Families fight to find children stolen as infants in Spain
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By Kate Snow and Jessica Hopper
December 16, 2011 / rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com
Luis Vega is on a mission to meet every man born in Madrid, Spain on Nov. 20, 1977. That's the day doctors told him that his baby son was stillborn, but he and his wife, Ines, believe their child was in fact stolen from the hospital.
“We have a son somewhere out there,” Luis Vega said.
The Vega family isn’t alone in believing their child was stolen. This year, more than a thousand families have come forward with claims that they were victims of baby trafficking committed by a variety of networks from the 1940s until as recently as the early 1990s.
Armed with a list of the 61 names of boys born in Madrid on the same day he lost his son, Vega is making calls and knocking on doors because he is convinced his son is alive.
“What we just want only, is to tell him, ‘You have not been abandoned,’” Vega said.
For Vega, the memory of his son’s birth is still fresh. He and his wife went to a hospital in Madrid on a Sunday in November 1977. They were already parents to one son and believed they were expecting just one more child when they received surprising news: they were having twins.
“I started to think, I got two,” Vega said. “So, I was absolutely excited, astonished.”
The excitement faded when doctors came to Vega and told him that one of the twins, a boy, was dead.
“I felt frozen,” he said.
Vega said the doctor told him, “I recommend you not see him.”
At that time in Spain, doctors were authority figures who were virtually unapproachable. Vega simply didn’t question that the doctor was telling the truth.
The doctor told Vega that the hospital would handle the burial of the baby boy. His wife, Ines, was under anesthesia and was unaware of what had happened. Vega ultimately told her the sad news.
The couple comforted one another and did their best to move on with their lives, raising their newborn daughter, Ana, and their older son.
Every year on Ana’s birthday, Luis and Ines talked about her twin, the boy they lost.
This January, Vega and his wife were eating lunch and watching TV when a news report stopped them cold and made them think that the son they’d lost 33 years ago might actually be alive.
An unbelievable story was exploding in the press, allegations that for decades, organized networks stole newborn babies from their mothers and sold the babies to other families. On January 27, more than 250 families filed cases with Spain’s attorney general. That number has since risen to nearly 1500 cases.
Vega and his wife requested documentation from the cemetery where they believed their son had been buried and sent a letter to the hospital where he had been born. Cemetery officials told them that no one had been buried at the cemetery with their family’s last name.
When Vega told his daughter, Ana, that her twin brother might be alive after all, she was shocked.
“I spent like a month with a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t eat,” she said.
Ana Vega created a blog to help in the search for her lost twin.
“We are not looking, you know, for revenge,” she said. “We just want to find him and that’s it and to, if he wants to, you know, be part of our family, great. If he doesn’t, well, you know, that’s his choice as well.”
If anyone is responsible for prompting the discovery of this dark part of Spain’s history, it is documentary filmmaker and author Montse Armengou. Armengou was among the very first to report on systematic baby stealing.
“In Spain, from a long period of time, from the ‘40s until ‘80s as a minimum, we can talk about children that were kidnapped from their families, from their mothers,” Armengou said.
It started as a form of political repression under Fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Franco seized power during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Under his leadership, the government would remove children from mothers who were political prisoners and give them to families who supported the regime.
“[In] the beginning, [it] was a political repression and after became a moral and ideological repression against single mothers. You have to know that during the Franco’s regime, the power of Catholic Church was very, very strong,” Armengou said.
Doctors, often with the help of nuns, would tell young single mothers that their child was dead or force single mothers to give their children up for adoption. At the time, single young women were still considered minors until they were 26 years old.
“It’s impossible to ask for help because you are nothing,” Armengou said. “You are only a single mother. That means that you are nothing, you are garbage, you are waste.”
The political and moral repression became a booming business with families paying the equivalent of what it would cost for an apartment, in order to obtain a child.
For those who believe they are victims of the now defunct organized networks of baby stealing, the legal process has been frustratingly slow. Despite the hundreds of cases filed, no one has been charged with any crime.
“We’re moving as fast as we can. We’re dealing with cases that are incredibly difficult,” said prosecutor Pedro Crespo who has been tasked by Spain’s attorney general to coordinate the hundreds of official investigations across Spain.
Crespo said that the passage of time, incomplete records and the fact that many of those involved are already dead has hampered the investigations.
For some, like the Vega family, the doctor they hold responsible for stealing their child is still alive.
“This bastard has taken our life,” said an emotional Luis Vega.
Vega recently became the president of S.O.S. Bebes Robados Madrid, one of the organizations helping those who think they might be victims.
Vega said that he doesn’t expect he’ll ever truly get justice, but hopes ultimately he’ll find his son.
“I’m convinced,” Vega said. “Otherwise, why [am I] going to fight…I’m fighting for this and everything.”
Editor’s Note: Kate Snow’s full report, “Stolen At Birth,” airs on Rock Center with Brian Williams on Monday, Dec. 19 at 10 p.m./9 c.