I am one of the thousands of babies stolen by Pinochet’s dictatorship – Radio-Canada.ca
Read from the original source (French written):
Under the leadership of dictator Augusto Pinochet, thousands of little Chileans were snatched from their mother to be given up for adoption abroad. Anne-Marie discovered that she was one of these babies. Here is the story of a broken family.
There are sometimes those days when the quiet balance of everyday life capsises with the certainties that are no longer certain.
On May 3, 2022, Anne-Marie was in a high school on the South Shore. The 36-year-old Montrealer gives workshops to students on the importance of adopting healthy social media habits.
This digital self-defense course never fails to provoke lively discussions, but she has been working with teenagers for so many years that she knows how to do it. The day therefore passes quietly. Finally almost.
Chilean by origin, Anne-Marie began a process a few months earlier to find her biological family. Every time I opened my email, I was a little tense, because everything could change.
Leaving the class to drink a sip of water between two workshops, she stops to reactivate the notifications from her mobile phone, just a moment. Then it comes: a missed call from an overseas number, a text message that urgently calls for a return and a new email.
It was there, in the kind of stairwell of a high school in La Prairie, that I learned the news: We have found your family, and your mother has been looking for you.
Anne-Marie was preparing for the worst – the confirmation of the rejection – but not for that: not only was her biological mother found, but she is looking for her. Since his birth.
Anne-Marie returns to class, in a state of shock.
Before going out, I chatted thoroughly with the teacher. There, I’m mute. He keeps talking to me, but I don’t listen to him at all. I’m just thinking about the fact that I have to go talk with teenagers in seven minutes.
I don’t remember that workshop. I weighed on the cassette and it was really my body that gave the presentation. The bell rang. I came back to Montreal.
When she tells her story, Anne-Marie is unequivocal: Basically, I was not looking for anything. I wasn’t looking for that family.
Here, I had an incredible mother.
Pauline has been dead for nine years already, but Anne-Marie has a vivid and admiration memory of it. My mother Pauline, I love her. I had a beautiful relationship. For me, she is an extraordinary woman.
When she searches her countless boxes, where family photos and adoption papers are mixed, Anne-Marie gently mocks herself, stressing that she too keeps everything, as her mother did. Then she releases some images of the lot: Pauline on a road trip in the Gaspé, Pauline surrounded by friends who laugh in a well-watered dinner, Pauline skiing in the Alps…
Anne-Marie hastens to describe her as a good living woman who did not get involved in the conventions of an era that complicated the lives of independent women like her.My mother traveled a lot, she was the one who passed on this taste to me.
She was also the one who offered me to go to Chile in 2003. We went in packsac with no real plan. […] The goal was not to trace my origins, but to see the place where I was born, to see where the country would lead us.
I am super grateful to my mother [for this trip] and for the way she taught me to travel. This is the positive that I remember, because I especially remember telling myself that I never wanted to set foot in Chile again.
I was from Quebec, and I didn’t want to know anything. I was going to be 18 years old, I was in the confrontation. Probably I was thinking that if Chile had rejected me, I would reject it even more. I had closed the door.
Years later, it is not a sudden need to discover more about her origins that leads Anne-Marie to start research to find her biological mother. It’s rather a mixture of boredom and chance.
In the summer of 2021, she is at forced rest due to a soccer injury. Seeking to take care of herself, she undertakes to inquire about the possibility of renewing her old Chilean passport to facilitate possible trips.
The simple research she begins on the Internet quickly leads to surprising results: testimonies evoking forced adoptions in Chile. I really came across these articles by chance.
It caught my attention. Especially the method described to steal babies from mothers […]. It was incredibly violent.
I read the articles, but I thought it wasn’t my case.
Anne-Marie has never detected inconsistencies in her own history. Pauline always shared with her what she knew about it, namely that she was adopted in August 1986, at the Hogar Estrella de Belem orphanage in Viña Del Mar, when she was six months old.
