María Ester Gatti de Islas, a Uruguayan teacher who became a human rights activist while helping to find people lost to political repression in South America, died Sunday in Montevideo. She was 92.
Her death was confirmed by the organization she founded, Uruguayan Mothers and Families of Disappeared Prisoners.
Mrs. Gatti, who generally used her maiden name, began what would become a lifelong search for her only daughter and granddaughter in 1976, when they disappeared in Argentina during the military dictatorship there that ended in 1983.
An estimated 300 Uruguayans disappeared in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay during crackdowns by dictatorships on political opponents, human rights groups say.
Mrs. Gatti's daughter, María Emilia Islas, and her husband, Jorge Zaffaroni, had helped found Uruguay's left-leaning People's Victory Party in Buenos Aires in 1975, weeks after their daughter, Mariana Zaffaroni, was born. They had fled to Argentina when they became targets of Uruguay's civic-military dictatorship.
On Sept. 27, 1976, Argentine and Uruguayan military forces kidnapped the family in Buenos Aires.
Mrs. Gatti started searching for family members with help from the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, an organization fighting to find people kidnapped by Argentina's military dictatorship. She took with her a photo of the eyes of her granddaughter, which would become a symbol of the search for people who disappeared in Uruguay in the 1970s and early '80s.
Mrs. Gatti later founded Uruguayan Mothers and Families of Disappeared Prisoners.
"I have never lost the hope or the will to fight," she said in March.