Chicha Mariani, founding member of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, dies age 95

Chicha died without finding her granddaughter despite searching for 40 years.

Photo by Pablo Piovano, courtesy of Twitter @juanpmansilla

“Chicha” Mariani, one of the founding members of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo group, died yesterday at the age of 95.

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo group was created in response to the thousands of children who disappeared during the 1974-1983 military dictatorship in which thousands were killed, disappeared or tortured. The Abuelas committed their lives to finding their missing grandchildren, disguising themselves and acting as private detectives even during the dictatorship.

Maria Isabel “Chicha” Chorobik de Mariani had spent 40 years tirelessly searching for her granddaughter Clara Anahí, who was snatched during a raid in 1976. According to El Perfil, the raid was organised by Miguel Etchecolatz, the head of the Buenos Aires police at the time and took place at her son Daniel Mariani and her daughter-in-law Diana Terrugi’s house, where three-month-old Anahí was also present. The young couple printed an illegal leftist magazine called “Evita Montonera” where, for the first time, they denounced the forced disappearances, the “death flights” carried out by the military, and the clandestine detention centres from the previous dictatorship.

Terrugi was shot to death in the raid, whose body fell and covered her baby. Daniel wasn’t in the house at the time of the raid, and Anahí was taken from their home, but afterward Daniel managed to meet his mother Chicha to tell her that Anahí was still alive, before he, too, was murdered by the regime.

From this moment, Chicha began the search for her missing granddaughter. Co-founding the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo group in 1977 with 11 other grandmothers, the organisation brought those who had lost loved ones together to help search for the hundreds of children who were kidnapped during the military dictatorship. Many children were adopted by military families and were completely unaware of their true identity until much later in life. Chicha was the second president of the group and under her leadership the group found more grandchildren than at any other point in their history.

However, she was pushed from her presidency in 1989 due to a rift in the group, and in 1996 she founded her own group, Asociación Anahí in La Plata, where she resided.

“I have searched for my granddaughter like a mad woman, year after year. I lost my husband, my mothers, my brother, but I keep on searching,” Chicha told Spanish newspaper El Mundo in a 2015 interview. “And I will search until the end of my life.”

Chicha had moments in her life when she felt unbearably close to finding her granddaughter, reported the Buenos Aires Times. In the 2000s Chicha was convinced that Clarin media company owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble’s daughter Marcela was in fact Anahí. After a highly public and dramatic case, a DNA test dashed her hopes, ultimately revealing that they weren’t related.

In 2015, news broke that Chicha had finally found her, with pictures circulating social media of the reunion on Christmas day. In a cruel twist of fate, it became evident that her ‘granddaughter’ was in fact an impersonator who had invented a life story and blood results to trick the 92-year-old.

“Sometimes I’ve felt terrible, tired and disappointed in life, in people and of things,” she confessed to El Mundo. “I’ve even been so tired that I’ve thought it was time for me to go. But I always react and and tell myself that I can’t die, I don’t have the right to. Because I have to keep searching for Clara Anahí, who would now be 38 years old without knowing who she really is. For this reason I can’t go, I don’t have the right to die without having found Clara Anahí.”

The wake for Chicha took place today Tuesday 21 at the University of La Plata.

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