The traditional monthly meeting at the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory was held on Saturday, August 29th. This time, it was a tribute to the 20th anniversary of the identity restitution of Victoria Montenegro, currently a Buenos Aires City legislator.
The event featured the participation of Estela Barnes de Carlotto, president of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo; Victoria Montenegro, restored grandchild and Buenos Aires legislator; Alicia Lo Giúdice, head of the Center of Psychological Healthcare for the Right to Identity and Mercedes Montenegro, Victoria Montenegro’s aunt. The chronicler was Claudio Villarruel, sociologist, journalist and producer.
The meeting also featured Secretary of Human Rights Horacio Pietragalla Corti, and an introduction by Alejandra Naftal, director of the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory.
Horacio Pietragalla Corti was the first one to take the floor, welcoming everyone to the event and referring to the both personal and family history that connects him with Victoria Montenegro: “Welcome to a new Five O’clock Tour organized by the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory together with the Secretary of Human Rights office. We are very thrilled about this visit, because it’s my family up here in the panel today”.
“We are celebrating the rebirth of Vicky Montenegro, who recovered her identity 20 years ago. Vicky is the person I know the most. We were together since we were babies, living our childhood together (while he says this we see on the screen a photo he specifically asked for, which shows him and Victoria as children in the arms of the woman who stole Horacio) “How could I forget that moment when the courts asked Vicky to take a test because she might be a child of disappeared people?”. He added: “She was raised by a lieutenant colonel who also stole and handed me over, and acted as my godfather when I was baptised. What was happening to Vicky became a possibility for me.”
His final words were: “Dictatorships happened across the region and we are learning that babies were stolen also in other countries. However, the fact that identities were restored, constructed and returned to hundreds of men and women was only possible because of the love of our dear Grandmothers (of Plaza de Mayo). We will forever be grateful to them, and we commit to carry on that search and the memory they leave behind and transmit to us. Those white scarfs will remain as a symbol hundreds of years from now.”
Before giving the floor to Estela de Carlotto, Alejandra Naftal spoke about the role and meaning of this meeting. “This tour is about the chances offered by a path of reconstruction in its multiple sides. A way of transmission, reparation and inter-generational dialogue.”
She added: “Today, we can talk about the process that men and women go through as they recover their truth through the organization Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, the human rights movement in our country and the existence of a State that enforces public policies of Memory, Truth and Justice”.
Estela de Carlotto started to talk about the work of the organism “Us Grandmothers have been fighting for 43 years. The joy of finding 130 grandchildren is the best prize we ever had. We need to find the rest, which are around 300. Maybe they are far away, maybe they are close. But the work of finding them must continue, even after we are gone. The triumph of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo’s struggle is love. A word that covers everything, because when you have love, you always do good and make good decisions”.
She continued: “They have an impression of who their father and mother were. They were fighters. Unique. With flaws and virtues, but they had a mission and they gave their lives to fulfill it. These grandchildren have proudly identified themselves with their parents.”
To conclude, she talked about her relationship with Victoria: “When I met Vicky she didn’t like me at all. But she went through her own process. It’s logical and respectable. The Victoria I see today moves me. She brought out her intellect, her love for the world, and she is working for the country, for the motherland, for her brothers. We know you must have a special touch to serve in public office, where you have to listen to those you do not agree with.”
Psychoanalyst Alicia Lo Giúdice, head of the Center of Psychological Healthcare for the Right to Identity, referred to her job within the institution:
“The goal of our area is to provide a therapeutic space for young adults who have recovered their identity. The Grandmothers searched and found them. And other grandchildren decided to come to the institution, so they also searched and found. There are three generations at play here: the grandmothers, the kidnapped and disappeared parents, and the restored grandchildren. We are also seeing a fourth generation now. We claim that whatever a generation doesn’t process has consequences on the next one. The grandchildren have been raised in a lie, with the truth being hidden from them. But the Grandmothers open up that space of freedom so each one of them can question the meaning of those marks in them. I always value a lot that the Grandmothers have accepted the fact that what they went through left some marks”.
