The president of the Argentine association Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini, died this Sunday at the age of 93, according to the vice president of the country, Cristina Fernández.
“Dearest Hebe, mother of Plaza de Mayo, world symbol of the fight for Human Rights, pride of Argentina. God called you on National Sovereignty Day… It should not be a coincidence. Simply thank you and see you always,” he said. the former president of the country (2007-2015) through her official Twitter account.
The human rights activist was one of the faces that led the protests against the last civic-military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983).
The housewife who fought for “all” the disappeared
A woman of humble origins, a tireless social fighter and especially controversial in her statements: this was Hebe de Bonafini (1928-2022), a personality whose legacy as head of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo occupies a central place in the recent history of Argentina.
During her more than four decades of activism, the revolutionary housewife not only put the last civic-military dictatorship (1976-1983) of the South American country against the ropes, but also ended up becoming a global benchmark in the fight for human rights.
And no wonder: along with hundreds of other mothers and grandmothers, Hebe de Bonafini was the visible face of the demonstrations to find those who disappeared during the self-styled “national reorganization process”, some 30,000 people including political and social militants, trade unionists , students and artists, according to estimates by human rights organizations.
His work did not end with the end of the dictatorship and lasted through years of strong social commitment, a time that was not exempt from controversy surrounding his figure.
Born on December 4, 1928 in La Plata, capital of the province of Buenos Aires, Hebe María Pastor had to work from a very young age to get ahead, like her first and only boyfriend, Humberto “Toto” Bonafini, with whom He married on November 9, 1949.
As a result of this bond, their first sons were born: Jorge Omar (1950) and Raúl Alfredo (1953), who years later were joined by María Alejandra (1965). Unlike their parents, Jorge and Raúl were able to study at the university and participated in the student movement, placing themselves in the crosshairs of the civil-military authorities with the arrival of the dictatorship.
Years of activism and fight against impunity
On February 8, 1977, plainclothes police raided Jorge’s home and took him away. On December 6, the same thing happened with Raúl, as with Jorge’s wife, María Elena, on May 25 of the following year. The three disappeared.
A normal and ordinary mother until then, Hebe then began to travel the 50 kilometers that separate La Plata from the Argentine capital every day in search of answers.
She wasn’t the only one in that situation. Overwhelmed by despair, hundreds of mothers and grandmothers flocked to Buenos Aires daily to try to find their children and grandchildren, a reason that led 14 of them to carry out, on Saturday, April 30, 1977, the first march in front of the Casa Rosada in repudiation of the Government.
This custom led to the creation of the Association of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an entity chaired by Hebe since its birth and which during those years gained enormous international relevance, despite suffering all kinds of persecution by the dictatorship.
With the advent of democracy, the association was divided into two: on the one hand, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Fundadora Line, which has Taty Almeida as its main reference, and on the other, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association, more recognized outside of Argentina, led by Hebe de Bonafini.
A very controversial revolutionary
Hebe also publicly stood out for his more than controversial opinions, the product of a strong personality and the inability to measure his words. The most scandalous outburst of hers was in 2001, after the attacks of September 11 in the United States, stating that she felt “joy” for what happened and that it did not hurt “at all.” That “anti-imperialist” attitude translated into strong support for characters like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez.
In the case of Argentine politics, Hebe de Bonafini harshly attacked the “neoliberal” presidents: in 1991 he described Carlos Menem (1989-1999) as “garbage”, an outburst that earned him a case for “contempt”, while Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) called him on several occasions “foolish, cynical and a liar”.
During Macri’s presidency, the activist was in the crosshairs of Justice for corruption, even bordering on arrest for refusing to appear before the judge. Some criticism that also reached the current president, Alberto Fernández, whom he asked on August 26 to “speak as little as possible.”
Despite all these controversies, the legacy of Hebe de Bonafini at the head of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo is immeasurable: the association today has its own university institute, a radio station and the administration of a cultural center where the clandestine center of detention of the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA).
Awarded dozens of awards around the world, Hebe de Bonafini was always very clear about how she wanted to be remembered after her death: as a mother who fought “not only for her children, but for all.”