Mercedes 'Porota' Colás de Meroño, the vice-president of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 95 at her home in Villa Devoto, Buenos Aires.
The campaigner’s death was confirmed by the human rights group, which paid tribute to her legacy denouncing the disappearances of opponents of Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Colás de Meroño, despite her years of campaigning, however, was unable to be reunited with her missing daughter.
Alicia Meroño, then aged 31, was kidnapped and disappeared from a house in Buenos Aires on January 5, 1978, by agents from the dictatorship (1976-1983). She is still missing, her fate and final resting place unknown.
"She went slowly. Every day she died a little" since fracturing her hip several months ago, wrote the head of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini, in an open letter announcing Meroño’s passing.
"She was one of the Mothers who had gone through torture and horror twice," Bonafini said, referring to her campaigning partner.
"She was in the Spanish Civil War, where her father was shot for being anti-Franco and revolutionary. There, in addition, they shaved her [head] so that all the people knew that her father had been shot," the letter recalled.
Mercedes Colás was born in Argentina in 1925 but she emigrated to Spain in 1931 with her family. Her father, José María Colás, a bricklayer and anarchist, was shot in Lodoño, the town of Navarra where they lived when she was 11 years old.
She then returned to Argentina with her mother and brother and at age 14 she met Francisco Meroño, a textile worker she would later marry. The couple later had a daughter, Alicia.
"And there she was, with the two horrors and terrors that never left her. Whenever she spoke she remembered them. Another colleague who leaves and leaves us a huge void, but life goes on,” said Bonafini, 92. “We know the commitment we have. with our children and that we must continue.”
Colás de Meroño joined the humanitarian organisation, born in the middle of the dictatorship, in 1978 when a group of women began to march at the Plaza de Mayo and demand the appearance of their children, the majority of whom had been kidnapped and taken to clandestine detention centres where they were subsequently tortured and murdered. According to human rights organisations, some 30,000 people disappeared at the hands of the military junta.
The activist’s fellow campaigners paid tribute to Colás de Meroño, describing her as strong and defiant.
"I remember ‘Porota’ throwing herself on the hood of a [police] patrol car so they wouldn't arrest us," said one activist in a post on social networks.
As vice-president of the prominent humanitarian organisation, Colás de Meroño participated in numerous meetings with world leaders including Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Subcomandante Marcos in the Chiapas jungle, and former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez, among others.