Thursday, February 21, 2008

Adoption and Argentina's "Dirty War"

Argentina and Argentines have been confronting the military junta of 1976-1983 in the courts for awhile, going especially after former military men and the Catholic Church. However, there is a new and far more sensitive issue arriving to the courts: adoption. It is no secret that children in Argentina (and Chile, and probably other countries that saw repressive regimes) whose parents the state killed were then adopted into other families, and oftentimes these children didn't (and still do not) know that they are adopted, or what the true fate of their biological parents was.

For the first time ever, one of these children, 30-year-old Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan, is suing her adoptive parents for what amounts to kidnapping. The case itself charges her parents in falsifying documents that claimed she was their child, as well as charging captain Enrich Berthier for committing child theft in delivering Maria to her adoptive parents.I really have no idea where this may go. According to the article, Sampallo is on of 88 people who the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo helped in discovering their past. I don't know if there will be many more cases like this - I suspect not. Nor do I have any idea where this case may go - whether Berthier is punished (financially, professionally, or via imprisonment) or whether her adoptive parents may receive any type of punishment.

This case, to my knowledge, is totally without precedent, and I really don't know what to make of it. While in one way, at a more abstract level, I'm glad to see punishments sought against non-military individuals who may have taken part in any part of repression, at the more practical level I don't know where you stop, if ever. I have no idea what the intentions or emotions behind the adoption were on the part of Sampallo's parents, and without knowing more (did they just desparately want a kid and were unable to do so, and took what was the easiest path at the time, submitting to foolish mistake? Were they really sinister people who were glad the country was rid of two more "leftists"? Was it something else?) I guess in the case of Sampallo, I hope things work out in a way that she is most satisfied, and in terms of the officer, I have little trouble with him being punished, too, but I'm just not sure what to make of the case of the parents, and probably never will without knowing more.

UPDATE: The Latin Americanist has more. As they point out there, the fact that children of murdered parents were adopted by others clandestinely isn't exactly a news-shattering event in Argenitna. It has been suspected and acknowledged frequently enough to have apparently spawned novelas and films, so obviously the existence of these types of cases has been in the public sphere for awhile. Still, Sampallo's case is a whole new arena for the human-rights struggle as Argentina continues to reconcile the Dirty War.