Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Argentina: Andres La Blunda

Pagina/12 has an extensive profile of Andres La Blunda, whose parents were disappeared by the military junta in 1977. Although it's lengthy, it seemed to me worth translating so I've been working on it in bits over the past few days. I think it's a really interesting consideration of the process of finding out you're a disappeared child. It's also explicitly pro-Kirchner - as are quite a lot of human rightsy people in Argentina, and this article goes some way to explaining why.

"The only thing that goes with love is the truth"

He was born in January 1977 with his first and last names and his documentation in order, registered as the legitimate son of his parents, Pedro La Blunda and Mabel Lucía Fontana. When he was three months old and living with them in San Fernando, they were abducted and he was passed to a neighbour couple who did not know about his origins. His biological parents were never found and his adoptive ones did not tell him anything, not even that he was adopted. In 1983, he was tracked down by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo aged 8 and met up with his biological aunt and uncle and cousins in Mar del Plata, but the lie continued. They did not tell him the truth about his history. An agreement pushed by his adoptive family turned the biological family into "distant relatives" who lived in Europe. In 1999, he found out the truth from a cousin and since then he has devoted his life to piecing together his story. That is how he found out that his irregular adoption was worked on by the same judge from San Isidro who approved of the adoption of the children of Ernestina Herrera de Noble. On 21 December 2012, Andrés La Blunda got back his name and the ID card to prove it. The found grandchild is now secretary general of the national liberation and integration movement (KOLINA) led by Alicia Kirchner, and he believes that the human rights policy which began in 2003 enabled him to regain his name "and hope".

In conversation with Página/12, La Blunda maintains that what happened on Friday, 21 December 2012 was "the rediscovery of my full identity and documentation, which had been lost for almost 35 years. When they took my parents, on 20 April 1977, I had a birth certificate, an ID card, a number and a name". 

He lost all of that on 20 April 1977 with the abduction of his parents from the ninth floor of the apartment black on Constitución 1274 in San Fernando. The soldiers who took Pedro and Mabel, members of the northern section of the Montoneros, gave the child to some neighbours who lived in the apartment opposite, a young married couple called Cabral-Benavide, who subsequently adopted him without knowing where he had come from. They registered him under the name Mauro Gabriel Cabral. "My adoptive parents did not know anything about my history. They were a family who ignored what was happening in those years, they ignored the political situation, the disappearances, and they had no links to the military", says La Blunda. He says that the only "positive" thing was that he escaped "the systematic plan to steal babies, perhaps because I was dark-skinned and not blond" and being appropriated by a family involved with the dictatorship. His biological parents had been living underground and had not had much to do with neighbours, but even so, over the years he has been able to put together some of their lives "because there was information in the collective memory, in San Fernando". The Cabral-Benavides first went to a police station, where they were advised to keep the child, "because my destiny could have been tragic".

After a while, the couple started the process leading to full adoption. "The first person to intervene in my adoption who knew what was happening was a youth judge from San Isidro, Ofelia Hejt." He points out that the judge Ofelia Hejt is the same one who presided over the adoption of Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera, a case which had preceded his. "Their case was between 1976 and the beginning of 1977, while Hejt took on my case in May 1977". The judge "took part in very few adoptions of the children of disappeared, and one of them was mine". La Blunda claims that Hejt "did not make the enquiries which she should have made, as she knew that the family had said that it was military personnel who gave me to them, so the judge realized that my parents had been abducted by the armed forces. She started the adoption process quickly and not in accordance with procedure - it was an "express" adoption."

Judge Hejt was not the one who signed the final adoption some time later; she was the one who compiled the initial paperwork without taking into account the fact that Andrés La Blunda had a birth certificate and ID. The full adoption was only finalized in 1983 in Mar del Plata, where Andrés had moved with his adoptive parents and siblings, Martín and Melisa Cabral. The final judge was called Tamini, from court No. 9 (Civil/Commercial).

Up to that point, in 1983, right at the end of the dictatorship and before the imminent inauguration of president Raúl Alfonsín, Andrés La Blunda's file was classed as "N.N or Cabral". From the age of three months until the adoption was finalized, he was brought up by the Cabral-Benavide family, until months later he was found by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which at that time was still led by Chicha Mariani, helped by the biological family "who had always driven my search from the time that they found out that my parents had been abducted".

The Grandmothers found him in February 1984. He was the 18th grandchild found. The news appeared in Clarín on Sunday, 26 February, under the headline "Discovery of a child". Andrés La Blunda, who was then seven years old, never read the article and he did not find out via the radio or television either, given that in those early years of democracy, the rebellions and military pressure to try to erase the past limited all information related to the military dictatorship.

Today, La Blunda gives talks on the importance of human rights policy and the recovery of identity. "I made a folder with data and photos which include the clipping from Clarín newspaper, so that children and teachers can see how a paper which was complicit with the dictatorship published news about the appearance of children of the disappeared."

