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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 26 August, 1998, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Argentina's obsessions
Estella Carlotto works to reunite the 'living disappeared' with their true families

They call them the 'living disappeared' - the children taken from 'subversives' who were tortured and killed during Argentina's Dirty War, when the military junta hunted down tens of thousands of leftists.

The children's mothers gave birth blindfolded, and were then killed or re-imprisoned; their babies and toddlers were given away to childless families for a 'Christian' upbringing.

But now, twenty years after the children were taken, there are new moves to expose the scandal of their abduction. Crossing Continents finds out what is being done to locate the missing and return them to their own families.

 Listen to this programme in full

General Jorge Videla
General Videla, who was the figurehead of the Argentinean military dictatorship, has been granted amnesty against his conviction for hundreds of cases of torture, kidnapping and disappearances committed by the regime; but it may be the crimes against the children which finally bring him down. He's now facing five counts of child abduction and his case is convulsing the nation. The missing children are the final, and perhaps the most testing, moral dilemma of the junta years.

Meriel Beattie meets one of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who still demonstrate in one of Buenos Aires's squares every week, have worked for over two decades to track down the records of baby abduction and press for the return of their missing grandchildren. They estimate there could be more than 230 such children, and only 59 have been found so far.

Presenter Meriel Beattie talks to crusading federal judges who are trying to prove that the baby thefts were carried out systematically under military orders; Estella Carlotto, the leader, and other members of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, who're trying to trace and recover the children; General Augusto Alemanzor, implicated in the kidnappings yet unrepentant about his actions; and some of the children themselves, whose lives have been torn apart.

The Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires - scene of many poignant demonstrations by relatives of the Disappeared
For them, being found has forced agonising decisions. Some have gone straight back to their birth families; others have stayed with those who they believe adopted them in good faith. And others, painfully, refuse to accept the allegations about their 'parents' and are actively resisting the process of the court cases - refusing to give blood for DNA tests and even fleeing to neighbouring Paraguay to evade legal compulsion.

Pictures are all that remain of some of those abducted and killed
The issue is a burning one in Argentina today: front-page news in all the papers, debated in the cafes, worried over at home. Some think the whole issue should just go away, and long for a quiet life now the generals have gone. But one thing is for sure: the children are the latest and most painful legacy of the junta's years in power, and how the country chooses to deal with General Videla's case may be the deciding test of how well it has come to terms with its past.

Other items in the programme deal with less anguished obsessions. Andrew Graham Yooll, editor of the English-language newspaper the Buenos Aires Herald, takes a look at the lighter side of Argentinean street-life with a look at that Latin institution - the piropo

Lying somewhere between chat-up lines, flowery compliments and haikus, piropos are a powerful tool in the never-ending search for seduction, and while they might seem suspiciously close to sexual harassment through European eyes, in Latin America they're enjoyed by both the men who compose them and the women who inspire them.

And we examine Argentina's unique position as the home of more psychologists and psychoanalysts per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Here, social security will pay for therapy sessions on the national health and the newspapers and airwaves are filled with psychobabble. One neighbourhood in Buenos Aires has so many psychologists it's nicknamed 'Villa Freud' and boasts a restaurant called the Bar Sigi. Talking to Buenos Aires psychologist Ricardo Grimson and a patient who's attended two sessions a week for ten years, we try to unravel what's behind this national obsession with mental health.

Tango for street dancers, Buenos Aires, August 98
as it's played on the streets of Buenos Aires....
Buenos Aires bar banter - August 98
feel about the culture of piropos
Psychologist Ricardo Grimson, Buenos Aires, Aug 98
on Argentinian neuroses: "you won't find Fidel Castro on the couch...."
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.

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