Crying "Let me stay with my mommy, please!" 12-year-old Ximena Vicario was wrested from the woman who took her in as an infant and who knew that the girl's real mother was likely killed by security forces.
The wrenching scene Tuesday, replayed on afternoon and evening television newscasts, dredged up bitter memories of the eight-year military dictatorship or "dirty war" that ended in 1983.During those years, at least 8,960 Argentines were arrested and presumed killed as part of a brutal crackdown on leftist subversion.
Ximena's parents, Juan Carlos Vicario and Stella Maris Gallichio de Vicario, were arrested in February 1977 and never seen again. They "disappeared," as Argentines say.
Then about 8 months old, Ximena was handed over to a state orphanage where Susana Siciliano worked. An identity tag stated the baby's name and said she was the daughter of a subversive, according to court records.
Siciliano took the baby home and renamed her Romina Paola. In 1981, she legally adopted the child.
Three years later, Darwinia Rosa Monaco de Gallichio found out what had happened to her granddaughter and began legal proceedings to get her back.
She was supported in her efforts by the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which estimates that about 300 babies were born in detention or taken along with their mothers to clandestine detention centers. They were putup for adoption after the mothers were killed.
The group has helped reunite about 50 children with their biological families.
A federal appeals court ruled recently that Siciliano must give up the child. Police took her and Ximena to court Tuesday, where Federal Judge Juan Fegoli gave the girl to her grandmother after more than seven hours of talks with both sides and with psychologists.
"They took away my daughter," Siciliano cried as she walked out of Fegoli's office.
Ximena, dark-haired and teary-eyed, told reporters, "I don't want them to take me from my home or put me on a program of visits withobligatory hours and dates, like the children of separated parents have.
"I'm content to have another grandmother. I want my grandmother to come and see me every time she wants," but at the house of Siciliano, she said. "I'm going to escape if they take me away."
Gallichio lives in Rosario, 190 miles from Buenos Aires.
Siciliano knew Ximena's background from the start and hid those facts when she applied for adoption, court records show. Siciliano, who had said Ximena had been abandoned by her maid, faces charges of abduction of a minor and falsification of records.
An attorney for Siciliano said she will appeal Ximena's custody to the Supreme Court.
Ximena's case reminded many of "El Caso Juliana," or "The Juliana Case,"that in its own way tightened heartstrings across this South American country several months ago.
Juliana Trevino, 10, at first was ordered taken from her adoptive parents and then returned. Jose and Carmen Trevino never hid the child's background, suspected she might have been the daughter of a "disappeared" couple, adopted her legally and worked with human rights groups to establish her identity.
Ximena's case is much more typical and calls to mind the 1986 Oscar-winning movie "The Official Story," in which an Argentine family adopts the daughter of a couple executed by police.