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Argentina: 'Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' co-founder dies

November 20, 2022

Hebe de Bonafini helped found an iconic human rights group that dared to defy Argentina's dictatorship during the early 1980s. She spent decades looking for answers as to the fate of the 30,000 people who went missing.

Hebe De Bonafini holds up a victory sign
Hebe De Bonafini spent decades demanding justice for the victims of Argentina's military dictatorshipImage: Manuel Cortina/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Hebe de Bonafini, the co-founder of the iconic Argentinian protest movement Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, died Sunday at the age of 93, her daughter said in a statement. 

Bonafini was the mother of two sons who disappeared during Argentina's brutal military regime that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983. 

She and a group of mothers began public protests demanding to know the whereabouts of their children. For over 40 years, and through different governments, the women continued to meet and march around the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.

On Sunday, Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez said Bonafini was a "tireless fighter for human rights," as he ordered three days of national mourning.

Bonafini's daughter, Alejandra, thanked supporters who had sent well wishes while her mother was hospitalized in the city of La Plata south of Buenos Aires. Authorities said Bonafini suffered from several chronic illnesses.

Who were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo?

Bonafini began demonstrating in 1977 along with 13 other women whose children were among the 30,000 opposition activists, dissidents, academics, students, and others who were forcibly disappeared.

Hebe de Bonafini speaks with her fellow protesters in Buenos Aires
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo held regular rallies at the square in Buenos AiresImage: Esteban Osorio/Pacific Press/picture alliance

The group initially demanded that their children be returned alive. In subsequent years, they later demanded punishment of the military figures responsible.

The women became identifiable by white scarves they would wear during weekly marches in the capital.

The women faced death threats and some were kidnapped, yet they returned to the square, sometimes with wigs so as to not be so readily identified by authorities.

Two years after the group was founded, Bonafini became president of and led the more radical of two factions within the movement into her old age.

"The government and the Argentine people recognize her as an international symbol of the search for memory, truth and justice for the 30,000 missing," President Fernandez added in his statement.

On Twitter, Argentine Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called Bonafini "the pride of Argentina." 

ar/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)