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Founder of Argentina’s anti-dictatorship ‘mothers’ dies aged 93

Photo: JUAN MABROMATA / AFP

| By AFP |

Hebe de Bonafini, who led a group of Argentine women known as the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in defying the military dictatorship and demanding the truth about their missing children, died Sunday at 93, the country’s vice-president said.

Bonafini was one of the founders of the group in 1977, uniting a group of mothers who protested in front of the presidency, desperate to know the whereabouts of tens of thousands who were abducted during the brutal 1976-1983 military regime.

For 45 years, through different governments, the women continued to meet, marching around the Plaza de Mayo in their trademark white headscarves, in an often futile search for justice.

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Vice President Cristina Kirchner announced Bonafini’s death on Twitter, praising her as a “world symbol of the fight for human rights, pride of Argentina.”

Her daughter, Alejandra Bonafini, confirmed her death at a Buenos Aires hospital where she had been admitted for several days.

“These are very difficult moments of deep sadness, and we understand the love people have for Hebe. But, right now, we need to cry in private,” wrote Alejandra. 

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez said Bonafini was a “tireless fighter for human rights,” and declared three days of national mourning.

“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,” he added in a statement.

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“As founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, she shone a light in the middle of the dark night of military dictatorship, and lay a path to the recovery of democracy.”

The governments of Cuba and Venezuela also paid tribute to Bonafini.

Kidnapping of leftists, babies

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.

That was compounded by the drama of widespread kidnapping of babies born to suspected dissidents being held during the right-wing dictatorship. 

Many babies — offspring of now-dead dissidents — were born in captivity without the knowledge of their blood relatives and were given to military families to adopt. 

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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.

However, in 1977, her sons and daughter-in-law were kidnapped and disappeared.

“I forgot who I was the day they disappeared. I never thought of myself again,” Bonafini said recently at the launch of a photo exhibition on her life.

A few months later, she and a small group of women began protesting in front of the Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace. 

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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.”

The women circled the Plaza de Mayo every Thursday until the Covid pandemic broke out, becoming famous worldwide for their struggle.

In later years, Bonafini became a more controversial figure, becoming a radical supporter of leftist Kirchnerism and staunch backer of former president Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina, the current vice president.

In 2017, she was prosecuted for alleged misappropriation of funds meant for building homes for the poor, which she said was a political act by then-President Mauricio Macri, who she considered an “enemy.” The case had not been resolved at the time of her death.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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