Some time past your thirtieth birthday you discover that your godfather arrested and possibly tortured and murdered your mother.
You also find out that your parents are not your parents at all, that they have hidden your real identity from you.
How do you feel?
It was the nightmare facing Cesar Castillo, the son of humble parents in Buenos Aires. He had long harbored suspicions – he just didn’t look much like his mother and father – and finally he went to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and had a DNA test. It confirmed his worst fears.
He discovered that his father had disappeared in the provincial town of Cordoba, in 1976, when his mother was pregnant with him. She went into hiding but was eventually arrested when he was still an infant. An army colonel gave him to his servant to raise. His biological mother was never seen again.
Cesar – his real name is Horacio Corti – has since been reunited with members of his biological family but sadly his four grandparents are also now dead. All he has of his real family are photographs.
The colonel who arrested his mother died in jail last year.
Every Thursday since 1977 women wearing white headscarves have walked around the Plazo de Mayo, the central square near the government palace in Buenos Aires, demanding to know the fate of their sons, their husbands, their brothers and their fathers. Their sad vigil has become famous around the world.
Not many of the Mothers who started this movement now survive. But despite their dwindling numbers they still march, a living memorial to those who died during the so-called ‘Dirty War’ when the ruling junta ‘disappeared’ thirty thousand of their own citizens off the streets.
They were taken to a military detention centre, tortured, and then thrown – presumably alive – from a plane or helicopter into the sea.
Most of the victims’ remains have never been found.
It is now believed that up to 400 children born to mothers held in the government’s detention centres were given to police or army families, many raised not suspecting their ‘parents’ were not their own.
Only just over a hundred have so far been located.
Francisco Madariaga used to be Alejandro Ramiro Gallo, the name given him by his adoptive parents. He thought his “father” was Victor Gallo, a former army intelligence officer.
When Francisco was 32 he finally confronted his “mother” and demanded the truth.
He now describes Gallo as ‘his captor’ and has severed all contact with him.
He says he looks forward to seeing him in court.
But not everyone wants to know the truth.
One high profile case is that of Marcela and Felipe Noble, whose adoptive mother is the owner of one of the biggest media conglomerates in South America. Two separate families have claimed they were taken from their real families – but the siblings have resisted these approaches.
They protested that their privacy was being violated and only surrendered DNA samples after a judge took out a court order against them, maintaining that identity was a private matter and that it was not up to the state or the Grandmothers of the Plaza to tell them who their parents were.
They insisted that even if the tests were positive they did not wish to become the physical evidence against their mother.
What would you do? If your parents had been kind to you – or in the case of the Nobles, were also extremely wealthy – would you want to know?
How much truth do you think you could bear?