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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC Visit to Chile, Uruguay and Argentina Reopens "Disappeared" Debate

Oct. 18, 1999, NEW YORK CITY ---- Three weeks after a (U.S.) National Council of Churches (NCC) delegation visited Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to support families of the "disappeared," the public debate has been reopened in those countries.

"Our presence helped to reinvigorate the public debate on the question of the disappeared," said the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Director of the NCC's Latin America and the Caribbean Office and a delegation member. "The press, especially in Uruguay and Chile, were a good instrument for that."

Four NCC representatives, including Rev. Bolioli and NCC General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, were accompanied by the President of the Latin American Council of Churches, Dr. Walter Altmann, on a Sept. 22-29 trip explicitly designed to encourage the political will to resolve the 'disappeared' issue. Yet "it is not a political issue for us, but an ethical issue. Family members need knowledge of what happened to grieve properly. They also desire acknowledgment that their "disappeared" were not criminals just because they had different ideas.

Presidential elections will take place in all three countries before year's end, and the group met with leading candidates to press the case of the families. Families want the return of the bodies of the disappeared to give them proper burial, and in some cases want help finding "disappeared" who are still alive today – children who were taken from their imprisoned parents and put up for adoption.

"In fact, the disappeared children who are alive are the main issue now," Rev. Bolioli said. "We met with the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. Most of them are in their 70s and 80s, and they want to find the grandchildren lost to them before they die."

"Recent reports from Uruguay note that a judge there has begun to interrogate some retired military officials who many suspect were perpetrators of disappearances," Rev. Bolioli said. Following the visit, "there is a lot of renewed energy around the issue again, with family members and churches feeling that the international community didn't abandon them. Support from the outside is very important since these issues are not popular in the power circles."

Dr. Campbell wrote a letter calling on President Clinton to open U.S. government files on the three countries to possibly help locate the missing and she spoke with him about her concern during his annual breakfast with U.S. clergy on Sept. 28. So far, Dr. Campbell has not received a response but Rev. Bolioli said, "We will need to mobilize in Washington, D.C. around this issue."

Although the NCC has pressed the issue for many years, this trip was "a catalytic element," Rev. Bolioli said. "It visualized our solidarity with them."


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