‘Our society has demonstrated that if we stay at home and cry, nothing ever happens.’
This, says Diego Rozengardt, is why he became one of the main organizers of a flourishing social movement in Argentina called Generación Cromañón. Not that he really chose this role. In fact no-one became a member of Generación Cromañón by choice.
Rather, activism flared in each of their hearts in the aftermath of the fire that devoured the Republica Cromañón discotheque in Buenos Aires on 30 December 2004. The nightclub was overcrowded: over 3,000 revellers were packed into a club licensed to hold 1,034. By midnight Argentine news bulletins were broadcasting Dante-esque scenes of bodies being pulled from the premises: the bodies of sisters and brothers; lovers and friends; sons and daughters. The fire and toxic fumes injured thousands and 194 people lost their lives. Diego’s 18-year-old brother, Julian, was one of those who died.
‘We don’t call it a tragedy,’ explains Diego. ‘We call it a massacre. A tragedy is natural, inevitable. This was not natural. This was not inevitable. If we say “tragedy”, we talk like there was no guilt.’
And where there is guilt, Generación Cromañón is making sure that it is exposed. Families and survivors are demanding a wide-ranging inquiry into safety regulations as well as the events that followed the fire. Over 30 people – including officials and businesspeople – have been indicted so far. Diego says that the families are not interested in compensation – they want justice: ‘[Days after the fire] the Government tried to offer 300,000 pesos ($98,400) to each family with a fatal victim, and 180,000 pesos ($59,040) for every survivor if we agreed not to bring law suits against them. We all refused. [Instead] each family demanded that the State take full responsibility.’
So far the most significant political casualty has been the City Mayor of Buenos Aires, Anibal Ibarra – suspended from office while he undergoes impeachment for his alleged failure to enforce fire safety regulations: ‘He had advice about the way that clubs and pubs and mini-stadiums were working in this city and he did nothing. That would be negligent. But we [also] know that he has very close relations with the owners of the discotheques. For example, the first time he appeared in the media, he appeared with all the [disco] owners behind him as if they were the victims. That’s why we want more than his resignation. We want his incarceration.’
Nevertheless, Diego – an economist and part-time university lecturer – thinks the Mayor may be protected from punishment: ‘Justice in this country is not free or independent. The President supports him.’ While claims about the justice system may be difficult to substantiate, the connections between Ibarra and President Nestor Kirchner are uncontested. Prior to Cromañón, Ibarra was widely tipped as Kirchner’s likely Vice-Presidential running mate in 2007. Kirchner has not yet confirmed whether he will run for re-election. But if he does, Ibarra will not be by his side.
On the first anniversary of the fire, tens of thousands of people marched from the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to the ruins of Cromañón in the nearby neighbourhood of Once. Flanked by representatives from the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Generación Cromañón representatives repeated their demands for political accountability. What was striking about this rally was the presence of young people in the crowd – people born after the fall of the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. In an era when many of the world’s teenagers and twentysomethings are thought to be alienated from politics, these young adults are taking a leading role in rallies and marches and are instrumental in organizing the movement.
‘I think that my generation is different from that of my parents, but not in a good way. They are not political because the dictatorship here killed a lot of people – 30,000. That persecution was based on killing the critical thinkers: the critical ideas. When democracy came back to this country in 1983, we were not the same people. Politics became a dirty word.’ Diego believes that for his generation – the children of those massacres – the normal answer is not to be critical of the system. This creates significant social results: ‘I think that [these] people are very superficial and not concerned about being a citizen.’
The question is whether Generación Cromañón can overcome these attitudes and become a catalyst for change. The movement’s momentum is growing. Coverage of the related trials and the impeachment of the City Mayor make daily news. Diego hopes that they will have the stamina: ‘This is not something that you can solve in a few months. This is a very long fight, not only against this Government or this mayor. This is against the kind of society – the corruption and impunity – that we don’t want any more.’
Read more at Diego’s family’s website – http://www.rozengardt.net
Diego Rozengardt talked with Sharona Coutts