Connect to share and comment

Torn between identities in Argentina

Hundreds of kidnapped children must decide if they want to expose their parents' crimes.

Poblete's case proved to be a landmark in Argentina's reconciliation process. While investigating Claudia's disappearance, Judge Gabriel Cavallo declared the amnesty laws protecting those who helped the military dictatorship unconstitutional. That paved the way for many of the prosecutions that are happening today.

But prosecution is the key reason for children of the disappeared to resist identification.

"If you have doubt and you love the people who are going to go to jail because of you — it's impossible to make the choice," Poblete said.

When Poblete ultimately chose to get tested, the results became evidence against the couple who raised her. Both were found guilty of kidnapping and received seven-year sentences — her adopted father was sent to an army prison and her adopted mother put under house arrest.

Poblete says the new law that mandates genetic testing takes the pressure off.

But there are some who feel the law is unconstitutional.

"They're not respecting the judicial process," Cavallo said, tapping his fingers on the court documents lying on his desk. The case on his desk is that of Ernestina Herrera, owner of Argentina's largest daily newspaper Clarin and its parent company Grupo Clarin.

Herrera’s two adopted children have long been suspected of being children of the disappeared, and now they’re caught in the middle of a feud between their mother and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Cavallo is the attorney defending the Herreras against the Abuelas and the DNA law. This time, he says, the Abuelas are wrong:

"The Abuelas say, 'Do the test if you have nothing to hide.' And that's not how the penal process works. One doesn't submit to the penal process over suspicions. One submits to the penal process when there's proof that a crime was committed."

Cavallo said in Poblete’s case there was lots of evidence that she had been kidnapped — there were witnesses, a falsified birth certificate, her adopted father was in the military and her adopted mother was too old to give birth. And when they checked Poblete's DNA, they checked it only against the Pobletes’, not the whole data bank.

In the Herrera case, he maintains, there's not enough evidence and more than that, there is a political objective.

For more than a year, Fernandez has been trying to seize Clarin's assets, saying it maintains an unfair monopoly of the Argentine media. The newspaper isn't known to be objective in its coverage of the Kirchners, but the lengths Fernandez has gone to attack Clarin are noteworthy: tax investigations, several attempts to break up or seize their assets, and criminal charges against its executives for human rights violations during the Dirty War.

Fernandez's critics say the new DNA law was passed specifically to target Herrera's children, Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera, and open their mother up to prosecution. Despite the law, efforts to test the Herrera children against the National Data Bank have been thwarted. The latest attempt resulted in a dramatic car chase with the police. Afterward the children told the Associated Press that they felt their genetic history was being unfairly forced upon them.

Smith, the anthropologist, also thinks the burden is unfair. "By placing the onus of identification on these young adults we're taking incredibly complex moral decisions about state responsibility, about the meaning of family, about the basis of identity," Smith said. "These are huge philosophical questions that people in academia have wrestled with for thousands of years. "

It's taken a few years, but Poblete has come to terms with her identity. She's decided that experience matters more than the letters of her genetic code.