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Uruguay human rights activist Maria Esther Gatti de Islas dies at 92

Maria Esther Gatti de Islas, a human rights activist who helped found Uruguay's organization of relatives of people who disappeared during South America's "dirty wars," died Sunday, her group said. She was 92.

A photograph of the eyes of her missing 18-month-old granddaughter became a symbol of the struggle of Uruguayan families to find out what happened to their loved ones who were taken away by a military dictatorship.

The girl was taken at the same time Gatti's leftist activist daughter, Maria Emilia Islas, and son-in-law Jorge Zaffaroni were abducted in 1976 in Argentina as part of a crackdown coordinated by the dictatorships then ruling the nations of southern South America.

Gatti became a militant in denouncing political disappearances. Working with an Argentine activist group, the Organization of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Gatti helped start the Uruguayan Assn. of Relatives of the Disappeared.

After a long investigation following the restoration of democracy, Gatti's granddaughter, Mariana Zaffaroni, was found in 1992 living with a family of a former official of Argentina's repressive regime. Her identity was restored and her kidnappers were punished.

The fate of Gatti's daughter and son-in-law are still unknown. They are among nearly 30 Uruguayans unaccounted for at home and some 300 who went missing in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, rights groups say.

--Associated Press

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The U.S. actively supported some of the dictatorships that came to power in South America. The role of our country in putting into power the dictatorship in Chile is well-known; the role in other situations, including Brazil, less so. Americans tend not to know much about the histories of other countries, even when we played a role and continue to be affected by the attitudes of those present at the time (e.g., the new president of Brazil, who is very friendly to Cuba and tolerant of Iran, was an active fighter against the military dictatorship the U.S. supported). I do NOT believe this excuses the violence of the left, and do not think it means the U.S. is to totally to blame for the leftist attitudes among South American leaders today (including their slavish acceptance of human rights abuses in Cuba), but we did play a role, even if some American politicians get defensive about any criticism of U.S. policies.


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