Elena Herrera had her daughter taken away after sheltering her and breastfeeding her all night. Only that first night did he hold her in his arms. In the morning, a doctor came and took her away. Then they told her that their little newborn was dead, but she didn’t believe it. No one gave him a certificate or showed him the body. She says that she came home after receiving the news and the milk ran down her breasts: “That’s why I thought she was alive,” she says.
Herrera lives in Santiago de Chile and is now 62 years old. She gave birth to her first daughter on November 25, 1975 at the Felix Bulnes Hospital in the Chilean capital. I was 15 years old. “I was discharged and when I went to ask about my baby, I never saw or heard from her again,” she says.
In Chile, more than 20,000 babies and children were adopted by foreign families during the military dictatorship and, according to the Chilean Court of Appeals, at least 8,000 of those adoptions could be illegal. Although there is a record of these practices from the 60s, it was during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), which began with the coup that this Saturday commemorates in Chile, when more cases were registered. A modus operandi that was consolidated as part of a national strategy applied by the dictatorship to reduce child poverty by taking the most needy children out of the country.
Like the other mothers who went through the same thing, Elena was left without little Laura Elena and without documents proving her birth or the death of the little girl. The fear that the dictatorship established did the rest: “I never felt the girl dead, but at that time it was not possible to speak and I kept everything to myself. I continued life as I could,” he says. It was not until 13 years ago, in the middle of an administrative procedure, when he learned that his daughter was registered in the Civil Registry: “It appears that I registered her four days after she supposedly died, but the signature of the document is not mine. I never signed that paper. ”
“It was a business”
Marisol Rodríguez is a spokesperson and founder of Hijos y Madres del Silencio (HMS), an organization that supports victims of illegal adoptions and child trafficking in Chile. She is looking for a sister born between July and August 1972 at the JJ Aguirre Hospital in Santiago: “We assume that she is a girl because they told my mother that, but she never had the opportunity to see her.” He also did not receive a death certificate and was also told that he could not see the girl’s body because it was reserved for study. “There was never an answer regarding that study, there is no history or records in the hospitals. Many women know about their children while they are managing some procedure in the Civil Registry because the child appears as registered,” says Marisol.
Ester Herrera learned that she was adopted by her mother one afternoon, when she overheard a conversation between her and an uncle in which they remembered her newborn arrival. She was then 15 years old and was shocked: “I didn’t know much more. My adoptive mother had no information about my biological mother. When I tried to inquire, my mother told me that she had met a midwife or nurse who was the person who offered to bring her a baby and that it arrived with me and with the documentation to be able to register me “.
Today she is 40 years old and although she has always lived in Santiago, she says that “she is not certain” of having been born there, in the former Lira Clinic, on July 17, 1981, as it appears on her birth certificate, that she achieved years later: “That document was adulterated because the name of my adoptive mother appears and from then on all my documentation is false. The registration was made as if I had been the legitimate daughter of my non-biological mother. They gave her this document to that it all seemed perfectly legal. ” Their case responds to the figure of the so-called “appropriate” because the information is false from the first registration and they do not have an adoption file from which to look for the biological mother.
In adoption cases, the circuit began with abduction after childbirth or in nurseries, which supposedly offered support so that women could work. Once there, the abduction took place and the mothers were told that they would not see their children again.
According to Sub-prefect Roberto Gaete, who heads the Investigative Brigade of Crimes Against Human Rights of the Investigative Police (PDI), in charge of investigating these cases, a social worker issued a report assuring that the mother had abandoned the baby or that I did not have the conditions to take care of him and that he was apt to be adopted. The document was presented to a juvenile court – with which there was a prior agreement – and he handed it over to a family “as a protection measure that was often not an adoption as such, but an authorization to remove him from the country.”
The participation of health officials (social workers, midwives, doctors, etc.) was key to stealing babies, but judges, immigration authorities, notaries, and personnel linked to the Church were also involved to complete the process. “It was a business for everyone because what they charged the adoptive parents was a very high amount, they were also deceived and asked for much more money than an adoption would come out in Chile,” adds Marisol Rodríguez.
In both illegal adoptions and appropriations, the profile of the affected mothers was always very specific: “They were young people, minors and in a vulnerable condition, who could not do any management due to ignorance, ignorance or because they were alone” , Gaete points out. According to their research data, most of the newborns left rural and peasant areas such as La Araucanía, Concepción and San Fernando, all of them in southern Chile, and the main destinations were European countries such as Sweden, France, Italy and to a lesser extent the Netherlands and Denmark. “In Spain there are cases, but few”, says the policeman.
Some 700 cases linked to theft or theft of babies are currently being investigated in Chile. However, there are thousands of people who are looking for their relatives. The HMS organization counts more than 12,000 in its records. Since its founding in 2014, when the first ones were revealed in the press, they have facilitated more than 250 meetings. Despite the progress that, according to Subprefect Gaete, there has been in the investigation, even considering the difficulties of the pandemic, the judge in charge of these cases, Jaime Balmaceda, has not yet made any accusations.
Affected people have been waiting for a response from the courts for years, but various obstacles make the investigation difficult. “On many occasions we have not been able to find the documents because at that time everything was manual and written in books and this material has been eliminated in hospitals and public services that, by law, keep the documentation for no more than 15 years. In addition, the involved are over 70 years old and dying, “says Gaete. The work is now developing in two directions: determining those responsible for the events and locating where the children who are irregularly adopted are.
“I do not lose the hope”
In September 2018, the Chamber of Deputies created a specific commission to investigate irregular adoptions. A year later, the instance published a report that concludes “it is not possible to grant for sure a number of people illegally adopted […] due to the non-existence of records that account for adoptions at the national level (there is only a record of international adoptions). “In addition, it emphasizes that” the claim about a systematic violation of human rights by the State is duly substantiated. ” Parliamentarians considered the “participation of State agents at various moments in the process of illegal delivery of children” to be accredited and stressed that “through deception and fraud, they misappropriated children.” For them, the conduct of these agents ” they led to the forced disappearance of persons “and violated the right to identity.
“For me it is extremely important to know where I come from, it is vital to be able to close the circle that opens when the uncertainty of asking where you come from begins,” says Ester Herrera, who has been looking for her mother for seven years. She has had several DNA tests done, has traveled to look for clues and even published a letter addressed to her in the media: “I have … many dreams to achieve. One of them is to meet you. Do not be scared, I just want to look at you. eyes and discover a part of me in them, “he wrote. He’s not losing hope, he says, but his expectations are low.
Elena Vargas began an intense search five years ago, when she joined HMS and became an activist for her own cause: “I have gone to demonstrations, we were in Congress to expose our cases and I did DNA tests because I always believed that she it’s somewhere, “he says. Although so far he has not had any signs of Laura Elena, he does not lose hope: “Miracles exist.”