From 1976 to 1983, Argentina’s ruling military dictatorship conducted a brutal campaign of state-sponsored terrorism, resulting in the country’s “Desaparecidos” – Spanish for “The Disappeared.” People who opposed the regime weren’t just arrested. They disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. There were more than 30,000 of them.
Today we know that some of these men and women were dropped into the ocean during the notorious “death flights,” while others met their fate in secret detention centers and prisons. It was a dark chapter in Argentina’s history – and for many, it’s not nearly over.
At the height of the Dirty War, military officials stole babies from political prisoners at birth, giving them to military families to raise as their own children. So far more than 100 children have discovered their true identities – as the children of murdered political prisoners.
Victoria Montenegro was one of them.
She was raised under the name Maria Sol Tetzlaff, and didn’t discover her real identity until adulthood. Her parents, both political dissidents, had been arrested during a crackdown. Military officers took Victoria and gave her to another officer who had helped with the arrest. It was this man and his wife who raised Victoria.
Last Thursday was an important day for Victoria Montenegro and others like her, who have discovered the truth about their past. Two former dictators were convicted and sentenced to prison for their roles in stealing babies during the Dirty War. Jorge Rafael Videla received 50 years in prison, and Reynaldo Bignone was sentenced to 15. Both men were already imprisoned for various crimes against humanity.
The convictions mark an important chapter in pursuing justice for victims of the Dirty War, and while Victoria still wrestles with the tragedy and heartache of her past, she hopes that the verdict will be "healing for the Argentine society."
She hopes that the verdict will help her – and the country – move forward after a brutal and painful chapter. "With this verdict we can start repairing the damages caused by our history, even though this history still causes us pain," she says.
For observers, the Argentinian trials remind us of the importance of pursuing justice. After years of pain, locking up the perpetrators of Argentina's Dirty War clearly doesn't end the agony they caused. But it does help victims to move forward with their lives.
For Victoria, the trials are an important step – progress in the healing of her heart. She doesn't hate the parents who raised her. But she knows the tragedy, the pain, the injustice of their actions. “The heart doesn’t kidnap you, it doesn’t hide you, it doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t lie to you all of your life,” she says. “Love is something else.”
Publication date: July 11, 2012