According to the letters sent by the head of the orphanage, Anne-Marie was a smiling baby. A paper – buried somewhere through the memories and hotel room bills kept in case – even indicates that she was born with two teeth.
The rest is the story of a happy childhood in the Laurentians, lived to the rhythm of taekwondo classes, ski trips and caresses sometimes distributed a little abruptly, according to some photos, to the Moustache and Rigolo felines.
And as Anne-Marie was the subject of a closed adoption procedure, ignoring the identity of her biological parents never seemed abnormal to her. All the papers are there, even if some information is missing. I told myself that these were not just stories I had been told, I saw the version of my story signed by lawyers, or notaries, and Chilean judges.
Except that by continuing her reading on forced adoptions, Anne-Marie discovers that, in many cases, they seem legal when they are not. This is what gave rise to a questioning.
What if his documents had been falsified?
In September 1973, the climate was tense in Chile. The reforms, some radical, of the left-wing coalition led by Salvadore Allende, have been causing their share of turbulence for nearly three years.
Inflation explodes to more than 300%, nationalizations are imposed in series and agrarian reform scares the Chilean elite, as well as the Americans. All fear the establishment of a communist regime in this democracy of just over 10 million inhabitants. Some therefore come to openly support a change of guard, by force.
Just appointed, General Augusto Pinochet led the charge on September 11, supported by the navy, the air force, the national police and, more discreetly, the United States. A brutal coup d’état, like the dictatorship that follows.
Once in power, Pinochet quickly liquid in the Allende legacy… and many of his supporters. At the fall of the dictator in 1990, there were thousands of dead and missing, dissidents arrested and tortured by tens of thousands and Chileans exiled by hundreds of thousands.
Children abducted from their families for adoption are difficult to count. Even today.
We don’t really have a specific figure, says Maria Stodart – María Angélica Gonzalez Martinez from her Chilean name. Herself a victim of child trafficking at the age of eight, Maria co-founded in 2018 the Chilean Adoptees Worldwide organization, whose mission is to help illegally adopted Chileans around the world.
It is based on the information provided by the Chilean Police Investigation Service, according to which up to 20,000 children have been abducted. But we are beginning to hear that it would rather go up to 25,000.
Illegal adoptions were not exclusive to the Pinochet regime. Some testimonies report irregularities as early as the 1950s, while others occurred as recently as in the early 2000s. However, the dictator’s regime is recognized as being responsible for the greatest number of cases.
Under his leadership, illegal adoptions have been erected as a real system within the state, in particular thanks to a specific policy that coincides with the largest exodus of children outside the country. All to ensure the success of Chile’s economic liberalization.
The regime sought to eliminate poverty in order to demonstrate its economic success, which was also to compensate for its image associated with human rights violations on the international scene, explains Karen Alfaro, professor of history and geography at the Southern University of Chile and a specialist in the issue of international adoptions.
It should also be stressed that, from the beginning of the Cold War, poverty began to be considered as an engine for the expansion of the left: the poor were inclined to embrace these ideas, so it was necessary to treat them as internal enemies to be controlled.
For the dictatorship, international adoption has thus become a mechanism for controlling the poor population by moving the children of single mothers, young girls and poor families – what Pinochet considered a surplus population – to other families deemed suitable abroad, explains the professor.
Initially unofficial, forced adoptions were institutionalized by the dictatorship, in a way, with the creation of the National Plan for Miners in 1978. This plan aimed, among other things, to promote, in public opinion, adoption as an ideal solution for children in need, according to the supreme decree that led to its creation.
The National Plan for Miners therefore ended up offering some legitimacy to state representatives and civil servants who fulfilled the policy of increasing the number of adoptions and who, for ideological reasons, sought to eliminate children from single and poor mothers, considered unfit, according to the professor.
Even if it means lying and acting against the will of these thousands of women, in the name of economic liberalism.