One of the family members he has met up with is Carlos La Blunda, the brother of his father, and some of his cousins. His adopted family, in a forced agreement with his biological relatives, accepted his reappearance but avoided mentioning Andrés' painful past at all. "My biological family was presented to me as "distant relatives" living in exile in Europe".

The meeting with his biological family was in summer 1984, in Mar del Plata. "What happens then is that the two families, by mutual agreement, decide not to tell me the truth and that was one of their big mistakes. It was a forced agreement, forced by the same dictatorship that had set up a mechanism not just of terror and fear, but of silence and secrecy as well."

The clue needed to find him had been provided by another of his uncles, Héctor La Blunda, who had once visited the disappeared couple in their apartment in San Fernando. "There he starts to make enquiries of the neighbours and then he goes to the local court. He starts looking at all the cases registered at that time (April 1977) and finds the case "N.N or Cabral", which fits with the place and the time of my story. My father's brother was not allowed to see the whole file, but later Chicha Mariana from the Grandmothers goes and then the whole story comes out: that I had lived for some years in San Fernando and then moved to Mar del Plata with my adoptive parents."

The discovery is confirmed by the Grandmothers in Mar del Plata. "The family that adopted me is not an appropriating family, but my case is still something like appropriation because my history was not dealt with truthfully, there were lies. That is the point where I ask myself to what extent there was an adoption in good faith when my whole life was a lie. When I give talks in schools, I ask if lies can co-exist with love. The only thing that goes with love is the truth."

- How did your relationship with your adoptive family continue?

I carried on with them without knowing anything, from the time I was seven until I was 22, when my cousin Carolina La Blunda told me the truth. She got tired of the secrecy and the lying and one day she went and told me. I didn't even know that I was adopted, still less that I was the child of disappeared people. 

- Had you never suspected that you were adopted?

I had sometimes felt that I wasn't that family's child, but I didn't question it. I felt different, for one thing because of the physical aspect. What happened is that you accept a lot of things as natural. There was always something, but it didn't come out. It takes a lot to rebel against the family, the people you called Mum and Dad all your life. We're talking about the era of liberalism. 

- And what happened with your biological family?

They came to visit me, because they had been living in exile in Spain. I had always believed that they were distance relatives of my adoptive family. It was the family from Junín who came to see me. They're all from Junín, like my father, while my mother was from Paraná. The Grandmothers weren't able to break this forced agreement either. My two families were accomplices in the lie. They all knew the truth, except me.

This continued until one night, in 1999, when my cousin Carolina broke the silence and told me everything. I believed everything she told me, I never doubted it for a moment. That proves that I suspected that there was a hidden lie." Despite being convinced of the truth, Andrés spent a year "without being able to talk to the (adoptive) family and say that I knew everything.  It took a lot to break out of this structure". At that time, he was studying economics and he even started to doubt whether or not he should carry on with his degree, although ultimately he did finish it. "I rethought everything in my life, but I didn't make radical decisions to break with what was there".

"I started to have more contact with my biological family, but I felt guilty about telling them everything I knew, because I didn't want to hurt either of [the families]. It was because I cared for them, I felt like it was my fault. This paralysed me, stopped me acting, stopped me from protecting myself." The only decision he made was to piece together his history, without telling anyone. 

This was met with opposition from his adoptive family. "When they found out that I knew the truth, they didn't help me to search because they thought that my decision was a lack of consideration after all they had done for me". They were "always afraid they would lose me. They'd always had that fear, from the time I was three months old until I found out the truth. I knew that they had never meant to hurt me. I have two siblings who I grew up with and they never treated me differently - on the contrary. I feel privileged to have my adoptive siblings." 

He continued living with his adoptive parents until he was 25, when he decided to move to Buenos Aires. There, he found out that his father, Pedro La Blunda, has been a friend of Alicia Kirchner from her student and militant days in La Plata. Early in 2003, he met Alicia. As he pieced together his story, he found out that his parents had started their relationship in the town of San Nicolás, when they were already members of the Montoneros. "Then I found out that my history was really spread all over the place - in Junín, in Paraná, in Mar del Plata, in San Nicolás, in the city of Buenos Aires and in San Fernando". 

This made the search more difficult. "I was working, but when I started the search in 1995, it was the middle of the liberal period and economic issues made it hard for me to travel". La Blunda maintains that his story "started to change when Néstor (Kirchner) came into power". The story of his parents "which had been denied to me all that time became part of the national political scene and became part of a history vindicated by the president". 

He recalls that at first, in Mar del Plata, he told his story to his childhood friends, and they reacted with absolute indifference. In 2006, "I got back in touch with lots of those friends and they apologized to me and said, 'it's crazy that we were with you and we didn't know what had happened'. I think that was when the new Argentina was born, it was another country which we were starting to create and I could feel it in my bones". In this regard, he says that getting back his name and his identity was "more than a personal decision, it was political. I'm sure that without Néstor, Cristina and Alicia, without this project for the country, I'd still be Mauro Gabriel Cabral".

“Lo único que puede convivir con el amor es la verdad” (Pagina/12)

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