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Estela de Carlotto hunts for Argentina's grandchildren 'stolen' decades ago (+video)

Estela de Carlotto heads the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who seek to reunite children taken from their mothers during Argentina's military dictatorship with their real families.

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Estela de Carlotto isn't like most grandmothers. Instead of easing herself into retirement and enjoying the slower pace of life it affords, she remains a dogged workaholic.

Every weekday she rises early without fail in order to make the 70-mile round trip from her hometown of La Plata to an office in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

"I had other ideas about what I'd be doing with my life, such as being with my children," she says, smiling. "I'm an elderly person who has had four children, and I now have 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. So I thought I'd be spending time with them. But life gave me another direction."

Since 1989 that direction has involved being a "professional" grandmother: As president of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo), she is the most visible face of one of South America's largest human rights organizations.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, the Abuelas group has members whose lives read like the pages of a horror novel. Born out of the atrocities committed during the country's last military dictatorship (1976-83) – which was backed by the United States – the group comprises mothers whose daughters and daughters-in-law were abducted and killed by the military regime for their leftist views.

But the armed forces had a perverse rationale. Women who were pregnant were kept alive until they gave birth. Their newly born children were then forcibly adopted by other families and given false identities: The military's aim was to ensure that they didn't grow up with the same political orientation as their murdered mothers.


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