Archive | May 2, 2010

Graciela Mellibovsky Saidler

I found this to be particularly inspiring. Statisticians generally don’t get recognized for important acts of bravery nor are they often killed by their government. Ms. Saidler deserves special recognition, I believe.

“Graciela Mellibovsky Saidler was a 29-year-old Argentine government economist. In 1976, she produced a statistical study on conditions in the slums of Buenos Aires which was so deeply embarrassing to the military dictatorship that it was publicly singled out by the Junta leader, General Jorge Videla, as an example of the infiltration of subversives into the government. Shortly afterwards, on September 25, 1976, she “disappeared.”

In 1984, her father, Santiago, wrote a letter to the American Statistical Association, asking its help in determining her fate. In response, the ASA posted advertisements in Argentine newspapers offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. A fer weeks later, the ASA received a letter from a former “death squad” member, Antonio Francisco Valdez, who claimed knowledge of her death.

The ASA, in conjunction with the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advanced Science (AAAS), sent investigators to Buenos Aires to interview Valdez who, at the time, was imprisoned for ordinary criminal charges. He gave a statement in which he confessed, in chilling graphic detail, to torturing and killing Graciela, referring to her as the “beautiful Jewess.” He also demanded an exorbitant sum of money to disclose the location of her grave. A few weeks later, he escaped and, after murdering his wife, was killed in a shoot-out with police.

More than three decades later, the ultimate fate of Graciela, likt those of thousands of other Argentine desaparecidos, remains unknown. Her aging parents, Santiago and Matilde, have never given up their search for her.

Excerpted from Jana Asher et al., Statistical Methods for Human Rights, Springer. “

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