She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Nilda Estigarribia grew up fighting against the abuses committed by the Paraguayan military dictatorship led by General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). She was part of the only organization for the defense of human rights to exist during that period. She was under observation by the military forces. Several times, she escaped becoming a victim of repression. She was constantly banging on the doors of police stations and jail cells to find and assist torture victims. The Dictatorship ended–but her activism did not. There are still many tasks pending … (1000peacewomen 1/2).
She says: “During the dictatorship, torture had its most visible identification in men, while the faces of women were evidenced for giving humanitarian assistance in prisons, hospitals and cemeteries.
Las pantallas del poder. (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos) (TT: Screens of power.)(TA: Human rights comission).
Nilda Estigarribia – Paraguay
She works for Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos CONADEH.
… “When I was 13 years old I escaped through the roofs and I jumped over the walls slipping away from the repressive police of that time”. Thus said Nilda Estigarribia, who was born and grew up in Paraguay. The memories referred to are from the time of the military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Nilda was then a militant member of the Youth Section of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA), known as the “Avalón Club“. The experience of seeing her companions taken by the police and returned having been tortured had a decisive influence on her in her untiring fight for the defence of human rights.
She was born in the rural community of Natalicio Talavera, a jurisdiction in the administrative district of Guaira. Nilda had a happy childhood. She was born the middle child of nine brothers and sisters under the discipline of a father who instilled into her the value of honesty and dedication to work. As an adolescent that gave her the security she needed to enter the Youth Organization.
“We used to arrange clandestine meetings in cellars, inner patios and family houses, fearing that the repressive forces would come at any moment. We distributed pamphlets, painted murals on the walls of the streets and we slipped into schools and universities to make denunciations and we had to do it quickly, to erase all traces as soon as possible”.
At that time she got to know Doña Coca – Carmen Lara de Castro -, from whom she learned ways to approach and to defend the rights of the most needy people in society.
“When some political leader, farmer or unionist was caught by the police, Doña Coca and I, as an eternal couple, went into the police stations and the jails offering food, water and medicines or whatever we had, to the victims”. With Coca, she came to understand that to defend human rights in a society dominated by a totalitarian government was not an easy or sensible activity. Instead it was an adventure where they were frequently venturing into the jaws of death. “In spite of everything, I was never scared, nor do I regret what I did”.
In 1966 Nilda obtained a medical degree. During the first year she did her practice periods in public hospitals in the Paraguayan inland where she met the real poverty suffered by the population living far from the metropolis. But it was the period when she worked as medical resident in the Hospital of Clinics in Asunción, the capital city of the country, that gave her the possibility of openly expressing her discord with the repressive state. Along with a group formed by doctors, nurses and students of medicine, she made public denunciations and confronted the repressive organs of the State.
“I remember in 1968 when the students arranged a meeting to replace the authorities of the Students Medical Centre in the Hospital of Clinics. As I was a resident in that hospital, I participated”.
The assembly became a place to denounce the sad situation that was affecting the locality and all of the country. An infiltrater informed on the meeting to the police, who broke into the patio of the hospital. The repression was very severe, with tear gas and physical assaults. Many were imprisoned and the majority fled any way they could. I took an omnibus that dropped me three blocks from my house “. She got a big surprise when she found her brothers at the bus station carrying some clothes so she could disguise herself and flee. The police had already been looking for her at their house. “I disguised myself as an old woman and in that way I managed to flee. I lived hidden for months, sheltering in the houses of friends and relatives”.
When she was 30 years old she served actively on the management of the PLRA, combining her position in this party with activities in the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Paraguay.
Denunciations of different violations could be channeled through this commission. Nilda, like all the people who were part of it, was always under observation by the Dictatorship. The best option was to operate semi clandestinely.
Nilda makes a gender-based observation based on her experience: “During the dictatorship, torture had its most visible identification in men, while the face of women was most evident giving humanitarian assistance in cells, prisons, hospitals and cemeteries”. We were few, but at the same time many. Many mothers, sisters, daughters and spouses delegated to us the task of taking messages and food to the prisoners “.
With the fall of Stroessner, new winds blew. Democracy, with social justice appeared to be a possibility. However, the violation of human rights merely changed the way it was expressed. While she was part of the leadership of the PLRA, the opportunity arose to be a candidate in the elections for the Senate. She was elected as a member of Parliament by popular vote for the period 1993-1998. Her performance was outstanding.
She fought for larger budgets for the nation’s hospitals and, especially, for better equipment. She accompanied and supported the claims of the farmers, the ones called “the landless” achieving important work in the Senate for the legalization of plots of land previously usurped by the Armed Forces and now returned to the workers and farmers. She supported especially the rights of trade unions of workers and professionals, and helped to establish health centres for the indigenous population. The Office for the Defence of the People gave her the distinction of “Outstanding Woman of the year 2004″. Pope Juan Pablo II recognizing the common views they shared, (Nilda strongly rejected the attempt in her country to legalize abortion) also recognized her.
Happily married and mother of two children, she lives at the moment in Asunción. As a member of the Paraguayan National Commission for Human Rights, she continues to work as a doctor in the service of poor population. As she was earlier in her medical career, she is continually struck by the condition of under nourishment of so many children. It is just one reflection of a world full of inequalities.
She still walks with a firm tread and her hopes have not diminished: “I dream of a planet with social equalities, without wars, without barbarities directed by the Economic Powers, and with people able to enjoy life”. (1000peacewomen).
REDACCION VIVAPY. La ex senadora Dra. Nilda Estigarribia y miembro de la comisión de derechos humanos del Paraguay, aclaró esta mañana a Radio Cardinal, que Carmen Villalba no recibió torturas físicas pero si, sicologícas y las intenciones expresadas por el comisario Palacios (segun una nota que entrego la mujer a la Dra. Estigarribia) de querer violarla según expresó. La ex legisladora aclaro que tanto las denuncias expresadas por Luis Alfonso Resk como la de ella, fueron dichas por Carmen Villalba. (vivaParaguay).
Find her name on Google Group-search.
LEY Nº 816: QUE ADOPTA MEDIDAS DE DEFENSA DE LOS RECURSOS NATURALES, EL CONGRESO DE LA NACION PARAGUAYA SANCIONA CON FUERZA DE LEY;
NACIONALES: GENTE POCO CONFIABLE RODEA A MONSEÑOR LUGO EN SU PROPUESTA POLITICA, Nov. 29, 2006;
Google search for CONADEH Paraguay.