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2009-04-03

Thousands pay last respects to Raúl Alfonsín

Winston F. Burges

Tens of thousands of Argentinians gathered at the National Congress for the funeral of former President Raúl Alfonsín, who died aged 82 and was a key figure in the country's return to democracy from military dictatorship.

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The coffin of former Argentinian President Raúl Alfonsín is carried by members of the San Martín Grenadiers to the Buenos Aires cemetery on 2 April, 2009. Alfonsín led Argentina's return to democracy in the eighties after a brutal seven-year military dictatorship.

The coffin of former Argentinian President Raúl Alfonsín is carried by members of the San Martín Grenadiers to the Buenos Aires cemetery on 2 April, 2009. Alfonsín led Argentina's return to democracy in the eighties after a brutal seven-year military dictatorship.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Approximately 70,000 people lined up to mourn former Argentinian President Raúl Alfonsín in the two days following his death from lung cancer.  The former president is best remembered for restoring democracy to Argentina.

Before the state funeral, a ceremony was held at the National Congress, reported Clarín, and the doors remained open for 48 hours to allow visitors to pay their respects to Alfonsín, who died at age 82 on 31 March. 

According to La Nación and Folha Online, a number of national and international political figures attended the wake including Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, former Argentinian presidents Carlos Menem, Fernando De La Rúa, Eduardo Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner; Brazilians José Sarney and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Uruguay’s ex-president Julio María Sanguinetti.

Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could not attend because she was in London at the G20 summit. The official funeral procession was led by Vice President Julio Cobos, a member of Alfonsín's centrist Radical Party (UCR).

Cobos concluded the ceremony on 2 April stressing Alfonsín's democratic values: “His legacy of democracy, freedom, equality and justice will continue to accompany future generations,” reported La Nación.

Former Brazilian President José Sarney emphasised Alfonsín's regional vision: “Thanks to his decision to change the relationship with Brazil, the history of our continent changed forever … we are burying not only Argentina's heritage, but our country's also. Alfonsín fought relentlessly to abolish dictatorships throughout South America,” quoted La Voz.

Alfonsín came to power in 1983, winning elections against the previously undefeated Peronists. AFP reported that his election marked the end of a military dictatorship (1976-1983) during which human rights organisations believe more than 30,000 people disappeared.

By the end of his term of office, which ended in 1989, he had brought members of the military dictatorship to justice and successfully quashed three coup attempts, reinforcing the democratic Republic, reported Clarín. Alfonsín's passion for democracy is summed up in his own words: “My political activity seeks to reinforce democratic institutions and the law”.

President Fernández de Kirchner speaking from London told Clarín that Alfonsín's image as a statesman was “indelibly linked to recovery of democracy following Argentina's most tragic dictatorship”.

Cries of “Alfonsín! Alfonsín!” and “Raúl, the people are with you” were heard at Alfonsín's final farewell, as his coffin, draped in the Argentinian flag, was laid to rest in UCR party's mausoleum in Recoleta cemetery, where Eva Perón is also buried.

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