Delia Giovanola de Califano has yet to meet her long-lost grandson, who lives abroad
Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo did not even exist when Delia Giovanola de Califano took to the streets to look for her son and daughter-in-law.
Sometimes, she took her three-year-old granddaughter to Plaza de Mayo and yesterday, 39 years later, Delia had a reason to celebrate: she found Martín, the baby born in a clandestine detention centre in December 1976 and snatched from his mother.
“The same day he recovered his identity, he said he wanted to talk to me,” Delia, an 89-year-old member of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, said yesterday at the organization’s headquarters in Buenos Aires City.
“I never thought that I would have the joy of finding my grandson. This is a result of our struggle, which we will continue until the other hundreds that are missing are found and if we can’t, the grandchildren we have already found will do it in our stead,” Giovanola said while the vice-president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Rosa Roisinblit, touched her arm. Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the iconic leader of the group, smiled and looked on.
Yesterday morning, the National Genetic Database (BNDG) informed Claudia Carlotto, the head of the National Commission for the Right to Identity (Conadi) that the 118th grandchild had been identified.
The members of Grandmothers and the CONADI workers were worried about how to break the news to Delia. Claudia Carlotto also had to phone the 38-year-old man who has been living abroad for the past 15 years.
“It was difficult. I would have liked to look into his eyes,” Barnes de Carlotto’s daughter said.
The man was surprised. The genetic tests took longer than expected so he assumed there wasn’t a match. A few moments later, he phoned back and said that he wanted to talk to Delia.
“I was there,” she said with a smile, the same big smile she had when she entered the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo headquarters, where other activists cheered her on by chanting her name: “Delia, Delia.” There were no tears rolling down Delia’s cheeks, she raised her arms and laughed.
“He asked many things. We talked as if we were friends. He asked if I worked for Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo,” she told reporters. “I’ve been here for 39 years, I told him.”
Delia’s quest started before Martín — the name his mother gave him when she gave birth at the clandestine detention centre known as Pozo de Banfield in the south of Greater Buenos Aires — was born on December 5, 1976. For the first time in 39 years, Delia will be able to wish him a happy birthday next month.
“I told him I wanted to kiss him or embrace him. And he told me he would phone back in the evening,” the grandmother said.
Really? she asked.
“Sure, you are my grandmother,” the man replied.
Stella Maris Montesano was born on September 3, 1949. She graduated as a lawyer in 1972 and started representing workers. Her husband, Jorge Ogando, was employed as a bank clerk. Jorge was Delia’s son and he had been born on November 28, 1947.
Both Stella Maris and Jorge were activists of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT). In 1973, their first daughter was born, Virginia. On October 19, 1976, a death squad abducted the couple from their apartment in the city of La Plata. Virginia was with them, but the officers did not take her.
Stella Maris was taken to the Pozo de Banfield, which operated as a clandestine maternity ward in the south of Greater Buenos Aires. But Stella was taken elsewhere to have her baby. She stayed with Martín for three or four days and she was brought back to the clandestine detention centre that was under the supervision of the Buenos Aires provincial police.
Stella was told that Martín was going to be handed to her family and she was allowed to keep her umbilical cord, which she asked the other prisoners to pass onto her husband, who was never able to meet his baby.
Survivors still remember Stella Maris’ shouts calling for her baby boy.
According to survivors, Stella was then transferred to the Pozo de Quilmes, another concentration camp in Greater Buenos Aires.
“The very same day, the military fetched my son, I made a promise to him: to find his son. When I lost my granddaughter, I made a promise to her: to find her brother,” Delia said, for the first time with tears in her eyes.
In November 1977, then-US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance visited the country. A group of mothers who were also looking for their missing grandchildren wanted to meet him in order to hand over official information regarding their struggle.
They arranged to meet at San Martín square, but the place was packed with policemen. Delia, a school principal, arrived at the square alone and she hesitated.
That’s when she saw a girl walking her dog. She borrowed the dog from the girl and entered the square as a neighbour who was just walking her pet.
Between 2006 and 2008, the organization received three reports indicating that Martín — whose given name has not been revealed — could be the son of forcibly disappeared parents. Those who phoned or sent e-mails to Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo also said that it was a well-known secret that Martín had been born in a clandestine detention centre.
The man arrived at the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo headquarters on March 30. He had doubts. He met with members of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and then visited the Conadi.
As he has been living abroad, he sent his blood sample through the consulate on May 15. In June, the sample was sent to the BNDG. The Genetic Database head Mariana Herrero yesterday informed the results of the test. For Herrero, yesterday’s was her first restitution as the head of the BNDG, which was transferred to the national Science and Technology Ministry three weeks ago.
“Delia learned that her grandson lives abroad. Our grandchildren could be in any part of the world,” Barnes de Carlotto said. Last year, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo also found the granddaughter of another founder of the group, Ana Libertad Baratti de la Cuadra. The woman also lived abroad, in the Netherlands.
Virginia was only three years old when her whole life was turned upside down. She was sleeping when a death squad took her father and mother, who was eight months pregnant. Virginia started to work at Banco Provincia, as her father did.
She investigated every clue she had to find her brother Martín. She acted as a detective, as a writer. She also took to a TV studio in the 1990s in order to see if they could help her find Martín. They failed. She created a blog and she used to write letters to Martín.
Virginia committed suicide in 2011.
“While I was looking for my grandson, I lost my granddaughter,” Delia said yesterday. “But I have no doubt that Virginia is here and that her hand was behind all of this.”
Delia had a point. It was Virginia’s blood sample at the BNDG that helped to identify Martín.
Virginia had won a battle.
Republished from BuenosAiresHerald.com