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Tulane University

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

Argentina: Public Health in Urban Environments


Background: The Argentine national law of mental health (law 26.657) mentions human rights 11 times. This has particular importance in the context of the state of terrorism that the country was under surrounding the last “golpe militar” of 1976. Part of the implemented terror tactics included the kidnapping of 30,000 people—desaparecidos—who did not agree with state politics. The kidnappings were nondiscriminatory and included pregnant women. The babies, that were born in the clandestine centers of detention, torture and extermination, had their birth certificates falsified and became part of a systematic plan of appropriation. They were subsequently either taken in by military families complicit with the state of terrorism or adopted illegally. An estimated 500 children were taken this way and forced to live with their appropriators, unknowing of their true origins nor their real identity. The civil association known as Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo is a nongovernmental organization founded by the grandmothers of these lost children and is fighting to locate them and restitute their real identities. With the annulment of the laws Obediencia Debida and Punto Final, which granted impunity for those responsible for the countless crimes against humanity, identity restitutions have become national judicial processes that include trials of the appropriators. This investigation focuses on the work of three mental health teams that accompany the individuals going through this identity restitution process. Methodology: This is a qualitative investigation made up of primary and secondary sources. These sources are testimonies of coordinators of mental health teams and those of the recovered children of the desaparecidos. The primary sources are guided interviews with three licensed psychologists who coordinate a mental health team within a particular organization: Alicia Stolkiner from the Comisión Nacional de Derecho de la Identidad (CONADI), Alicia Lo Giúdice from the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, and Juliana Serritella from Centro Fernando Ulloa de Asistencia a Víctimas de Violaciones de Derechos Humanos. Testimonies of the restituted children for the most part came from the series documentary “Acá Estamos” and the documentary film “Quién soy yo?”, both of which were produced by the national Ministerio de Educación. Results: The three teams focused on in the paper accompany an individual through the identity restitution process in similar ways. The interdisciplinary team of CONADI principally serves to prepare the individuals for trial and prevent situations of maltreatment within judicial procedures. The team within the Abuelas and the team within Centro Ulloa both offer psychological and psychiatric treatments to assist with the psychological process of identity restitution, focusing predominantly on psychoanalytic strategies. The work of the three teams overlaps noticeably because their approach is characterized by the same three principles of do not force, do not generalize and try to dismantle tendencies of objectification.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Public Health


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