Thousands of Argentines on Thursday paid tribute to Hebe de Bonafini, who helped found human rights group the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, as her ashes were scattered in Buenos Aires in the public square where she led demonstrations for decades.
Bonafini, who died Sunday at age 93, helped found the women-led movement in 1977 in defiance of the country’s former military dictatorship, demanding the truth about their missing children.
Some 30,000 people were abducted and presumed killed by the regime or right-wing death squads in the 1970s and 1980s for being suspected leftists.
Alongside the disappearances were the widespread kidnappings of babies born to suspected dissidents held under the right-wing dictatorship.
Bonafini last protested in the plaza on November 10 despite frail health, stating that her doctors had authorized the activity because “they know it’s good for my health — that I need the plaza in order to take care of myself.”
For 45 years, through multiple governments, the women marched around the Plaza de Mayo in their trademark white headscarves, in an often futile search for justice.
On Thursday, five of her colleagues who are among the last in the aging army, scattered her ashes in the greenery at the foot of an obelisk in the plaza, while the crowd applauded and sang: “Mothers of the plaza, the people embrace you.”
Elected officials and a substantial number of women were in the crowd, including many who lived in fear during the brutal 1976-1983 military regime.
“For me, Hebe is a heroine, because looking for the missing is something that few people dared to do,” Virginia Garcia, 42, told AFP.
The Plaza de Mayo was adorned with photos of Bonafini and messages such as “We love you Hebe, mother of the people” and “Resisting is fighting, until forever Hebe.”
Bonafini, who attended rallies in recent years in her wheelchair, was born in 1928 in Ensenada, a town 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Buenos Aires.
She was a housewife when the military seized power in 1976, ousting Isabel Peron, the wife of late president Juan Peron.
In 1977, her sons and daughter-in-law were kidnapped and disappeared.
A few months later, she and a small group of women began protesting in front of the Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace.
The mothers risked the same fate as their political activist children — torture, death or simply disappearing without a trace. Instead, the generals tried to laugh them off, mocking them as “madwomen.”