BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Tests on blood and saliva from the adopted children of a powerful Argentine media figure have failed to show any matches in a national gene bank where families of victims of the dictatorship have donated their DNA.
The Grupo Clarin company celebrated the negative results Saturday in its newspapers, web sites and television and radio stations, saying it's now clear that after many years of legal battles, Ernestina Herrera de Noble never illegally adopted the babies of political prisoners and that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has been persecuting her in an attempt to control the nation's media.
"The results are conclusive," said Jorge Anzorreguey, an attorney representing Marcela and Felipe Noble. "These children will not be linked to families of the disappeared from the military regimen."
But human rights groups including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo say the work isn't done.
So far, the DNA of Marcela and Felipe Noble has been compared only to samples from the families of people known to have been detained in 1975 and 1976. While their official identity documents say they were born in March and July 1976, respectively, rights groups allege their adoptions were irregular and the birth dates could have been invented to obscure their origin.
Also, the National Gene Bank is constantly being updated with new samples despite the military junta's efforts to remove any trace of their opponents. This year alone the Grandmothers group sought court orders to open 40 more graves to collect more DNA.
"The National Bank of Genetic Data communicated last night that, in three of the 55 families whose genetic profile was compared to that of Marcela, it can't be determined whether or not there's a biological link with the young woman, and that parentage also could not be determined with one of the 57 families compared to the profile of Felipe," the Grandmothers announced Saturday.
"The genetic information of these three families must be completed to determine whether or not Felipe and Marcela maintain parentage with them," the group said, adding that many families don't know if their daughters were pregnant when they disappeared.
"State terror erased all traces of the disappeared and their descendants," the group said. "The puzzle is being solved thanks to information that society provides, but in many cases it's impossible to complete."
The Noble children have insisted on their right to determine their own identity, and have fiercely defended their adoptive mother, whose independent media conglomerate has been engaged in an interminable power struggle with Fernandez, who has made a priority of prosecuting the crimes of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
The president's leading challenger in the Oct. 23 elections, Ricardo Alfonsin, told a Clarin-owned radio station that the publisher's accusers "have never been interested in knowing the truth."
Former President Eduardo Duhalde, running third, told Clarin's Todo Noticias television channel that the case should be closed, and accused Fernandez of attacking her media rival "with the entire arsenal of state power."
And Francisco de Narvaez, a right-wing businessman running against the president's ally for Buenos Aires governor, said the results show how the Clarin owner's family has been persecuted politically.
"This government has demonstrated that it has used the State to construct an image of noble causes, but behind this, is only dedicated to perpetuating itself in power," de Narvaez said.
But Grandmothers' founder Estela de Carlotto told Radio Continental, a station politically aligned with the government, that "we've always said 'they could be,' never have we claimed what isn't proved, because that's how it is. Unfortunately, this has been going on for so many years that it has been politicized, for many logical reasons."
The publisher herself has rarely spoken out directly on the matter, but one of her most complete declarations came in 2003, when another judge then overseeing the case jailed her for a few days. She said then that the judiciary was abusive, but acknowledged "the legitimate desire of the Grandmothers to know if my children were taken from the detained and disappeared."
"I've spoken with my children many times about the possibility that they and their parents were victims of illegal repression. And I've always told them that I would support any decision they make," Herrera de Noble said then in an open letter in Clarin, which the Grandmothers' group highlighted on its web site Saturday.
Lawyers for the Noble family said the case should now be thrown out.
But Alan Iud, an attorney for the Grandmothers, has said that by law, such comparisons should continue indefinitely.
Friday night, Judge Sandra Arroyo denied a request by the Noble family's lawyers to order the lab's scientists to keep working through Argentina's winter judicial holiday. The decision buys human rights groups some time to seek more samples from victims' families.
"The Grandmothers continue to be cautious and hopeful about new comparisons and the possibility of more complete data in the bank, so that not only the Grandmothers but also Marcela and Felipe can finally know whether or not they're the children of the disappeared."
The Noble children had fought for years to limit the investigation into their background to the two families who initially sued their adoptive mother. Previous attempts to obtain reliable samples from them failed either because the courts failed to maintain the chain of custody over the material or because samples taken from their clothing were contaminated. They finally consented to donating their DNA directly to the bank on June 24.
The Grandmothers group has helped identify 104 children who were stolen from their mothers shortly after birth in clandestine detention centers, and believes about 400 others have yet to be found.