Anne-Marie contacted Chilean Adoptees Worldwide in June 2021 to have a clear heart on her own history. The idea at the base was to make sure that my biological mother knew that I am alive […] if she ever thought I was dead. This is what prompted me to write to the body.
In my first email, I probably told them that I didn’t want to waste their time or anything like that.
It was Maria who answered me.
To date, the organization has helped some 500 Chileans of origin who are victims of illegal adoption. Maria deals with family reunifications, among other things, so she bridges the gap between adoptees and biological mothers, who often do not speak the same language. She also participates in research to judge the legality of an adoption.
These checks are surprisingly simple. In most cases, she only needs a name to efficiently search certain databases and thus start the process. When you know where to go and how to look, you can find, says Maria.
She therefore quickly discovers that Anne-Marie is still considered an active citizen by the Chilean government. This is a first sign of irregularity, she says. If it had been an adoption done correctly, it would have been completely removed from the system.
Without great difficulty, she then obtains Anne-Marie’s birth certificate, but several information is inconsistent or missing. […] There should be at least his mother’s name, we can’t be born out of nothing. […] It’s another light that lights up.
Maria must now find Anne-Marie’s birth certificate, a document filled out by hand by the doctor or midwife who assisted her mother during childbirth and which serves as the basis for the creation of the birth certificate. This step is more complicated, because it depends on the contacts we have, the people in Chile who agree to help us by searching through the physical archives.
Several months go by.
In March 2022, Anne-Marie ended up contacting Maria again, especially to get her advice on the results of a DNA test. She replied that she was going to write to me precisely because her research had just unlocked and she had found my birth certificate. And she told me: here is your mother’s name.
I fixed the vacuum for half an hour.
Obviously, I always knew that this person existed, but it could be anyone. There, she suddenly has a name. It becomes real. And she is still alive.
In shock, Anne-Marie agrees to discuss in a video call during which Maria explains to her how Alicia’s identity was omitted in the transcription of her official papers. She confirmed to me that my adoption was illegal. Bam!
It was another shock. […] I knew it could be, but there, it confirmed it. The thing is that you know something happened, but you don’t know exactly what.
In Pinochet’s Chile, child trafficking was primarily perpetrated within the health network itself, by nursing staff. The milking system was activated as soon as pregnant women were taken care of, to whom a social worker and a midwife were generally assigned.
It was with them that the future mother interacted to monitor her pregnancy. It was during these medical appointments that midwives and social workers took notes about the woman’s family situation, says Maria. Already, we saw the pattern appear.
In most cases, they already knew, even before a child was born, that they were going to give him up for adoption. They were for the children of mothers they considered poor.
At the time of giving birth, the pregnant woman was therefore going to the hospital where she was being followed. The nursing staff helped him bring the baby into the world. Quickly, the newborn was taken away under the pretext of being washed and auscultated, for example. It was the right time to tell the mother that her child was dead, explains Maria.
Either she was shown the body of another child who was actually dead, or she was told that she could not see any remains. […] According to many testimonies, mothers also received a cocktail of medicines under the pretext of being relieved of their pain, but it was really in order to alter their presence of mind.
This is exactly what Alicia was a victim of at Gustavo Fricke Hospital. According to the adoption judgment, Alicia had been identified as a “mother soltera”, i.e. a single mother. It was argued that she had become pregnant with a man other than the one with whom she already had two children, and that she did not have the financial support of the parent. A story that Anne-Marie knows today is false, despite the judgment that authenticates her.
Instead, Alicia says she underwent a caesarean section during childbirth, after which the doctors immediately took her daughter. We took advantage of the effect of the drugs he had been injected to announce the death of his child, but without ever showing him any remains. She was also made to sign adoption documents against her will, while she was still under the effect of these drugs.
Five days later, Anne-Marie was sent to the Hogar Estrella orphanage in Belem, less than four kilometers from the hospital, without Alicia’s knowledge, who never even saw her. She was never able to give me a name and register me. She was never able to hug me. Nothing.
