Página 12 (Buenos Aires), 6 April 2006
REMAINS OF MARIA CRISTINA LANZILLOTTO ARE IDENTIFIED
A search reaches its end
By Werner Pertot (translation by Michael Mullan)
“It’s imposible to describe my feelings”, sighs Alba Lanzillotto, of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, shortly after the identification of the remains of her ‘disappeared’ sister. In the silence that follows this sentence, the certain knowledge of having found her is mingled with a profound grief. At a press conference today, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo will give details of how María Cristina Lanzillotto’s remains were identified by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). On Friday at 6pm, a service will be held in the Santa Cruz church, prior to María Cristina’s burial in Santiago del Estero, home to the daughter and son who were kidnapped with her.
The Lanzillotto twins, María Cristina y Ana María, both disappeared under the dictatorship. Their elder sister, Alba, had to find refuge in Spain in 1976. “I was already 19 years old when the twins were born and they were like favourite little dolls: we would bathe them and dress them”, remembers Alba. “María Cristina was always very close to her twin. Between them, they organised things like dances and excursions. You would notice how they were always trying to do things for other people’s benefit.”
When Ana María was kidnapped in July 1976, she was eight months pregnant. She was married to Domingo ‘El Gringo’ Enna, a leader of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party/People’s Revolutionary Army (PRT/ERP), who was killed by the dictatorship. “We managed to rescue Ramiro, Ana’s eldest son. We got an anonymous message that he could be found at a police barracks in San Martín”, says Alba, who is still searching for the child born to her sister in custody. “A friend of María Cristina warned her she should flee and save her children. But she said she couldn’t do that, because the army was holding Anita and she couldn’t leave her behind.”
María Cristina qualified as a schoolteacher in La Rioja and went to study in Tucumán in 1965. There she met Carlos Benjamín Santillán, a young PRT activist from Santiago del Estero. They married in 1974 and moved to Pergamino, where their two children were born: María Lucila and Jorge Francisco. A ‘task group’ surrounded their house on 17 November 1976 and seized the couple and both children. “A neighbour came out of her house and they ordered her to get back in or they would kill her”, says Alba. “The police waited around to see if anyone else would show up. They arrested Santillán’s parents and held them for a week, denying them food or water. That house, which was owned by my sister, is still occupied by a woman who was given it by a police officer”, she alleges.
They took the couple to San Nicolás police headquarters, where they were tortured. The man in charge of the clandestine detention centres in San Nicolás was Colonel Fernando Martín Saint Amant. “A policeman who gave evidence in the court case testified that one of the army men came out and said: ‘The first shock from the cattle prod killed her’ (although that was untrue), and told the police to do whatever they liked with the kids”, says Alba.
The police abandoned the children in Fisherton, a suburb of Rosario. “A woman in the neighbourhood took them in and looked after them until March 1977. Then she got in touch with our family, and the grandparents went to collect them. That lady is now their godmother, an extra member of the family”, says Alba. María Cristina was last seen in El Vesubio on 28 December 1976. Her remains were identified by the EAAF in a mass grave in the Avellaneda cemetery on 13 June 2005 and the Buenos Aires federal authority confirmed their identity on 2 February of this year. On 12 April she will be buried in La Banda, close by the capital of Santiago del Estero.