Twenty-six years after the shocking attack on the headquarters of the AMIA Jewish community centre, which left 85 dead and more than 300 injured, leaders from the Argentine Jewish community renewed their call for justice on Friday, while also asking the region to take "concrete actions" against Hezbollah.
"We know part of the truth. Justice is lacking. The path ahead is long," said Ariel Eichbaum, president of the Argentine Israel Mutual Association (AMIA), on Friday in a virtual commemorative event online, which was transmitted by networks and news channels.
This year's remembrance ceremonies took place on Friday evening, given that the anniversary of the tragedy this year falls on a Saturday, Shabbat, the day of rest in Judaism.
After reading the 85 names of the victims, a recorded message was transmitted from the former Spanish president Felipe González, who called for "maintaining remembrance and solidarity."
The bombing attack took place at 9.53am local time, on Monday, July 18, 1994. The AMIA centre, in the commercial area of the Once neighbourhood, was decimated by the impact of a van loaded with explosives.
‘Debt of democracy’
Eichbaum was received this week by President Alberto Fernández for a meeting at which relatives of those who died were also in attendance. Among them was the father of five-year-old Sebastián Barreiros, who at five years was the youngest victim, and survivor of the bombing, Ana Weinstein.
The Peronist leader also this week spoke to Jewish community leaders in the United States.
"We need to know the truth about the attack because while justice does not materialise we will not be at peace," said Fernández in an interview with the American Jewish Committee that was later released by the government.
Argentine investigators have attributed the attack to former senior Iranian government officials, including former president Ali Rafsanjani, as well as the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, a hypothesis supported by much of the local Jewish community and by Israel.
The judicial investigation, however, was a separate tragedy itself, enveloped in a tangle of complaints and malfeasance, with claims of an alleged diversion of leads, cover-up charges and annulled trials. More than two decades on, there has not been a single individual convicted for playing a role in the bloodiest terror attack in Argentina's history.
In 1992, another attack had blown up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, causing 22 dead and 200 wounded. Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members.
Eichbaum highlighted that Argentina's designation of Hezbollah as a "terrorist group" in 2019 had "begun to set the course in the region, which has already been followed by Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia." Germany has also joined. The leader called on the "sister republics of Brazil and Uruguay to also take concrete action against Hezbollah."
"Hezbollah is not a threat from the past; it is a present threat," warned the head of AMIA, arguing that the organisation "continues to operate in the Triple Border zone [Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay]."
Speaking from the rebuilt AMIA headquarters, Eichbaum accused Iran of being "a sponsor and accomplice of Hezbollah."
Iran has always refused to allow former officials to be investigated. The perpetrators are also suspected of having a powerful local connection that was not fully investigated.
Controversy was also sparked in 2012, when former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with Iran, which agreed that the accused could be investigated and face questioning while not on Argentine soil. The deal never came into effect and even went on to be investigated amid claims of a cover-up and treason. This case too was also caught up in allegations of serious irregularities, which are now being analysed by courts.
"I criticised a lot [the memorandum with Iran]," said Fernández this week. "Deep down, it was the search to try to unlock the existing problem of not sending the accused to testify and to find a solution."