To make such child trafficking possible, the participation of health workers was essential. In fact, it was the key, according to the special commission set up in 2018 to investigate the actions of state agencies regarding the massive irregularities in the adoption process under Pinochet.
Still according to the commission – none of the recommendations made in 2019 have yet been implemented – the support of a few judges and notaries, immigration officials, religious figures and civil society organizations related to adoptions was needed to complete the process and deliver a newborn to his adoptive family.
Maria goes further on the workings of this system. Some doctors and nurses drew money from this. […] It is difficult to prove how much, but one thing is certain: when we check today where all these people live, we see that none of them are poor.
In June 2008, Anne-Marie met Graciela Lazarraga, a generous woman with a warm smile. She was in charge of the Hogar Estrella de Belem orphanage in 1986. My mother told me that she was so kind.
Anne-Marie was then in Chile, during a five-month stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to learn Spanish. At 22, she still does not seek to trace her origins. She simply wants to give her native country a second chance, after a destabilizing first trip.
It was Pauline who undertook to provide her with a lot of names and addresses related to her adoption. Just in case. For Anne-Marie, the situation becomes a detective game. I had two tracks. I was on a mission. I wanted to see how far I could go with that.
It is one of these two tracks that led her to Graciela.
Anne-Marie talks with her for the first time, in a café located in the basement of a building housing an ophthalmology office. Graciela’s daughter, who has the same name as her mother, works in this clinic. This is what allowed Anne-Marie to find the head of the orphanage, which has been closed for a while now.
That day, Graciela insists on moving and meeting Anne-Marie in person. At the time, I appreciated the time she took. […] At the time, I knew nothing about irregular or illegal adoptions. I never knew about this until June 2021. Today, in hindsight, I tell myself that she was really doing damage control.
For a coffee, Graciela is struggling to discourage Anne-Marie from continuing any research. She told me that it wasn’t worth it, that I didn’t need to go there. She told me that, in any case, adoptions were closed, that it was difficult to find information and that I didn’t know what I was going to find.
She told me that there was a reason why I had been given up for adoption.
She told me that I had to be grateful for having had a lot of opportunities, for having had a second chance – because it was really that, a second chance for a better life. She told me that they, at the orphanage, had really contributed to this.
I was already grateful, but her big speech came to double the feeling. For me, it was the end of a chapter.
I accepted that it would stop there, that it would not go any further. Anyway, if she had no information and no register – maybe she had one, but maybe not either – I was satisfied with her answers and the meeting. It confirmed my story.
Anne-Marie still remains with many questions, especially about life in the orphanage. Graciela therefore invites him to dinner at her house the next day. At the agreed time, Anne-Marie goes to the address Graciela gave her. It was a beautiful large condo, a little fancy, with a security guard at the entrance, in downtown Viña Del Mar. […] She clearly had money.
It was there that Graciela gave her a DVD, a kind of amateur video of about 17 minutes shot at the orphanage in 1988, preceded by a news report, so that she could make an image of it. We see an elderly couple visiting the orphanage. According to Anne-Marie’s memories, and those of Pauline at the time, Graciela appears in the video and the two elders who visit are her own parents. We see other women working at the orphanage… and children.
I believed that woman. I found her so welcoming, kind, generous of her time too. […] There is a 99% chance that she was aware… She was not only aware, but she contributed to the system.
Two messages sent by Radio-Canada, one to the email address Graciela provided to Anne-Marie at this dinner and the other on Facebook, remained unanswered.
Since 2019, several of these workers involved in cases of forced adoptions, including social workers, judges and religious, have been questioned by the Chilean police’s Human Rights Crimes Investigation Brigade. Most of them are of advanced age, says Professor Karen Alfaro. They said they did not remember [such cases] and claimed that they acted within the framework of legality.
Alicia has never forgotten her.
Because she was never shown any remains, she always knew that something was wrong, that her daughter had not died at birth. Immediately after childbirth, she asked questions, she tried to find her.
