National News

Ana González, Campaigner for Chile’s Missing, Dies at 93

Posted October 29, 2018 6:50 p.m. EDT

SANTIAGO, Chile — Ana González, a relentless Chilean human rights advocate whose husband, two sons and pregnant daughter-in-law disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship, died Friday in Santiago. She was 93 and never learned the fate of her family members.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Patricia Recabarren.

In late April 1976, González’s sons Manuel, 22, and Luis, 29, and Luis’ wife, Nalvia Alvarado, 20, who was three months pregnant, were seized by security forces on their way home from the print shop where the brothers worked. The abductors left the couple’s 2-year-old boy on the street. Early the next morning, when González’s husband left to look for his missing children, he too was kidnapped. She never saw or heard from any of them again.

They were among the 3,000 people who disappeared or died during the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who was installed in a coup in 1973 that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.

The disappearances began almost immediately after the coup, with opponents of military rule snatched from the streets and taken to clandestine torture centers. González became one of the early members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, vowing to turn her grief into political action and to refrain from crying until she knew the full truth of what had happened to her family.

She joined dozens of others in the group, mainly women, who took to the streets at a time of fierce political repression and widespread fear. They protested, went on hunger strikes, chained themselves to the gates of the outlawed National Congress and marched relentlessly with photographs of their missing loved ones pinned to their chests.

González’s abiding optimism and sense of humor helped make her a high-profile campaigner for justice.

“They never thought that a woman, a housewife who didn’t know anything, not even where the courts were located, would take up the battle cry,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010.

Publicly defying the military authorities, González traveled to New York in 1977 to denounce human rights abuses in Chile before the United Nations. She was briefly barred from re-entering the country.

Once democracy was restored there in 1990, she continued to demand justice and the truth about the fate of her loved ones and the other Chileans — an estimated 1,000 — who had disappeared.

Ana González was born on July 26, 1925, one of six children of a widowed mother, in Tocopilla, a city 800 miles north of Santiago, the capital. Her father was a railway worker.

She became involved with the Communist Party in her teens and in 1944 married Manuel Recabarren, who was also an active party member. Recabarren led a local food distribution committee under the socialist Allende administration, making him a target of the right-wing dictatorship. The couple’s sons and daughter-in-law were also members of the Communist Party.

In addition to her daughter, González is survived by two sons, Ricardo and Vladimir, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Ana María, died of cancer in 2007.

In 2010, González figured prominently on posters and in television advertisements as part of a government campaign to collect DNA samples from the relatives of the disappeared so they could be matched with unidentified human remains in the morgue.

“Today, there are many bones that need to be identified so that one day families can mourn their losses,” she told The Times.

This year muralists painted González’s face on the facade of a one-story house in a historic district of downtown Santiago. Despite failing health in the past few years, she remained active in public events and opened her home in a working-class district of the capital to frequent visitors, often receiving them in her bedroom.

After her death, hundreds of people came to her home in spontaneous expressions of affection that reflected “what she represented, her principles, her values and her struggle,” said Maya Fernández, a member of Chile’s Chamber of Deputies and the granddaughter of Salvador Allende. “She kept on fighting, but with a strong love for life.”

Judicial investigations eventually determined that González’s husband had been taken to at least two torture centers before vanishing. But at her death, González had come no closer to knowing anything about the fate of the others, including her unborn grandchild, than she was in 1976.

Andrés Chadwick, Chile’s interior minister, issued a brief statement on behalf of the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera, sending condolences to her family but noting only her advanced age and not her accomplishments.