Niños de la Memoria

Produced by Kathryn Smith Pyle and María Teresa Rodríguez

The theft of Argentine children for illegal adoptions, orchestrated by the military men who had kidnapped and murdered the children’s’ parents during the Dirty War, has been the substance of investigative journalism; documentaries; feature films, including the Oscar-winning La Historia Oficial; and even telenovelas. As a result, people around the world are aware of the horror of that era and the heart-wrenching searches undertaken by biological families still desperate to be reunited with these children, many now in their thirties.

Less well-known is what went on in El Salvador during the civil war that between 1980 and 1992 claimed some 75,000 lives and caused hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Poverty, inequality and brutal repression pushed legions of Salvadorans to join a growing resistance movement and the government’s response was a scorched-earth campaign. Entire communities were massacred, except for some infants and very young toddlers removed by government soldiers and sent for adoption in Europe and the United States. Now the search is on for the adults these children have become. This aspect of the war so captured the interest of Kathryn Smith Pyle, IAF senior representative for El Salvador from 2001 until 2007, that she enlisted Rodríguez to help her bring the story to the screen. They received support from the Sundance Institute, the United States Institute of Peace and the Independent Television Service, among other donors. IAF grantee partners Museo de la Palabra e Imagen and Centro Arte para la Paz provided archival footage and other material.

Their film, Niños de la Memoria (Children of Memory), tracks the progress of three individuals toward locating their biological relatives. Margarita Zamora, whose brothers disappeared, is a determined investigator with IAF grantee partner Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niños y Niñas Desaparecidos, a nongovernmental organization founded to reunite families separated during the war. Two of her clients are Jamie Harvey, 31, who was adopted by an American family and hopes to find the Salvadoran relatives she never knew; and Salvador García, a farmer who buried one daughter after a massacre and struggles daily to cope with the disappearance of another. At every turn, Margarita is thwarted by lack of access to military records that could resolve these cases. The searches alternate with a vivid collage chronicling Salvadoran history from the origin of the civil war to the recent election of Mauricio Funes, the first successful presidential candidate from the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, the insurgent movement that became a political party after hostilities ceased.

While Niños de la Memoria leaves the viewer wanting to know more about its protagonists, especially about Margarita and the dozens of cases she has pursued, it does a good job of exposing what happened. In 2009, the Salvadoran government finally acknowledged the disappearance of the children, but there has been no official investigation, no prosecution of the perpetrators, no justice for the victims. To date, Pro-Búsqueda has resolved some 370 cases but hundreds more remain on the books and many may never be resolved. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have found only 105 of some 500 Argentine children reported missing, but if they have taught us anything, it is that, in spite of these odds, families will not give up.

The film’s premier at the Festival Cine Documental Ambulante in San Salvador in May generated extensive media coverage. The Latin American Studies Association honored Niños de la Memoria with its Award of Merit in Film after selecting it for screening at LASA’s 2012 Congress held in San Francisco. Visit for updates on screenings; to learn more about the search for these children, log onto—Eduardo Rodríguez-Frías, IAF Web master