When Rosario Ibarra de Piedra’s 21-year-old son was arrested at an anti-government rally in Mexico in 1975, he disappeared for good. She spent most of her life searching for him – and while her search was unsuccessful, it led to a political career and to her eventual emergence as the defiant figurehead of Mexico’s troubled left.
Ms Ibarra died on Saturday in Monterrey, in the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León. She was 95.
Her death was announced on Twitter by her daughter Rosario Piedra, chair of the Mexican Human Rights Commission. Ms Piedra gave no further information, calling her mother “a pioneer in the defense of human rights, peace and democracy in Mexico”.
Ms. Ibarra’s relentless search for her son — and eventually for hundreds and later thousands of other “desaparecidos,” people who had disappeared — helped spark Mexico’s burgeoning human rights movement, which began in the late 1970s.
“We will always remember her deepest love for the children and her solidarity with those who have suffered the disappearance of their loved ones,” Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote on Twitter.
Ms. Ibarra became a senator, political adviser and the first woman to run for president of Mexico, in 1982 and 1988, as a candidate of what was then the Revolutionary Workers’ Party.
Her missing son, Jesús Piedra Ibarra, a medical student and leftist accused of joining a guerrilla group and murdering a police officer, disappeared in April 1975. It was later revealed that he had been arrested, apparently by government authorities, and beaten, tortured and taken to a military camp in Mexico City. He was last reported alive by the news media in 1984. His body was never found.
For two years, Mrs. Ibarra traveled through Mexico in search of him. She visited police chiefs, politicians and even the then president of Mexico, Luis Echeverría Álvarez, and confronted him several times with the government’s request to return her son.
“I don’t know why, but I really had faith in our justice system,” she told DailyExpertNews in 1978.
That belief would disappear. And in 1977, Mrs. Ibarra, who was never interested in politics until her son went missing, helped establish the Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Prisoners, Disappeared and Political Exiles of Mexico, known today as the Eureka Committee. It was one of the first organizations to champion the cause of the desaparecidos, demanding information about them and amnesty for political prisoners and exiles.
The group held hunger strikes, marches and visits to the offices of politicians and the United Nations. Its activities received widespread support. Mrs. Ibarra was still the chairman of the committee when she died.
The government denied the existence of clandestine prisons with disappeared people, arguing that so-called political prisoners had been incarcerated for real crimes such as murder, kidnapping and bank robbery.
Although Ms. Ibarra won only a small fraction of the vote when she ran for president, she was well known throughout Mexico and earned the respect of the left, largely for her moral authority.
“She’s not politically savvy enough to be a vital political force in Mexico,” Denise Dresser, a Mexican political scientist, told The Times in 1994. “But her power comes as a moral voice on political issues. She has been a thorn in the side of the Mexican government for the past two decades.”
María del Rosario Ibarra de la Garza was born on February 24, 1927, in Saltillo, in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila. Her father was an agricultural engineer, her mother a violinist.
She studied in Monterrey, where she met her future husband, Jesús Piedra Rosales. They had four children. Full information about her survivors was not immediately available.
In 2019, more than four decades after her son disappeared, the Senate voted to award Ms. Ibarra the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honor, the highest award she bestows.
But she refused to accept it. In a statement, she said she would not do this until Mexico was honest about what had happened to the estimated 100,000 people who had disappeared, the most since 2006.
As she said in her statement, “I don’t want my fight unfinished.”