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October 26, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – A (U.S.) National Council of Churches delegation to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay Oct. 28-Nov. 2 goes at the invitation of churches and other human rights groups that continue to seek the truth about the nearly 25,000 people who "disappeared" under repressive regimes some 25 years ago.

United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert of Nashville, Tenn., Ecumenical Officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, will lead the four-member delegation, which also will include:

  • the Rev. Joe Eldridge, a United Methodist, chaplain at American University in Washington, D.C.; former missionary to Chile and founder and chair of the Washington Office on Latin America.
  • Brenda Girton-Mitchell, a Baptist, director of the NCC/Church World Service Washington, D.C., Office.
  • the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, a United Methodist, who is NCC Associate General Secretary for International Affairs, based in New York City.

"The issue is ‘truth with justice,’" said the Rev. Bolioli, who staffed an earlier NCC delegation visit to the three countries in September 1999. "The families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. "While each country must decide what constitutes justice for those responsible for the disappearances," he said, "there is a bottom line – we need to know what happened and who was responsible."

The first delegation visit, in 1999, took place just before presidential elections in all three countries. The churches in the three countries asked the NCC to help press the candidates to resolve the ethical and human rights problems of the disappearances.

"We were quite successful, especially in Uruguay," the Rev. Bolioli said. "The new president, in his inaugural address, recognized the issue of the disappeared as a major issue of his presidency, and formed a Truth Commission.

"In Chile and Argentina, we sought especially to encourage the relatives of the disappeared and to assure them they are not forgotten," he said. "This has proved to have had sustained value. For example, there was a lot of pressure against Argentina’s Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo at the time of our visit. But later, their demands were met for imprisonment of members of the military government."

In each of the three countries, the NCC delegation will meet with denominational and ecumenical organizations, families of the disappeared, government leaders and the U.S. ambassador to each country.

In Chile Oct. 28-29, the delegation also will visit Villa Grimaldi, a former torture center that is now a memorial. They will meet with human rights lawyers and several government officials, including Senator Viera Gallo, a member of the Senate Human Rights Commission; Senator Sergio Bitar; Claudio Huepe, Secretary General of the government, and with the Minister of the Interior.

In Argentina Oct. 30-31, a meeting with the nation’s president, Dr. Fernando de la Rua, is confirmed. The delegation also will meet with Evangelical Methodist Church Bishop Nelly Ritchie, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Human Rights Ecumenical Movement, trade union leaders, Senator Alfredo Bravo, and Diana Conti, the government’s secretary for human rights.

In Uruguay Nov. 1-2, the delegation with meet with both Christian and Jewish leaders. Meetings also are scheduled with members of the Truth Commission and with the presidential liaison to the commission, Dr. Ramela. The delegation will meet with Dr. Brovetto, Vice President of the Enlarged Front, and will visit the memorial monument to the disappeared, which is under construction.

The NCC delegation’s visit follows on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson’s visit to Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, challenging those countries to hold responsible the persons responsible for torture, disappearances and murder under the military regimes.

It also comes as the U.S. State Department is set to release more classified documents on what happened under Plan Condor, a police network among the dictatorships of the time.

In Argentina, 20,000 persons were "disappeared" under the military dictatorship; in Uruguay, 60; and in Chile, 4,000.


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