Delia Cecilia Giovanola, a founding member of the Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo, died last Monday at the age of 96, seven years after she was reunited with her grandson, snatched after being born in captivity during the 1976-83 military dictatorship.
“A courageous woman has gone, an activist for memory, truth, justice and joy,” wrote the organisation founded in 1977.
On 5 November 2015, after 39 years of searching, Giovanola managed to reunite with Martín Ogando Montesano, her grandson, who months before had agreed to take a DNA test at the Argentine consulate of the country where he was living (which was never disclosed) which was able to “confirm his identity to 99.99 percent accuracy.”
He was the 118th grandchild recovered for the Grandmothers, who estimate that 400 children were stolen during the dictatorship. Since then 12 others have appeared and Giovanola, like the other grandmothers, followed each reunion.
Martín is the son of Jorge Oscar Orgando and Stella Maris Montesano, both leftist activists who were kidnapped in 1976 from their house in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata when she was eight months pregnant. The couple also had a three-year-old daughter, Virginia.
“Little Virginia was left in her crib. Carefully, Delia went to find her and took care of her, all the while desperately searching for Jorge and Stella Maris,” wrote the organisation in its farewell statement to her.
When she turned 18, Virginia helped her grandmother in the search, but fell into a deep depression and took her own life, aged 39, only four years before the reappearance of her brother.
It was learned from testimonies of survivors that the couple were taken to a secret detention centre named “Pozo de Banfield,” on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where the young woman gave birth on 5 December, 1976, “handcuffed and blindfolded, on top of a metal sheet,’ continued the statement.
“Two days later, her baby was taken from her and sold to a couple, and she was taken to Pozo de Quilmes, another secret prison,” the Abuelas wrote. The couple are still missing.
In October 1977, Delia formed part of the group of women who founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo.
As well as looking for the kidnapped and missing children, as the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo did, they dedicated themselves to finding the babies born in captivity and illegally given to families, who were usually accomplices of the regime.
There is a famous photograph of Giovanola in the Plaza del Mayo with a card that reads, “The Malvinas are Argentine, and so are the disappeared,” which was shown in 1982 in the middle of the war with Britain during the dictatorship.
In this period 30,000 “disappeared” people went missing, according to human rights’ organisations.