“We are here because the businessmen cared more about profits than human lives, because our children didn’t get the medical help they required, because the police didn’t protect them, and because of the chain of government corruption that allowed all this to happen.”
Rita Anca Lucas clutches the photo of her son Esteban, who was 18 when he died in a fire at the Republica Cromañon nightclub. He was one of 194 mainly young people who lost their lives on 30th December 2004. Since that night, survivors and relatives of the victims have marched on the 30th of every month, from the scene of the tragedy in Plaza Once to the presidential palace on Plaza de Mayo. “We ask for justice,” says Lucas.
The story of Cromañon is well known in Argentina. Popular rock band Callejeros had not finished their first song when a stray flare set alight the insulation material in the roof. Within minutes, fire was raining down on the revellers below and the venue was filled with a thick cloud of toxic smoke. These poisonous gases were responsible for the majority of deaths, and thousands more cases of lung damage.
The number of casualties speaks for itself, but it wasn’t until later that the horrific details of the night exposed a darker side to the tragedy. Though Cromañon’s legal capacity was 1,031, up to five times as many people were inside. Despite this, exit doors had been locked to prevent more people entering the club without paying. The club’s ventilation system was not working, and the lights were shut off when the fire started. Emergency services arrived slowly, with insufficient or faulty equipment, and did not administer standard triage.
It soon became clear that massive failings at almost every juncture made the loss of human life much worse than it should have been. As investigations began, the web of misconduct grew, reaching right up to city mayor Aníbal Ibarra. Shocked and angry, survivors and relatives of the victims came together and took to the streets to demand answers. Forty-four months on, they continue to fight in the name of their loved ones.