Human rights activist Lita Boitano dies at 92

The mother of two children disappeared by the dictatorship in the 1970s, she presided an organization that grouped family members of people affected by the same tragedy

Human rights activist Lita Boitano has died at 92. She was currently president of the Relatives of People Disappeared and Detained for Political Reasons, an organization she joined in 1977 after the dictatorship forcibly disappeared her two children, Miguel and Adriana Boitano. 

Boitano’s organization worked with Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo seeking truth, memory, and justice for the 30,000 people dissapeared by the last civic-military dictatorship.

Known for her wide smile despite the everlasting pain, Boitano spent over half of her life looking for her children. She was born Ángela Catalina Paolín on July 20, 1931, and grew up in Caballito, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Known to most as “Lita,” she lived near renowned painter Antonio Berni, who painted her portrait when she was 12 in 1943.

Boitano was a Peronist and passed on those political convictions to her children. Both were political activists, members of the University Peronist Youth and students at the public University of Buenos Aires.

Boitano joined Relatives of People Disappeared and Detained for Political Reasons in 1977, shortly after the organization was created. However, she was forced to leave Argentina in 1979 and go into exile in Italy. She joined other exiles there who were investigating and denouncing the horrors in Argentina. 

She returned to Buenos Aires in 1983 after democracy was restored and continued working incessantly to try and find out what happened to Miguel and Adriana, while also fighting on behalf of those who had gone through the same tragedy.

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She returned to her home country with a changed mind. During her time in exile, Boitano came face-to-face with feminism, which was in full swing in Italy. She went on to defend that cause in Argentina, where the spark was starting to flicker after almost seven years of a harsh dictatorship. 

In 1984, the organization lent its office to the newly-minted Argentine Homosexual Community (CHA, by its Spanish initials) for its first meetings. Boitano also supported safe and free legal abortion in Argentina, which was legalized in 2020.

Despite the tragedies in her life, Boitano never gave up. She prematurely lost her husband, Miguel, when their children were just 16 and 12. Her youngest, also named Miguel, disappeared first, and less than a year later, Adriana was also gone.

“I was alone,” she told Revista Haroldo in an interview published in 2021.

But she found other mothers, fathers, and siblings of disappeared people who were in the same situation. “I felt that, sadly, a lot of people shared my same pain, that it wasn’t just me going through that. And I realized they were my second family.”

Boitano eventually went on to lead the organization that first took her in in 1977, calling them her family as well. “Luckily, I don’t feel sadness; quite the contrary. I have lots of children that don’t replace mine but accompany me,” she said in the same interview. “At some point, I can say I am still happy. Despite everything, I love life.”

Boitano, unfortunately, never found out what happened to her daughter and son. And although she clung to that hope until the very end, she was also aware that there was a new generation ready to take on her struggle. 

“I can say that if they ever find my kids, after I’m gone, those who are still fighting will receive their remains.”

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