“Identity is a construction. It is something you take from your family and you build on it. What we do is go through a rough path, but one in which you can question those marks”, she concluded.
Mercedes Montenegro, Victoria’s aunt and sister of Roque “Toti” Montenegro, remembered how she found out about the kidnapping of both her brother, Victoria, and Victoria’s mother Hilda “Chicha” Torres. Then, she spoke about reuniting with Vicky: “We had two terrible situations: Toti, Chicha and Hilda Victoria were detained and we didn’t know anything about them, and my brother Pepe was held in the Villa Las Rosas prison. It was very hard”.
“When Grandmothers informed us they had found Hilda Victoria, I went there with all my siblings”, she continued. “Estela helped us a lot. When we got to the court we found that Hilda Victoria had the exact face of Toti, but she didn’t want to know anything about it. The family’s youngest ones had a major role in us starting a dialogue. After the presentations, the judge told us we could go out for coffee as a way of starting a dialogue, get to know each other. And we went there. It was a very long coffee.”
She also mentioned the exhumation of her brother’s remains, which were buried as a John Doe in a cemetery in Colonia, Uruguay. “Through the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) we were able to reunite with Toti’s remains as we wished. We welcomed him like he deserved. We went to his grade school and his high school and he was properly received by the authorities”.
To conclude, he added: “The introduction we gave about Toti, mentioning he and Chicha were serious fighters, didn’t match with Hilda Victoria’s personality, because back then she had been subjected by her upbringing, in which she didn’t know who she was. Those meetings, as well as history, have helped her discover herself and become growingly closer to the principles of her father and mother.”
Overwhelmed with strong emotions, Victoria Montenegro took the floor and spoke in the first person about the restoration of her identity. “I used to believe that there weren’t any disappeared people. I was convinced that all those women were sick with hate. That the only thing they wanted was to establish the idea that the children of the military may be children of subversives. When I received the notification, I remember I cried a lot. But not because I thought my parents had disappeared, but because I was so embarrassed about the confirmation of such a terrible thing, which was being the daughter of subversives.”
Victoria also described how she got closer to Grandmothers: “The first time I went to Grandmothers, in 2001, my husband really supported me, and Estela was there. For me, she was ‘the Carlotto woman’. Santi (her son) was very young, and she took his hand and walked away with him. When I saw her walking with my son, there was this inner humanity thing, and I understood that this was a beautiful image. And since it was a special day there because a granddaughter had come, she got some cookies out of a box where they kept to hide them from the grandchildren who work there. When she did that I realized these were grandmothers. That everything they had told me about them wasn’t true.”
“The work of the Grandmothers is incredibly valuable. It’s the triumph of love over violence, hate and oblivion. The work they did with the EAAF. They only took a drop of my blood. And that drop went across the River Plate and brought my dad back. That is amazing. The Grandmothers changed history. When they were ordered to circulate, an ultimate expression of state violence, they transformed that into a symbol of fighting, of dignity and love against the hardest pain a person can endure in life,” she said.
Finally, and as a closure to the tour, the chronicler of the event Claudio Villarruel said: “The thing about Vicky is that she radiates pure love and mercy. Because what happened to her and all the grandchildren is something I, an everyday person, cannot begin to grasp. What happened here today is an act of love. I get emotional every time I hear Estela, little Horacio, Vicky, and her aunt which I met today and looks exactly like her. I leave here with my chest bursting with love”, and added: “You have these small, silly problems, and then you hear these processes of resilience and survival against everything, and your heart bursts”.
We must highlight that this edition of the Five O’clock Tour was the first one to feature a sign language translation, in Argentina’ Sign Language Day. Due to the mandatory preventive social isolation, the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory remains closed. Because of this, the tour was made through Facebook Live and our YouTube channel, which together counted nearly 600 viewers from Argentina and the rest of the world. While this situation continues, these tributes will be open to the public online, as always, on the last Saturday of every month.