Maria Isabel Chorobik de Mariani, founder and former president of the iconic Argentine human rights organisation Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, died Monday evening in the city of La Plata. She was 94.
"Chicha", as she was known, spent 42 years looking for her granddaughter Clara Anahí, initially as a founding member of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and later with her own organisation based in La Plata, Fundación Anahí.
Clara Anahí was three-months-old when she was snatched during an infamous Armed Forces and Police raid on the home of Chicha's only son, Daniel Mariani and his wife Diana Terrugi, on 30th Street in La Plata in November, 1976. The attack left several left-wing militants dead, including Diana. Daniel Mariani escaped only to be assassinated months later.
Shortly before his death, Daniel had met with his mother in a secret location in La Plata to tell her that Clara Anahí was still alive. Police had initially told Chicha that Clara Anahí's body had been incinerated. However, a former police officer who participated in the raid confirmed to Chicha decades later that the baby had been taken from the house alive.
"I have searched for my granddaughter like a mad woman, year after year. I lost my husband, my mother, my brother, but I keep on searching. And I will search until the end of my life", Chicha told Spanish newspaper El mundo in a recent interview.
Chicha founded Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in 1977 along with a group of 11 other women searching for their own missing grandchildren. Under her leadership, the Abuelas located more grandchildren than at any time during their 40-year history. In recent years, her ailing health prohibited Chicha from engaging in the bold strategies for recovering grandchildren that had characterised her decades-long journey a human rights leaders.
Chicha, known for her warmth, intellect and professionalism, fought until the end. "One can never give up", she told Página 12 in her last ever interview. "I've never lost hope. There is always hope".
Her struggle to find her granddaughter happened largely in the shadows of the organisation she once presided. She split from Abuelas in 1989 after she was pushed from its leadership. In 1996, she founded Fundación Anahí.
Chicha's name returned to the fore in the early 2000s when old suspicions about the identity of the children of Clarín media empire owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble resurfaced. Chicha had long suspected that Noble's daughter, Marcela, whom the media tycoon had confessed to having adopted illegally, was in fact Clara Anahí. The case was dramatic, highly public, and included police raids and the brief arrest of Noble in preventative detention. Ultimately, DNA results showed Marcela was not Clara Anahí.
In a 2013 interview, Chicha told this journalist that she still held suspicions about Marcela Noble, citing the Noble family's decades-long evasiveness with the courts and what she perceived as their capacity to influence the legal process.
In December 2015, news broke that Chicha had found her granddaughter. Photos circulated on Christmas Day of the happy reunion. But the woman who appeared on the iconic human rights leader's doorstep was an impersonator who had invented a life story and blood-test results to trick the then 92-year-old. Chicha said in subsequent statements to the media that she suspected the trickery was a conspiracy to discredit her and the Grandmothers' work.
The University of La Plata will hold Chicha Mariani's wake today, Tuesday, from 7am to 2pm.