigation in progress. Did you see what happened with Estela Barnes de Carlotto’s grandson — (Judge María Romilda) Servini de Cubría gave out his personal details and that’s not OK,” she says, adding a minute later: “Look. This is Elena. She was beautiful.” Her mother’s beauty is something that Ana will also be able to discover.”

The 37-year-old woman has so far accepted being called Ana, a name her parents chose to pay homage to Ana Villarreal de Santucho, a PRT militant killed in Trelew on August 22,1972 during the so-called massacre of Trelew, when 16 left-wing militants were executed in a jail. Coincidentally, Ana Baratti de la Cuadra’s identity was restored on the massacre’s 42th anniversary.

Church hierarchy

Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — has faced several accusations regarding the role he played during the last dictatorship, though there are some who insist that he saved lives. Estela de la Cuadra highlights that the pontiff was aware of the dictatorship’s plan to snatch babies.

“This is only about truth,” Estela repeats in conversation with the Herald as she opens a suitcase where she keeps many treasures, photographs of her family, her mother’s handkerchief — which is going to be a present for Ana Libertad when they meet — and also a letter signed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio. “There you have his signature,” the woman says pointing at the letter.

“When my sister Elena disappeared my parents started collecting papers,” Estela says. In 1977, her other sister went into exile and her parents asked her to go to Rome to talk to Father Pedro Arrupe, head of the Jesuits. “Soledad talked to Arrupe about Elena, her baby and my brother Roberto José. She did not mention Héctor (Baratti) as they were not married,” Elena recalled. The meeting was in July. In October, Roberto de la Cuadra went to San Miguel to meet Bergoglio, who was the head of the Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay. Bergoglio told Ana Libertad’s grandfather to see Mario Picchi, a bishop in the city of La Plata.

Picchi — who was often contacted by relatives of disappeared people — told Alicia “Licha” Zubasnabar de la Cuadra’s husband that he would talk to then BA province deputy chief Reynaldo Tabernero. “Picchi then told my father that the girl was being raised by a good family and that there was no chance of even discussing the adults’ fate,” Estela recalled.

“Picchi made another attempt since the order was from Arrupe, so he contacted intelligence colonel Enrique Rospide, who told Picchi more or less the same thing: that the girl was in the hands of a good family and that the case of the adults was not under discussion.”

Estela takes a deep breath and then starts talking again. She has kept that pain inside for more than 37 years. “I think I should have talked more about this with my parents,” she says.

— Were your parents Catholic?

— Look, I listened to them talking about the Spanish Civil War but not about Jesus Christ.

— And why did they appracoh the Church to ask for help?

— Because power was there. It wasn’t only my parents who approached the Church, many other relatives did.

Another iconic priest

After Elena de la Cuadra and Héctor Baratti’s abduction, Licha and her husband approached a church and the priest told them to go to see the Army vicar Emilio Graselli, a priest who last week testified in court and is remembered by relatives of disappeared people as a man involved in the repression. In fact, Graselli kept a file with records of the disappeared.

“Graselli took notes and told them to come back in a couple of days,” Elena remembered. When “Licha” and Roberto appeared again, Graselli was furious.

— Why didn’t you tell me that Elenita was pregnant?

— Yes, she is. But where is she?

— No, Madam, I cannot tell you that. She is somewhere near the city of La Plata. If I give the information, you’ll go there and things will get worse for your daughter.

“Graselli knew that Elenita was pregnant and where she was. He knew everything,” Estela says.

On several occasions, the woman has accused Graselli and Bergoglio of alleged involvement in the case of her niece’s appropriation.

In the trial for the systematic plan of child appropriation, Bergoglio filed a written statement making reference to Ana Libertad’s case. The priest admitted having met Roberto de la Cuadra. “He told me that one of his daughters had been kidnapped but I don’t remember if he told me that his daughter was pregnant,” Bergoglio wrote. In the same statement, the priest said that he learnt about the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and their struggle to recover their missing grandchildren in the 1990s.

Pope Francis was also linked to the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, who were taken in 1978 to the infamous Navy Mechanics School. Last year, when Bergoglio was appointed pope, Jalics — who lives in Germany — said that Bergoglio had not been involved in their abduction.

@LucianaBertoia
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