Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, 95, Dies; Fought for Mexico’s ‘Disappeared’

When Rosario Ibarra de Piedra’s 21-year-old son was arrested at an antigovernment rally in Mexico in 1975, he disappeared for good. She spent most of her life searching for him — and while her search was unsuccessful, it led to a political career, and to her eventual emergence as the defiant figurehead of Mexico’s embattled left.

Mrs. Ibarra died on Saturday in Monterrey, in the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León. She was 95.

Her death was announced on Twitter by her daughter Rosario Piedra, president of Mexico’s Human Rights Commission. Ms. Piedra did not provide further information but called her mother “a pioneer in the defense of human rights, peace and democracy in Mexico.”

Mrs. Ibarra’s relentless search for her son — and eventually for hundreds and later thousands of other “desaparecidos,” people who had been disappeared — helped give rise to Mexico’s nascent human rights movement, starting in the late 1970s.

“We will always remember her most profound love for the children and her solidarity with those who suffered because of the disappearance of their loved ones,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico wrote on Twitter.

Mrs. Ibarra became a senator, a political adviser and the first woman to run for president of Mexico, in 1982 and 1988, as the candidate of what was then the Revolutionary Party of the Workers.

Her missing son, Jesús Piedra Ibarra, a medical student and leftist who was accused of belonging to a guerrilla group and of killing a police officer, disappeared in April 1975. It later came to light that he had been arrested, apparently by government authorities, and beaten, tortured and taken to a military camp in Mexico City. He was last reported alive by the news media in 1984. His body was never found.

For two years, Mrs. Ibarra trekked around Mexico looking for him. She visited police chiefs, politicians and even the president of Mexico at the time, Luis Echeverría Álvarez, confronting him on several occasions to demand that the government return her son.

“I don’t know why, but I really had faith in our legal system,” she told The New York Times in 1978.

That faith would vanish. And in 1977 Mrs. Ibarra, who was never interested in politics until her son went missing, helped found the Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Prisoners, Disappeared and Political Exiles of Mexico, known today as the Eureka Committee. It was one of the first organizations to champion the cause of the desaparecidos, and to demand information about them and amnesty for political prisoners and exiles.

The group staged hunger strikes, marches and visits to the offices of politicians and of the United Nations. Its activities received widespread support. Mrs. Ibarra was still serving as the committee’s president when she died.

The government denied the existence of clandestine prisons containing disappeared people and argued that so-called political prisoners had been jailed for real crimes like murder, kidnapping and bank robbery.

Although Mrs. Ibarra won only a small fraction of the vote when she ran for president, she was well known throughout Mexico and earned the respect of the left, largely because of her moral authority.

“She is not politically savvy enough to be a crucial political force in Mexico,” Denise Dresser, a Mexican political scientist, told The Times in 1994. “But her strength comes as a moral voice in political issues. She’s been a thorn in the side of the Mexican government for the last 20 years.”

María del Rosario Ibarra de la Garza was born on Feb. 24, 1927, in Saltillo, in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila. Her father was an agricultural engineer, her mother a violinist.

She studied in Monterrey, where she met her future husband, Jesús Piedra Rosales. They had four children. Complete information about her survivors was not immediately available.

In 2019, more than four decades after her son disappeared, the Senate voted to bestow on Mrs. Ibarra the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honor, the highest award it grants.

But she refused to accept it. In a statement, she said she would not do so until Mexico was honest about what had happened to the estimated 100,000 people who had disappeared, most of them since 2006.

As she said in her statement, “I don’t want my fight to be unfinished.”

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