Nora Cortiñas (1930-2024)

Image from the agency Noticias Argentinas (NA), published by Página 12 on 31/5/2024.


Greatness in times of infamy


On May 30, 2024, Nora Morales de Cortiñas, one of the main figures of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. She was 94 years old, the same age at which the other great member of the movement, Hebe de Bonafini, died in 2022. Both, although in different ways, continued to participate very actively in public life and their struggle until the last moments of their lives.

Just two months ago, Nora Cortiñas participated, for moments in a wheelchair, in the gigantic mobilization that took Buenos Aires on the anniversary of the 1976 military coup. This “march” was so immense, the largest in the historical series on that date, precisely because a A large part of the population saw the need to challenge, on the streets, the denialist attempts of the recently installed government in Argentina.

Nora Cortiñas leaves in the country's most infamous moment in 41 years of democracy. The day before yesterday it was made known that the government, which cut off food deliveries to popular food centers, hid and withheld five thousand tons of food purchased by the previous administration for these centers, and will only distribute it now, under the pressure resulting from a journalistic complaint. Part of this stock is past its expiration date, kept secret out of sheer cruelty.

The financial corporations that, since December of last year, have monopolized power in Argentina, have found, as a governing team, a group that acts out alleged madness to practice, with full conscience, mockery against everything that is public good and social ties. With daily ostentation, uncritically replicated by much of the media, they obscenely humiliate the egalitarian values ​​and aspirations that were hegemonic, not in consciousness and discourse, but in the collective practices with which Argentines, until now, have placed limits on savage capitalism. more disruptive.

Norita Cortiñas, in her trajectory of participation in these practices, always outside the state structure, is a counter-example to understand how we reached this point, and a key to overcoming it and leaving the current opprobrium behind. We discuss this in this text.


Although the arrival in government of Javier Milei and his troupe can be explained as part of the advance of the extreme right in the world, we are not exempt (and I use this first person plural because I have dual nationality, being Argentine by origin) from examining the local achievement , both with regard to the traumatic experiences that drove his rise, and the specificity of the types of denialism and post-truth on which his preaching focuses.

The difference in votes that guaranteed Javier Milei's electoral victory in the second round, after coming in second place in the first round, seems to have come, to some extent, from spaces that stopped voting for Peronism. Among them, youth sectors without a right-wing ideological imprint stand out, young people from popular sectors and from Peronist or close family origins (SEMÁN; WELSCHINGER, 2023). The anti-state discourse “took” them, simply because they never knew the social rights that are part of the contradictory preaching of progressive governments that did little or nothing to reduce the precariousness of work.

The aforementioned Semán and Welschinger (2023, p. 171-178), in interviews with these and these post-adolescents, show a confused perception that there would be “too many rights” for others, while they do not have any other protection than their very precarious involvement in “micro-enterprises” that oscillate between work for applications and services with very little infrastructure, such as getting tattoos or cutting hair. Everything that constitutes social protection action by the State, the almost poor influenced by “libertarianism” see as extracted from “my money”.

Not only the social aid from Bolsa Família type projects, also the strong subsidies for transport, gas and electricity and, at one extreme, education and public health, although their families are users of these benefits. Even the initiative by the government of the Province of Buenos Aires in 2022, to regularize work using an application so that the worker has some type of registration, was met with resistance from these young people for fear of “more taxes”.

The pandemic and its management by the government of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner contributed to deepening this anti-state and anti-rights ideological turn. The isolation measures, initially well received by the population, were not accompanied by a fiscal policy that would guarantee funds to permanently help the most precarious and unregistered workers, which dragged many of them into poverty, especially in 2021, when the so-called “Emergency Family Ticket” is no longer paid (POY; ALFAGEME, 2022).

