MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – 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 at age 92, her group said.
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 Association 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.