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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
'I was one of Argentina's stolen babies'

By Elliott Gotkine
BBC correspondent in Buenos Aires

Horacio with his mother
Horacio's real mother was killed in 1976
On Monday, an Argentine court found two police officials guilty of arranging the theft of a baby from murdered detainees during the country's last military dictatorship, and then handing her over for adoption.

Some 400 babies are believed to have been snatched in this way, and their identities suppressed.

Of those, 77 have since been "discovered".

One of these was Horacio Pietragalla Corti.

Cesar Sebastian Castillo was born on 22 May 1977.

His parents, Lina and Adriano, were humble, countryside folk.

His mother worked as a domestic servant for a military official, and his father was a carpenter.

But on 4 April last year, Cesar realised that none of this was true.

For a start, his name was not Cesar; it was Horacio Pietragalla Corti.

His real birthday is 11 March, 1976.

And the couple that had raised him as their own for the best part of 27 years are not his real parents.

"It has been a year since I discovered my identity," Horacio, who now works in the press office of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, one of Argentina's leading human rights groups, told BBC News Online.

"I'm still reconstructing it. It's something that I don't think will ever end. It's something eternal."


So far, the two-metre-tall (6ft 5in) Horacio has been able to establish most of the facts relating to his abduction.

Horacio Pietragalla Corti
Even Horacio's birth date was changed

"My father had to travel to the city of Cordoba, 700km (435 miles) north-west of Buenos Aires, when my mother was pregnant," he recounts.

"He disappeared there, in Cordoba. My mother didn't hear any news from him. So she went underground, changed her name and moved house.

"I was born in a clinic where she could have me without having to register me. Five months later, a military operation was carried out there.

"This was 5 August, 1976. When they killed my mother, they took me to another clinic.

"Two days later, they took me away. On the same day, my maternal grandmother discovered where I was. But by the time she arrived, I was no longer there. I was there for two days and they kidnapped me."

Horacio was taken on the orders of one Lt Col Hernan Tefzlaff.

The officer's brother-in-law wanted to adopt a boy, but when his wife got wind of the scheme, she refused to accept the kidnapped child.

Lina - Mr Tefzlaff's domestic servant - overhead what was going on and offered to raise the boy, whom she baptised Cesar.

Mr Tefzlaff was his godfather.

'Very important news'

As he grew up, Horacio began to notice that his physical appearance bore scant resemblance to that of his "parents".

I have more photos than living people to enjoy
Horacio Corti
At the same time, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo began publicising the fate of the disappeared and their kidnapped children.

But it was not until around five years ago, when Horacio met his current girlfriend, that serious doubts about his identity began to emerge.

Three years into their relationship, his girlfriend was chatting with his mother, who told her: "The day I die, you'll receive some very important news."

Horacio's girlfriend told him what his mother had said.

A little later, he contacted the Commission for Identity Rights in Argentina.

He took a DNA test, and it was confirmed that he was the child of two of the disappeared.

On the very same day, he met members of his biological family for the first time.

"The meeting was very tough," he recalled as he lit up a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

"I was really hoping to meet my grandparents. Unfortunately, by then, all of them had died. And this is one of the things that hurts and upsets me the most. I have more photos than living people to enjoy."

'Mixed feelings'

Horacio was the 75th abducted child to have his identity returned.

The man responsible for suppressing it, Lt Col Tefzlaff, was found guilty of the same crime over the identity of a kidnapped girl he raised as his own daughter.

He was sentenced to six years in prison. He died in jail last year.

As for his adoptive parents, Horacio has mixed feelings.

On the one hand, he feels guilty that they are being tried for their role in suppressing his identity.

"But when I think about everything I lost because of them," he says, "the balance is redressed."

The last time he spoke to Lina and Adriano was three weeks ago, though in the long-term he does not see himself keeping in touch with them.

At the same time, he hopes to become ever closer to his real family.

He has already managed to hold a funeral for his father, whose remains were returned to Horacio four months after he discovered his identity.

For a man who has been through such a traumatic experience, Horacio, with his droopy eyes and intense gaze, does not appear to hold much bitterness towards the people who murdered his parents and then snatched him from his cradle.

Instead, he looks forward to the rest of his life, marriage and, he hopes, children, as well as eventually being reunited with his parents when he leaves this world.

"One day, I will meet them," he says.

The BBC's Elliot Gotkine
"Some 400 children are believed to have been stolen"

Argentines jailed for baby theft
30 Mar 04  |  Americas
Argentina's long wait for justice
26 Jul 03  |  Americas
Argentina scraps amnesty laws
21 Aug 03  |  Americas
Timeline: Argentina
20 Feb 04  |  Country profiles

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