The subsequent economic recovery was hampered by the fact that the government and parliament accepted the debt with the International Monetary Fund illegally contracted by Mauricio Macri during the previous presidency, and allocated huge resources to its payment. This set of factors meant that the return of Peronism between 2019 and 2023 not only did not meet the expectations of returning to better times that some of these young people had barely known, but also worsened living conditions and hopelessness. It was not difficult for the right and the extreme right to capitalize on this dissatisfaction:

The fact that representatives of government elites argue, in their own defense, that economic and social hardships are the result of “right-wing action” or that “it is necessary to avoid right-wing victory” generates a reactive identification: “if what we are suffering It’s the opposite of the right, why not be right?” (SEMÁN; WELSCHINGER, 2023, p. 196).[I]


The most worrying thing about what is happening in Argentina is perhaps precisely this: that the failure of a government that decided not to confront in any way the legacy of the right and the boycott of big capital, and that gave in to each and every pressure from the business community, has dragged With me, at least in the view of a part of the population, historical flags of progressivism or even the left that are identified with this tremendous disappointment and the deterioration of living conditions. It is serious that these people think that all these flags were “the official”, the “villain State”, that they have no life of their own. And that is where, at this juncture, Norita's figure gains necessary emphasis.

Nora Cortiñas led a movement, within the movements of family members of victims of state terrorism and of their own Mothers of Plaza de Mayo which has always remained independent of all governments. He fought, like everyone else, for the necessary institutionalization of policies of memory, truth and justice. But this aspect refused to nationalize the movement itself. This allowed Nora Cortiñas and other leaders like Taty Almeida to be involved in the struggles of workers, native peoples, the homeless, neighborhood movements, even under Kirchnerist governments, even when these struggles faced economic and social policies. of these governments.

As she herself stated, “some are very official, we are independent” (MPMLF, 2014, p. 166). And it is thanks to this constancy that everyone in Argentina, who since the years of the dictatorship took to the streets and organized ourselves for memory, truth and justice, can help explain, and remind the new generations, that our struggle is prior and superior to every government.

The ultra-right that currently holds power in Argentina is trying to take advantage of the “anti-state” wave to overturn not only any economic regulation and social protection, but also the existence of unions, investments in science, culture, education and health, and that people accept and applaud, in the midst of the despair of 200% annual inflation, the dismantling of this heritage. Of course, they also want to take advantage of this to end the popularity of human rights movements, the cause of the disappeared, and the social consensus of the last 40 years on the legitimacy of the struggle of mothers and families.

Breaking this consensus is more difficult for them than dynamiting others, which is why they are much more cautious and we still don't see the government's bizarre characters insulting relatives of disappeared people in the same way they offend trade unionists, musicians, actresses or scientists on a daily basis. They know that this can have an unpredictable force response, and they already had the immense march on the anniversary of the coup, March 24, as a demonstration, when they had to reduce to the minimum expression the official denialist gesture they had prepared. Even under the current turn to the right in Argentina, an official demand for dictatorship, as Jair Bolsonaro's government did, would be unthinkable, and the denialist voice of Javier Milei's government, for now, is limited to the “two devils theory” .

However, little by little, they gain courage for small gestures of inoculation of poison and ignominy. The vice-president of the Republic, Victoria Villarruel, close to groups that have been trying for years to free imprisoned genocidaires, allowed herself to mock the memory of the late Hebe de Bonafini. On April 24th, during the colossal mobilization in defense of universities, probably resentful of the force of the biggest popular action against her government so far, she sent out a tweet with “Hebe, look what you lost”.[ii]

The presidential spokesperson was also ironic when he announced (by tweet, he didn't have the courage to do so during his daily press conferences) that the official television channel had suspended the weekly news program Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. And unofficially, the army of trolls that operates from Casa Rosada, protected by the cowardly anonymity and toxicity of social networks, does not spare attacks against family members and victims of state terrorism.

This attempt to attack one of the pillars of the social consensus of the post-dictatorship transition also gained momentum during the pandemic, taking on one of its most perverse forms: equating the ban on wakes or burials with more than a certain number of people, due to to preventive social distancing measures, to the hiding of the bodies of those disappeared by the dictatorship.

