Delia Giovanola, one of the founders of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, dies at 96

Delia Giovanola poses in 2017 in Buenos Aires with her grandson Martín Ogando, born in captivity after his mother was kidnapped in 1976.
Delia Giovanola poses in 2017 in Buenos Aires with her grandson Martín Ogando, born in captivity after his mother was kidnapped in 1976.Natasha Pisarenko (AP)

“Do you know what it means to fly like a dragonfly at 89 years old?” Delia Giovanola told EL PAÍS on November 22, 2015. This is how she remembered the day they told her that her grandson, Martin, was on the other end of the phone. He had been looking for him for 39 years along with the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, the organization that together with 11 other women founded in the middle of the military dictatorship. “The girls tell me bye grandma. I am living a dream”, she was moved that November afternoon. This Tuesday, Ella Giovanola died at the age of 96.

When the military coup took place in March 1976, Delia Giovanola was 50 years old and a teacher. In October, she learned that a police gang had kidnapped her only son, Jorge Ogando, and her daughter-in-law, Stella Maris Montesano, both militants of the ERP guerrilla group. The couple had a daughter in 1971, whom she named Virgina, and she was expecting a boy when the military threw her into the Banfield Pit dungeons. On December 5, 1976 Martin was born, on a sheet metal table located in the kitchen of the torture room. The baby was given up for adoption. Grandma Giovanola learned of Martín’s existence through the testimony of a survivor of the Banfield Well, and she dedicated her life to looking for him.

“I never thought this was going to be forever. I thought that since Stella was 8 months pregnant they would release her quickly. I didn’t think it was going to be forever and never again,” Giovanola declared in May of last year in a trial for crimes against humanity. She told the judges that her life was “changed forever” that day. And she remembered how she took care of Virginia, abandoned by the repressors the day of her parents’ kidnapping. From the first day, little Virginia participated in the concentrations in the Plaza de Mayo. “I had no one to leave her with, we were very alone, her father was her only child. She played with the pigeons. Until she started to get angry, the soldiers threatened us with weapons, and I stopped carrying her, ”she recalled to EL PAÍS.

Giovanola went to the Plaza de Mayo to meet with other women who were looking for their children. Abuelas was born right there, made up of those who knew that it was also possible that there would be a grandson born in captivity. “I was born from Mothers to be a Grandmother,” she said during a meeting at the Museum of Memory. “There was no way to look for a child, there was no model. Automatically we find a group of mothers looking for our children. We didn’t know each other, neither knew how. Exchanging ideas, trying and making mistakes many times we move forward, ”she said.

Giovanola made headlines around the world during the Falklands War in 1982. During a round in Plaza de Mayo, a foreign journalist took a picture of her holding a piece of paper with the inscription “The Malvinas are Argentine, the disappeared too.” For a moment, she had broken the informational barrier of the dictatorship. “The city of Buenos Aires was plastered with stickers that said ‘The Malvinas are Argentineans’ and ‘Argentines are rights and human beings.’ It was so indignant to see the city like this and that no one talked about the Mothers and Grandmothers who had been there for six years going around the Plaza, that I came home and angrily wrote on a piece of cardboard: ‘The Malvinas are Argentine , the disappeared too”, said Delia about that emblematic photo.

When her granddaughter Virginia turned 18, she joined the search for Martin, but did not resist. She wrote eight letters to her lost brother that show her heartbreak, until in 2011 she fell into a depression and committed suicide. There were only four years left for the end of the search. Martín lived in the United States and had waited for the death of his adoptive parents to approach Abuelas and undergo a DNA test. Delia Giovanola was waiting for him.

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo today said goodbye to one of its founders with a long statement: “Full of vitality and enthusiasm to the last breath, graceful, ironic, spontaneous, with firm convictions, illustrious neighbor of San Martín, Delia repeated: ´The life gave me and took me out, punished me but I was happy’. We still don’t realize that she’s gone, but the emptiness she feels is enormous. Goodbye, dear Delia!”

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