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Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza leader dies at 93

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Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza leader dies at 93
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Hebe de Bonafini, who became a human rights activist when her two sons were arrested and disappeared under Argentina’s military dictatorship, died on Sunday, her family and authorities reported. She was 93 years old.

The death was confirmed by her only surviving child, Alejandra, who expressed her thanks for the testimonies of support her mother had received while she was hospitalized in the city of La Plata. Local officials said she suffered from unspecified chronic illnesses.

Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – a former president who had close ties to de Bonafini – posted a tweet calling her “a global symbol of the struggle for human rights, pride of Argentina”.

Hebe María Pastor de Bonafini was one of the founders of the Association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in May 1977, two years after the military took power and began a brutal crackdown on suspected leftists.

She became president two years later and led the more radical of the organization’s two factions until her death.

The mothers first demanded the return, alive, of their children – and later the punishment of the military figures responsible for seizing and killing them, without knowing their fate publicly.

Widely honored for her human rights campaigns, she has also been a controversial figure in recent years for her radical opposition to American governments which she accused of supporting right-wing dictatorships, her involvement in partisan politics and for a corruption scandal involving his group’s foundation.

De Bonafini was born in 1928 in the town of Ensenada outside the Argentine capital and at 18 she married a young man from her neighborhood, Humberto Alfredo Bonafini, and they had three children: Jorge, Raúl and Alejandra. . Known to friends as Kika Pastor, her schooling stopped soon after primary school.

In February 1977, soldiers seized her eldest son. A few months later, a second, Raúl, was also captured. Both had been members of left-wing militant groups, one of which was armed, de Bonafini later said.

As she toured hospitals, courthouses, police stations and morgues looking for a son, then both, she met other women on the same mission.

Faced with the obstruction of officials, 14 of them began to organize demonstrations in Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential residence to demand the appearance of their children.

It was a bold move at a time when the government banned gatherings of more than three people. But they started gathering every Thursday, marching counterclockwise around a clock tower in the center of the square.

During a religious pilgrimage later that year, they began wrapping cloth diapers – symbolizing those once used by their missing children – around their heads, and the white kerchiefs became a symbol of the group.

The military government dispersed the first demonstrations. And he kidnapped and killed the first leader of the Mothers, Azucena Villaflor. But the group persisted.

When the police arrested a member, others gathered at the police station and demanded to be arrested as well. When the police asked one to show them documents, the others also produced their own, effectively prolonging the protest.

Looking back 30 years after the group’s founding, de Bonafini recalled, “We couldn’t imagine that dictatorships were so murderous, perverse and criminal” and said she wanted to speak for “kids who were bright, joyful , warriors, teachers. , incredible convinced revolutionaries”,

She said their spirits lived on;: “No one goes forever,” she said. “We are their voice, their gaze, their heart, their breath. We will conquer death, dear children.

The Mothers and other militant groups claim that around 30,000 dissidents disappeared during the dictatorship – a figure finally accepted by the current government. Previous administrations had estimated as many as 13,000.

Three years after the end of the dictatorship, the Mothers split into two factions in 1986, with Bonafini leading the more radical organization seeking systematic political change while the others focused more on legal issues.

Her anger has often sparked controversy, such as when – following the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York – she said: “I felt happiness. I’m not going to be a hypocrite. It didn’t hurt me at all. »

She established close ties in 2003 with the leftist government of Néstor Kirchner, which later helped revoke amnesty laws that had protected soldiers accused of crimes against humanity during the dictatorship.

His defense of Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Fernández, at times led to friction with other human rights groups who had criticized some of the leftist administration’s policies.

De Bonafini herself fell into scandal in 2011 when prosecutors accused her of irregularities involving public funds given to a foundation created by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo to build low-cost housing. Other foundation officials have been convicted and the case against her has not been fully settled.

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