Sun, Nov 06, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Buenos Aires still mourns those lost in nightclub fire

DISASTER The dead have long-since been buried, but friends and families are not satisfied that the government has done enough to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy


More than 10 months after a nightclub fire in Buenos Aires claimed 194 lives, the victims' relatives are still seeking punishment for those they hold responsible. Every month, they march through the city: to make their demands heard, and to keep people from forgetting.

Although the municipal government has imposed stricter safeguards on club owners since the blaze, illegal concerts at unsafe venues are flourishing.

A combination of negligence and recklessness caused the tragedy at the Cromagnon Republic club on Dec. 30 last year. With the place packed with people, someone set off a flare that ignited the highly flammable ceiling decoration.

Emergency exits were locked, and fire extinguishers did not work. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation. Rescue teams could do little. They found bodies crowded around the exits and even in the women's bathroom, which had served as a makeshift nursery.

"A massacre," say parents of the victims.

"There's a chain of guilt reaching from the club operator to the band to the mayor of the city," declared Diego Rozengardt, the brother of one of those who died.

Distraught relatives are trying to keep memories of their loved ones alive. They have created a travelling exhibition of victims' photographs. They have planted 194 trees.

Help has come from others, too. A ceramics factory has donated memorial plaques to be put up around the country. Human-rights organizations, civic groups, and celebrities have lent support to victims' relatives and friends.

Meanwhile, the ingredients for similar tragedies in the future -- "profit-seeking by disco operators, corruption in the municipal government and police force" -- still exist, Rozengardt said.

So a hard core of victims' relatives marches every month on the 30th from Plaza Once, the scene of the fire, to Plaza de Mayo, the office of the mayor.

At a Mass held before a recent march, many of the participants had tears in their eyes. Nora Bonomini, who lost a son in the fire, stood on the fringes.

"I can no longer believe in God," she said.

She demands that the guilty be punished.

The ombudsman of the city of Buenos Aires, Atilio Alimena, claims that the municipal government failed to inspect nightclubs in the Argentine capital. He had warned long before the catastrophe that many clubs were flouting safety regulations. Today, just 66 of the 250 discos in operation last December remain open, and oversight has increased.

But safety precautions, such as remodelling, for example, or having a doctor and firefighter on the premises, cost money that cuts the businesses' profits.

Club doorkeepers complain about a rule requiring seats for all concert guests. Small clubs in particular have lost their concession as a result.

Nightlife goes on, though. Bands now often play in private apartments or "art clubs," the doorkeepers keeping their eyes peeled for police. Acting on invitations sent by e-mail, rock music fans still go to relatively cheap concerts by new groups. The venues have become smaller, but no less dangerous.

As the demonstrators left the scene of the fire, Bonomini could no longer hide her tears and anger. She fell into line with the other marchers to fight, as she said, her child's "murderers."

Like the other parents, she was carrying a picture in front of her. Hers showed a smiling boy.

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