Hundreds of supporters prevented Argentine police on Thursday from executing an arrest warrant against the 87-year-old president of the human rights groups Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in a highly politicized corruption case. Hebe de Bonafini had refused to submit to questioning about the alleged embezzlement of public funds meant for a low-income housing project, “Shared Dreams”, registered in her group’s name.
The crowd that kept police at bay outside the offices of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo included backers of former leftist President Cristina Fernandez, with whom De Bonafini is closely associated. A judge issued the warrant for her arrest Thursday after the activist missed two citations for questioning. A magistrate has been investigating since 2011 the diversion of US$14 million in funds from the housing project.
Investigators say some of the funds were diverted to companies unrelated to the housing project. But De Bonafini says the investigation is politically motivated and the group’s two legal representatives are to blame.
“If they want to take me to jail, let them come. You cannot jail freedom of thought. We have nothing to hide,” Bonafini said, addressing the growing crowds of supporters who massed to Plaza de Mayo in a spontaneous display of solidarity with the human rights leader.
Later in the day, police sources announced that Bonafini would not be detained that day, but added that her arrest would nonetheless take place “at an opportune moment.” However she is banned from leaving Argentina.
De Bonafini is the mother of two children who were disappeared during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship. Her group gained fame standing up to military dictators in the late 1970s, demanding to know their children’s fate. In recent years, the group became close to Fernandez’s populist government. She and various members of Fernandez’s 2007-2015 government accuse current President Mauricio Macri of being behind the decision by investigating magistrate Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi to order her arrest.
The magistrate has also cited for questioning the Mothers’ two legal representatives, Sergio and Pablo Schoklender, three former governors, a provincial boss and Julio de Vido, a former planning minister. De Vido was one of the most powerful members of the Cabinet of Fernandez.
Bonafini helped coordinate the Shared Dreams organization as part of her role as president of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who helped sponsor the program.
During his investigation, Martínez de Giorgi has said that he found many “irregularities” in the way the housing projects undertaken by the program were financed, claiming that 206 million Pesos of the total 748 million Pesos transferred by the previous Cristina Fernandez government to the foundation were missing.
Bonafini has always denied any wrongdoing in the case despite her daughter benefited from a house. However she has accused brothers and accountants Sergio and Pablo Schoklender of being responsible for the misuse of housing funds. The brothers — notorious for carrying out the double homicides of their parents in 1981 — are the main suspects in the case. Sergio Shocklender was the financial manager for the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Foundation but was kicked off amid accusations that he had “betrayed” Bonafini and the other Mothers.