He was always a controversial figure and was close to Nicolás Maduro and the late Hugo Chávez Frías.
Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, died this Sunday in Argentina, the country’s media reported.
Combative to the extreme and verbose by conviction, de Bonafini is a benchmark for human rights, she became one of the most energetic and aggressive voices of Kirchnerism.
Throughout the last 45 years, the leader of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo spared no effort to select enemies. From the presidents Raúl Alfonsín and Carlos Menem to John Paul II and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio -despite the fact that in 2016 she built bridges for Pope Francis to receive her in the Vatican-, she always aimed for the highest when it came to engaging in controversy and raise the accusing finger, recalled La Nación.
Journalists and judges were also his target, as was reflected in the parody of popular courts against representative figures of the media and the Justice that he promoted during the Kirchner period.
That eagerness for Justice, however, did not reach the extreme of agreeing to account for the millionaire diversion of funds in the cause of the Shared Dreams program, which involved the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in the construction of homes.
The management of $756 million in that venture that he carried out together with Sergio Shocklender, from whom he later tried to break away, remained in the nebula.
His vocation for confrontation reached the Mothers themselves, who were divided as a result of political and ideological differences. Thus, a sector of the organization, led by Taty Almeida, formed the Founding Line, dissatisfied with the manner and style with which Bonafini led the reins.
Over the years, both sides resolutely supported the human rights policy of the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner.
Born on December 4, 1928 in Ensenada, Hebe Pastor de Bonafini lived a political life full of contradictions.
Driven by the pain and anguish caused by the disappearances of her sons Jorge Omar and Raúl Alfredo –both kidnapped by the military dictatorship in February and December 1977, in La Plata and Berazategui, respectively-, Bonafini joined the Mothers who walked around the May Pyramid, in front of the Casa Rosada, to demand “the appearance alive” of their children.
Her preaching made her an international symbol, especially in European countries, although borders within Argentina accentuated her aggressive tones and hostile attitudes, which often clouded her claims. Insults with irreproducible phrases were commonplace in her vocabulary.
She had only attended elementary school and was married to Humberto Alfredo Bonafini, who died in 1982.
With the return of democracy, the intransigence of the sector headed by Bonafini to collaborate with Conadep, during the Alfonsín government, led to the rupture of the Mothers, for which reason several of them formed the Founding Line in 1986.
Bonafini also dragged differences with Estela de Carlotto, head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, although later both got closer again, under the umbrella of Kirchnerism.
In September 2001, when the world was moved by the attack on the Twin Towers, Bonafini revealed that this was a moment of joy for her. “I am not going to be a hypocrite, it did not hurt me at all. I felt that there were very brave men and women, who prepared themselves and gave their lives for us,” she declared.
She was a staunch defender of the government of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, to the point of publicly apologizing, when the Argentine government accompanied a condemnation of that country for human rights violations at the United Nations in October 2020.
And she was also one of the most fervent promoters of the media law approved during the government of Cristina Kirchner. In September 2010, in a harangue in front of the courts, she called for “taking over the Palace of Justice and throwing out the members of the Supreme Court.”
Another contradiction that called into question his ideologized vision of politics was his closeness to the head of the Army during Kirchnerism, the soldier César Milani, with whom he was photographed on the cover of the Madres magazine when questions about the accusations against the former military chief for the disappearance of a soldier in 1976, later dismissed by the Justice.
The Church was always another target of his attacks. In January 2008, Bonafini led a protest and occupied the Metropolitan Cathedral.
He denounced that the authorities of the Curia prevented them from using the bathrooms and had to “improvise one behind the altar”, which was later denied by the Church. In 2007 he affirmed that “Macri and Bergoglio are fascism, the return of the dictatorship.”
In addition to the Sueños Compartidos program, the Kirchner government gave Bonafini a radio and gave him subsidies to create the Universidad Madres de Plaza de Mayo, nationalized in 2014, when it was suffocated with a debt of $238 million.
His relationship with Schoklender, whom he had practically adopted as his son, ended in the worst way. He denounced him for threats and intimidation, before a Justice that he always fought against.
Reluctant to make the accounts of the resources entrusted to his organization transparent, Bonafini did not hesitate to detach himself from some Kirchner scandals. For example, he lashed out with three words at José López, the former Secretary of Public Works during the twelve years of Kirchnerism who wanted to hide US$9 million in a convent. “He was a traitor,” he summed up.
Nor was President Alberto Fernández spared from his criticism. In March 2021, he harshly questioned the president and the Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, about the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“They were deceiving us all the time,” he said, expressly disqualifying them with their first and last names. He also reproached the President for his expressions on immigration, when he said that Argentines came from ships, and demanded other reasons to vote for him.
“With the vaccine is not enough,” he stamped. And she lashed out at him after the recent scandal of the celebration in Olivos, in the midst of the pandemic, by maintaining in radio statements that “we are all left alone on birthdays.”
Always attentive to opposition movements, last June he described the head of the Buenos Aires government, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, as a “dictator”, one of the figures who could challenge Kirchnerism for power in 2023.
Thus, Hebe de Bonafini always played in favor of the toughest expressions of the sector led by Cristina Kirchner, who became, in the end, the only recipient of her loyalties.