BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The founder of Argentina's leading human rights group said Monday that she had located the grandson taken from her daughter while a prisoner of the military dictatorship in the 1970s, one of the long-unsolved mysteries from the "dirty war" era that still haunts the country.
Surrounded by her large extended family, an emotional Estela Barnes de Carlotto, founder of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, announced that her long hunt for her grandchild had ended, while acknowledging other families are still searching for hundreds of children taken under similar circumstances.
"Thanks to God, thanks to life, because I didn't want to die without embracing him and soon I will be able to," the 83-year-old grandmother said at a news conference covered live on national TV. She has not yet met him.
The now 36-year-old man came forward on his own to have a DNA test taken and have the sample compared in a national database because he had doubts about his own identity, said Guido Carlotto, a son of de Carlotto who is human rights secretary for Buenos Aires Province.
The family didn't release the man's name, but Argentine media identified him as Ignacio Hurban, a pianist and composer who is director of a music school in the city of Olavarria southwest of Buenos Aires.
Carlotto said the DNA test revealed with a compatibility match of "99.9 percent" that the man is the son of Laura Carlotto, a university student activist who was executed in August 1978 two months after she gave birth while being held under the dictatorship's brutal campaign against guerrillas and other opponents of the regime.
The announcement was major news in Argentina, drowning out coverage of the recent default forced on the country by a legal dispute with U.S. investors. De Carlotto is considered a symbol of the struggle for justice for victims of the 1976-83 dictatorship that, according to official statistics, "disappeared" at least 13,000 people. Activists say the death toll was more than twice as high.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called de Carlotto when she learned the news. "Cristina called me crying ... I told her, 'Yes, Cristina it's true.' She said, 'What great joy,' and we cried together," the long-term activist said.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo believe around 500 children were seized from people killed by the dictatorship and given to couples who supported the government. The group has so far helped to identify 114 of the illegally adopted children in a campaign that has stirred painful memories.
The Grandmothers successful pushed for the creation of the DNA database that enables people illegally adopted to determine their real identity.
Two former dictators were eventually convicted along with others of systematically kidnapping children. Jorge Rafael Videla died in prison in May 2013 while serving a 50-year sentence. Reynaldo Bignone remains in prison.
De Carlotto said the parents who received her daughter's child "may have done so innocently," not knowing the newborn's origins. "We don't have the whole story yet, but we are going to get it," she said.
Laura Carlotto was a Peronist militant detained while pregnant in November 1977 along with the baby's father, Oscar Montoya, a member of the Montoneros guerrilla group. He also was killed in captivity.
The baby was taken shortly after being born in a military hospital and his mother was executed soon thereafter, de Carlotto said, relying on years of investigating the case.
Her daughter was killed with a shot to the head and to the belly as part of an attempt to hide the fact that she had been pregnant and may have given birth, said de Carlotto, who was given the young woman's remains in what was unusual for the military.
She has said she felt somewhat privileged in that she was able to bury her daughter's remains, something many others who lost loved ones were not able to do.
De Carlotto said Tuesday that the identification of her grandson is a form of reparation for the brutality of the dictatorship, but it isn't an end to the struggle for justice or a resolution of the issue of missing children.
"The search for the rest must continue," she said.