All Alicia had was the sure memory of giving birth to a female baby, on a specific date, at Gustavo Fricke Hospital. But if you don’t have a document to prove anything, then you’re crazy, says Maria. According to her, even today, women are not believed when they tell what they have suffered. Forced adoptions are still such a taboo in Chile, despite public inquiries.
And, in any case, even if Alicia had managed to obtain the famous observation written by the doctor proving that she had indeed given birth, it would have been of no use to her to find her child since the name of Anne-Marie does not appear there.
This is partly where all the drama of this milking system lies, in the efficiency with which it still manages today to cut any link between a child and his biological family. No family knows the name of the child who was abducted from him, so families can only be reunited if the adopted child himself begins research. The opposite is literally impossible, explains Maria.
Alicia ended up stopping actively searching.
The absence of this child, this missing sister, weighed heavily in the daily life of the family who, year after year, celebrated her birthday. Alicia has never lost hope, despite the passage of time. Sometimes, in front of a line that seemed familiar, he sometimes arrested strangers in the middle of the street, in Viña Del Mar. Women who could perhaps be the age of her daughter who could well be anywhere in the world. Even right next door.
She asked them when they were born. She couldn’t even ask them their name, she didn’t have mine. […] I can’t even imagine the distress she experienced, every time there may have been a trait of resemblance… I can’t even imagine how it took up space.
When the first testimonies of forced adoptions began to surface publicly in Chile in 2014, Alicia immediately knew that she had been a victim of this child trafficking system. The whole family then started actively searching again.
They tried everything. They went everywhere. In the hospital and elsewhere, but no one was able to help them. They could not prove anything, explains Maria, who ended up reaping Alicia’s testimony over the course of the research. Alicia could not even prove that she had indeed given birth to a child. She had no official paper to attest to it.
Then, in early May 2022, a uniformed police officer knocked on the door of the family home. He is mandated by a Canadian of Chilean origin, and he wants to talk to Alicia.
With both hands clasped on her heart, Alicia pronounces these simple words as if it were a prayer. Words that we guess so many times repeated in vain. But not this time. She opens her arms wide, as if to free herself from the limits of videoconferencing and language barriers, but also from the intensity of emotions, so vivid that they strangle her.
It is the end of May 2022, and this is the first time in her life that Anne-Marie finds herself in front of her biological mother, whose virtual hugs are trying somehow to cross the thousands of kilometers that separate Montreal from Viña Del Mar. I was nervous. It was a lot of emotions. A chance that Maria was on the call with us.
But people tend to romanticize, when that’s not the story.
I thought I was given voluntarily. I always told myself that I had not been wanted. […] This is what is difficult to understand: I had mourned.
Then, overnight, I have a family, a mother, two brothers and a sister, who have always been looking for me. […] Knowing that I have not been abandoned is a big lifting weight, but it is also the beginning of another kind of weight.
The grandiose emotions of the first meeting were quickly blurred by the discrepancy between the drama experienced by this family and the one that Anne-Marie is now experiencing.
Alicia, she carried me, so I guess she loved me. And probably she was able to continue in that love; I have always been her child. […] I wasn’t aware of this whole story, so I didn’t like it all my life. The family bond, I must develop it.
I also have difficulty seeing Alicia as my mother. For me, my mother is Pauline.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, about what was stolen from Chile. […] My mother adopted me alone and she passed away. So I’m not bad on my own. […] Brothers and sisters, I didn’t have any here, while over there, I would have had some. It may be more with them that I want to connect at the moment.
They are really looking forward to meeting. I could leave tomorrow morning [and they would welcome me]. But I have to deconstruct all these years of narrative of abandonment to allow myself to let them in. I still have my armor.
Deep down, I know that I will end up going there. […] Will it be this year? Next year? Tomorrow morning? Everything is possible, all the time.
There are still these days when the quiet balance of everyday life emerges again, despite the uncertainties.
Read from the original source (French written):