If there was a protest movement against the ban on wakes, as there was against distancing measures, it was because the right-wing opposition took advantage, also in this case, of the incoherence of the Fernández-Fernández de Kirchner government's policies in the face of the pandemic, its oscillations between not allowing the most needy people to work and giving in to business pressure, with a catastrophic result, both in terms of the proportion of victims of the pandemic and the economic consequences.[iii]

It is paradoxical that, while in Brazil, the action of a virus-denying and militant government ended up generating a movement of victims' families, the Brazilian Association of Victims and Families of Victims of COVID-19 (AVICPO-Brazil), which adopts discursive aspects of previous struggles against state terrorism (FANJUL, 2022), in Argentina, the zigzagging policy of a progressive government contributed to giving space to denial of the dictatorship's crimes. The call protesters “March of the Stones” in memory of those killed by COVID-19, they vandalized, in the Plaza de Mayo, the images of the Madres' scarves, with graffiti about the number of deaths in the pandemic, as a challenge to the number of 30.000 missing people that human rights organizations consider:

Source: page 12, 11 / 7 / 201

Even with these attempts, now carried out by the national government, the consensus around the victims of state terrorism and the repudiation of the military dictatorship is very far from being lost, as demonstrated not only by the massive march on the day of the coup (last time that Nora Cortiñas was on the streets), as well as the scarce appeal and response that reach the words of ultra-right supporters when they try to recall memories of the dictatorship.

The mere fact that this consensus is called into question is serious. It is a struggle that is open, and whose resolution is completely linked to the entire resistance against the devastating looting that the ultra-right government of “freedom advances”, and that everything indicates that the Argentines are resisting bravely.

We mentioned, in the second paragraph, the strength that mobilization practices guided by an egalitarian vision show in Argentina. In the face of the Javier Milei government, and practically since the first day of management, with the multiplication of pots and pans and the resurgence of neighborhood assemblies when he published the mega provisional measure that still cannot be approved by the Legislature, it became clear that forms of collective participation continue standing, despite the ideological confusion. On the other hand, “mileism”, far from Bolsonarism, is unable to constitute a street movement, a crucial space for dispute in Argentina. His attempts to compete on the streets have been, to this day, a fiasco that even the friendly media recognizes.[iv]

The two general strikes that have already taken place against the government of Javier Milei (24/1 and 9/5), the second of which was highly attended, the two major national mobilizations that we have already mentioned (24/3 and 24/4), the uprising in the Province of Misiones last week, and the many actions that take place on the streets of the cities almost every day, in all of which there are people who voted for the current president, show that nothing is lost. In addition to the dejection of those who only see advances and setbacks within the scope of the state structure, the people of Nora Cortiñas are very far from having been defeated.

We will know how to honor your memory. Nora, until victory always!

* Adrian Pablo Fanjul is a professor at the Department of Modern Literature at USP.


ARNOUX, Elvira. Semiotic intervention in public space: la Marcha de las Piedras (Buenos Aires, 2021) and its inscription in pandemic discourses. RETOR. v. 13, no. 2 (2023), p. 175-198.

FANJUL, Adrián Pablo. Pandemic and discursive memory of state violence. Notes on the demand for truth and accountability. GEL Magazine, v. 19, no. 2, 2022, p. 32-56.

MPMLF (MADRES DE PLAZA DE MAYO LÍNEA FUNDADORA). Las viejas. Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora tells a story. Buenos Aires: Marea, 2014.

POY, Santiago; ALFAGEME, Camila. “Poor workers during pandemics (2019-2021)”. In: SALVIA, Agustín; Santiago POY; Jessica Lorena PLA. Argentine society in the post-pandemic. X-ray of the impact of covid-19 on the social structure and the urban labor market. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2022, p. 125-139.

SEMÁN, Pablo; Nicolás WELSCHINGER. Youth mejoristas and mass milleism. In; SEMÁN, Pablo (coord.) It is among us. Where do you sell and where can you reach the extreme right that we didn't see coming? Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2023, p. 163-202.


[I] Our translation from Spanish.

[ii] In Spanish, the tweet was “Hebe, lo que te perdiste”, accompanying an image of the director of Mothers Taty Almeida speaking on stage to the crowd.

[iii] During the pandemic, Argentina had a rate of 2.844 deaths per million inhabitants. Very close to Brazil, which with a denialist government reached 3.303 deaths per million. Data from the international reference page Worldometer,–4t7YGxypMwgs#main_table.

[iv] The most recent were the presentation of his book (by the way, denounced for plagiarism) in a box stadium in Buenos Aires that only holds 12.000 people, and the event in the main square of the city of Córdoba (province in which the highest proportion of votes had), for the patriotic celebration on 25/5, which did not bring together 10.000 attendees.

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