Hebe de Bonafini, an eminent Argentine human rights activist, the co-founder and president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo organization, and a tireless fighter against the human rights violations committed during the country’s last military dictatorship, died on Sunday November 20 at the age of 93. She was hospitalized in the city of La Plata and was suffering from unspecified chronic illnesses.
Bonafini was one of Argentina’s most widely honored human rights activists. She played a crucial role in defending human rights in the country during the US-backed military dictatorship (March 1976-December 1983), as well as ensuring their expansion following the return of democracy.
In March 1976, the military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, and Brigadier-General Orlando Ramón Agosti, overthrew the left-wing government of President Isabel Martínez de Perón. The junta launched a brutal crackdown on suspected leftwingers, In February 1977, Bonafini’s oldest son, Jorge Omar, was arrested and disappeared. In December of that same year, her second son, Raúl Alfredo, was also captured and disappeared.
In May 1977, Bonafini, along with 14 other mothers in a similar situation, founded the Association of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a non-governmental organization. The organization aimed to find the whereabouts of their children who were kidnapped by security forces during the dictatorship.
The mothers, wearing white cloth nappies which were later replaced by white scarves, began demonstrating at the Plaza de Mayo, located in the center of the capital Buenos Aires and in front of the presidential palace, demanding the return of their children.
They began gathering there every Thursday, walking anticlockwise around a clocktower in the center of the Plaza. They held these protests at a time when the government prohibited meetings of more than three people. The military government broke up the early demonstrations and killed the first leader of the association, but the group persisted.
It is estimated that over 30,000 left-wing activists, trade unionists, academics, students, writers, journalists, artists and citizens suspected of being political dissidents were kidnapped, tortured and disappeared by security forces during the seven years of dictatorship, a period of state terrorism that is also known as the Dirty War. Bonafini’s two sons were never found and are presumed dead like the other tens and thousands of Argentines, without a trace or record of their fate.
The mothers continued to protest and campaign after the end of the dictatorship, demanding justice for the crimes against humanity committed by the State during the dictatorship, in the form of punishment of the military officials responsible for seizing and killing their loved ones.
Bonafini made her last public appearance 10 days ago, when she participated in Thursday’s traditional demonstration. In her last words in that Plaza, she condemned judicial impunity in the cases for crimes against humanity and warned how these practices damage democracy.
Hasta siempre Hebe
La Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo comunica que nuestra presidenta, Hebe de Bonafini, cambió de casa, como ella siempre dijo de sus compañeras que la precedieron en la partida.
Seguirá para siempre en la Plaza de Mayo.
¡Ni un paso atrás!
— Prensa Madres (@PrensaMadres) November 20, 2022
The government of Argentina has announced three days of national mourning in her memory. Her demise has been mourned by political and social leaders from across the continent.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández bade farewell to Bonafini, calling her a tireless fighter. “With Hebe de Bonafini’s departure we lost a tireless fighter. Claiming truth and justice together with Mothers and Grandmothers, she confronted the genocidal regime when collective common sense went in another direction. With great affection and sincere regret, I say goodbye to her. See you forever Hebe,” he tweeted.
Likewise, Argentina Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had close ties with Bonafini, bade adieu, calling her “a global symbol of the fight for Human Rights, pride of Argentina.”
Bolivian President Luis Arce expressed his condolences, saying “We regret the death of Hebe de Bonafini, historic president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Her life and her commitment to just causes constitute a great legacy that will always accompany the struggle of our peoples in defense of Human Rights. RIP.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel also lamented Bonafini’s death. “The death of Hebe de Bonafini hurts Cuba like that of a close and loved one. We will always remember her condemning the genocidal regime and fighting for the just world that her children defended. Our condolences to the family and all of Argentina,” he wrote in a tweet.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro also expressed sadness on the death of Hebe de Bonafini, calling her an “indefatigable and exemplary fighter for Human Rights.”
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo also lamented Bonafini’s death, calling her a “tenacious woman who tirelessly fought for the just causes of the Argentine people, memory and against impunity. Her legacy is valuable for the defense of Human Rights.”
🖤Lamentamos la partida de Hebe de Bonafini, Madre de Plaza de Mayo, hermana en esta lucha por la desaparición de nuestrxs hijxs. Abrazamos a sus compañeras y familiares. ¡Hasta siempre! pic.twitter.com/UzmlKy6oVs
— Abuelas Plaza Mayo (@abuelasdifusion) November 20, 2022