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ARGENTINA | 22-02-2022 16:31

A decade on, relatives of Once train tragedy victims reiterate call for justice

Relatives of the deceased and survivors of the 2012 Once train crash this week reiterated their calls for justice, demanding that those convicted of crimes be made to serve their full jail terms. 

Relatives of the deceased and survivors of the 2012 Once train crash this week reiterated their calls for justice, demanding greater assistance for those affected by the tragedy and that those convicted of crimes be made to serve their jail terms. 

Gathering under a call of "corruption kills, but so does pain and oblivion," survivors and relatives groups called Tuesday for the passage of a new bill guaranteeing economic reparations for victims and their families.

Fifty-one people, among them a pregnant woman, were killed and nearly 800 injured when a passenger train plummeted into the Once railway terminal during peak hour in Buenos Aires’ Balvanera neighbourhood on February 22, 2012. Around 1,000 passengers were on board when the crowded eight-carriage train, whose brakes were not activated, hit the buffers at the end of the Sarmiento line.

The railway accident was the third most serious of its kind in Argentine history measured through the number of victims.

"Ten years ago this place was filled with cries for help, sirens, desperate cries,” went a document read out by parents of victims on Tuesday at the site where the accident took place. 

Paolo Menghini and María Luján Rey, the parents of  Lucas Menghini Rey, declared that “the State itself played a central role in the reasons for the disaster,” which they denounced as “a foreseeable tragedy.”

After warning about the "ten years of oblivion," the families of the victims and survivors said in the document that they have felt "abandoned from day one by the state," remarking that "our human rights as victims were violated in every possible way".

"The state, which had in its ranks thieving officials, convicted criminals who generated the disaster, denied us and pushed us aside: for them we were second-, third- or fourth-class victims," they charged.

The survivors’ groups demanded greater efforts be made to progress with a law guaranteeing economic reparation for the relatives of the deceased and the survivors of the rail tragedy,” arguing that the government “owe us a legal framework that protects us.”

“Steps have been taken, but they are not enough. We are tired of begging for the comprehensive help that the State owes us," they stated.

"Corruption kills, but so do pain and oblivion. We ask the National Congress to pass the reparation law that we deserve. It is time and we have already suffered too much. We don't deserve to keep waiting," the statement concluded.

On Tuesday, a group of opposition lawmakers proposed a new bill to pay economic compensation to the victims of the tragedy and their relatives.

"On the tenth anniversary of one of the worst railway tragedies in our history, more than 70 national deputies from different political blocs present a bill to pay tribute to the victims of the Once tragedy and to recognise and support the tireless struggle of their families in search of justice," said the group, which includes representatives from Juntos por el Cambio, Avanza Libertad, Encuentro Federal and Identidad Bonaerense.

 

Judicial processes

Addressing the search for justice, which has been far from satisfactory in the eyes of relatives and victims, the group criticised “the corrupt officials who controlled transport in 2012 created the conditions for the Once massacre,” naming ex-transport secretary Ricardo Jaime, former transport minister Juan Pablo Schiavi, ex-federal planning minister Julio De Vido, businessman (Sergio Cirigliano and all their partners.”

"Almost all of those convicted today are at home," lamented the relatives, while demanding that legislation be amended to prevent those convicted of corruption offences from reducing their sentences on the basis of good behaviour or academic and professional studies. 

To date, none of the 19 people convicted of offences related to the Once tragedy – the biggest rail accident in Argentina’s history – are currently behind bars. 

From those in the doc in the first trial probing the crash, most of the 18 individuals who were found guilty have either already served their sentences or been granted parole, subject to conditions. 

For example, most of the directors of Trenes de Buenos Aires (TBA), which operated the Sarmiento trainline, have been released from the Ezeiza and Marcos Paz prisons. The former head of the company, Claudio Cirigliano, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, is still serving out his sentence but under home arrest, a benefit he received for health reasons.

De Vido, who was sentenced to five months and eight months behind bars in a second trial and spent more than two years behind bars for other crimes, is awaiting final confirmation of his sentence by the Supreme Court, after it was endorsed by the Federal Cassation Court.

The influential former federal planning minister is likely to serve the rest of his sentence under home arrest if it is confirmed. Jaime, who was jailed for other offences and released from prison in 2020, will probably enjoy the same benefit.

The driver of the train that crashed, Marcos Córdoba, who was sentenced to three years and three months in prison, regained his freedom in 2020 and the sentence against him has already expired. The case was prosecuted in the first instance by the late federal judge Claudio Bonadio and prosecutor Federico Delgado.

The convicted officials and businessmen have always argued that the train that crashed into the arrival end of the platforms at Once station was functioning correctly and that the accident was due to human error, attributable only to Córdoba.

According to the courts, the poor state of repair of the trains, as a result of the diversion of subsidies paid by the state for the proper operation of the trains, contributed to the tragedy and exacerbated  its consequences.

 

– TIMES/NA

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