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The Voices of the Victims

3 minute read
James Graff | Madrid

Like most of the other Madrid bombing victims, Angel Zuranaga stayed clear of last Friday’s public ceremonies. Zuranaga, 63, had boarded a train that morning a year ago in Guadalajara, bound for the magazine subscription service he owned in the capital. At El Pozo station the bombs went off, tearing off part of his left ear and burning his chest, head and back. He feels guilty he’s still alive. “When I’m nervous, I’m haunted by the sight of a disembodied hand, still twitching on the ground,” he says. Such grim visions hardly require remembrance ceremonies, he thinks, because “there’s no possibility that any of us will ever forget.”

Largely in response to the victims’ request for a solemn, austere commemoration, Madrid remembered 3/11 in silence. There was only the pealing of church bells at 7:39 a.m., when the bombs exploded at Madrid’s Atocha train station. Thousands stood there in hushed contemplation of the massacre. At noon, King Juan Carlos and his family led international dignitaries in five minutes of silence before inaugurating “The Forest of the Absent” in Madrid’s Retiro park: 192 cypress and olive trees to commemorate the 191 who died in the attacks and one policeman killed during the hunt for suspects.

Silence is appropriate, partly because words have proved so divisive in Spain since 3/11. Pilar Manjón, president of the Association of 3/11 Victims who lost her son in the bombing, implored parliament in December “not to use the pain of the victims for party ends.” The reproach was apt, since the parliamentary investigating commission had spent months discussing the dramatic political aftermath of the bombings rather than the police and intelligence failures that allowed them to happen. On March 14, the Popular Party lost a general election it was favored to win. It now blames the Socialist victors for exploiting the atrocities, widely seen by Spaniards as the terrorists’ retribution for the former government’s support of the Iraq war. The Socialists counter that the Popular Party undermined its own credibility by insisting the attacks were the work of the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA. “We have become a very divided country, polarized by these bombings,” says Inocencio Arias, a former Spanish ambassador to the U.N.

It remained so last week. In time for the anniversary, the commission issued 35 pages of recommendations for bolstering Spain’s counterterrorism efforts, from a tougher stance on illegal immigration to improved police coordination. Popular Party deputies decried it as legally worthless and refused to endorse it. “All they do is throw political dirt at one another,” Zuranaga says.

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