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Argentine ‘Dirty War Child’ in Custody Battle

July 24, 1995

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Renee D’Elia Pallares’ son and pregnant daughter-in-law vanished in 1977, during the ``dirty war″ that Argentina’s military governments waged on real and imagined political foes.

She long ago gave up hope of finding them alive. But the frail 75-year-old Uruguayan is sure she has found a link to the couple _ a high school student named Carlos. Blood tests indicate he has a 99.9 percent chance of being her lost grandson.

Carlos may be one of dozens of children apparently born in captivity to suspected leftists later executed by security forces. Recent evidence revealed that military and police officers illegally adopted some of the babies and turned others over to unrelated families.

Mrs. D’Elia Pallares met Carlos for the first time on June 20 in a courtroom.

``I couldn’t utter a word when he came through the door,″ she said. ``He had my son’s eyes and the same movements as my daughter-in-law _ his mother.″

She has talked with him briefly twice more, always in a courtroom. A judge has ruled Carlos will stay with his godfather _ a friend of the boy’s challenged parents _ until the questions about his parentage are resolved.

Until now, the lanky 17-year-old thought he was the son of a retired Argentine navy lieutenant, Carlos de Luccia, and his wife, Martha. They are now divorced.

Mrs. D’Elia Pallares contends Carlos was born in a clandestine torture center where his parents were murdered on charges of being dangerous subversives. She says he was later appropriated by the navy officer.

If further tests confirm Carlos is her grandson, he will have to choose whether to stay with the couple who brought him up or move to neighboring Uruguay to live with his grandmother, an aunt and five cousins.

``We don’t want to rush him as it must be a traumatic to find out you’re not who you think you are,″ Mrs. D’Elia Pallares said. ``But we are determined to return home with Carlos and will stay in Argentina as long as it takes.″

Luccia and his former wife insist the boy is their biological son and the blood tests were incorrect. They say Carlos was born after Mrs. Luccia underwent fertility treatments after 18 years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive.

On June 14, a federal judge ordered the couple arrested for alleged involvement in an illegal adoption and they remain in custody.

The judge also ordered the arrest of Dr. Jorge Berges on charges of falsifying documents to facilitate the adoption of Carlos and several other babies born in captivity.

Berges, dubbed ``Dr. Death″ by a leftist Buenos Aires newspaper, was convicted in 1985 of torturing prisoners during the ``dirty war.″ He escaped imprisonment under a law that excused mid- and low-ranking military personnel on grounds they had been obliged to follow orders of superiors.

So far, five members of the armed forces and police have been convicted and jailed for a minimum of eight years for involvement in illegal adoptions involving the children of disappeared people.

Adoptive parents without links to the security forces have not been charged because authorities decided they were unaware of the crimes.

At least 9,000 people died in the 1970s when three military juntas tried to wipe out leftist movements. Many of the victims were innocent political dissidents caught up in the violence.

Mrs. D’Elia Pallares says neither of the people she believes were Carlos’ real parents _ her son Julio Cesar D’Elia, a Uruguayan economist who was working in Buenos Aires, and his wife, Yolanda _ were active politically.

An estimated 200 children were born in captivity, and 55 have been located. Of those, 30 have been reunited with their biological families with the help of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group formed by people whose children and grandchildren disappeared during the repression.

``The armed forces took a perverse pride in killing subversives and saving their children to give them to military families who would teach them the evils of terrorism,″ said Estela Barnes de Carlotto, president of Grandmothers.

In 1983, civilian President Raul Alfonsin set up a National Bank of Genetic Data to store blood samples of families related to victims of the ``dirty war.″

The Grandmothers have left blood samples there in the hope that curious children who suspect they may have been illegally adopted drop by to have tests.

``The babies who were stolen now average 17 years of age,″ said Mrs. Carlotto. ``So we hope they will come by voluntarily.″

``We’ve already located 55 cases, and Carlos is on the verge of becoming No. 56,″ she said. ``Each case is a triumph of truth over lies, horror and deceit.″