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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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “Graciela Mellibovsky Saidler”

  1. Will Caston says :

    The Dirty War in Argentina is one of the saddest chapters in the sordid history of Latin American dictatorships, pretty much all, of course, with direct U.S. aid or at least tacit approval.

    I lived in Buenos Aires 6 months in late 2007/early 2008. There are still missing persons ads in local papers for disappeared loved ones from this episode. Some estimate 30,000 disappeared. A particularly brutal method of achieving this was to sweep pretty much anyone even slightly suspected of not being down off the street, flying them up over the Rio de la Plata then tossing them live from the plane into the river.

    Another thing I found repulsive, but, I suppose, unsurprising, was the utter disparity between what the tour books consistently said about this place-that it’s so EUROPEAN, the safest city in Latin America, where you can munch on a juicy steak for 2 quid or whatever. OK, there’s very European-looking architecture in the city, the majority of the people have European features, but overall it’s a hotbed of corruption, income disparity, crime (no surprise, due to the former), poor urban planning, electrical blackouts, traffic accidents (I believe the highest fatalities in the world), with “villas miserias”, Argentine shantytowns, scattered throughout. Many friends I made there told me to never even venture, for my own safety, into what’s known as Buenos Aires province, bascially the parts of the metro area not within the city limits, which is where more than half the population lives.

    What’s more is statistics are so poor in general, I don’t think they really even know how to take the initial steps in effectively attacking these problems.

    What a loss for their society.

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