For the first time, a president of Argentina has attended ceremonies marking the anniversary of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center here.
The presence of President Fernando de la Rua – who joined the thousands of people clogging the streets near the AMIA center Tuesday to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the car bombing – was seen as a show of support for efforts to find those responsible for the attack.
“I have come here as a citizen to share in the grief caused by this tragedy,” de la Rua said after the ceremony.
Along with the fatalities, some 300 people were injured in the July 18, 1994, attack.
The president reiterated his willingness to help solve the case, but he said this would not be easy.
“I cannot say that after six years I am going to discover what hasn’t been discovered before because time has passed,” said de la Rua.
“It is true that the most crucial point in the investigation came immediately after the bombing. Now there is evidence that has disappeared, but I will place all the resources available to contribute to the investigation.”
De la Rua is under increasing pressure to obtain concrete results.
Memoria Activa, a group of victims’ relatives, criticized him on Monday for not making good on his campaign promise to solve the case.
In softer terms and without naming the president, speakers also warned Tuesday that the government should do more than just pay lip service to the case.
“The time for condolences is over. Now it is time to know the truth,” said Rogelio Cichowolsky, president of DAIA, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in Argentina. “We have the obligation to know who was responsible for this crime.”
Cichowolsky called for the immediate start of the trial of a group of former police officers and a used cars dealer who are accused of providing the terrorists with the vehicle used in the bombing.
The trial is currently scheduled to begin around Jan. 1.
The Jewish community is also criticizing the government for increasing its commercial links with Iran, which is believed to have been involved in the attack – as well as in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that left 29 people dead. Faced with a deep economic recession, Argentina is looking for new outlets for its products.
The anniversary of the attack was marked Tuesday at 9:53 a.m., the time the bomb exploded, with the sound of sirens and a minute of silence.
Amid heavy security, tear-filled participants consoled each other in front of the rebuilt AMIA building.
“It is shameful that six years have gone by, and we still know nothing about the bombing,” said Manuel Goldberg, who braved the cold weather to attend the rally.
Speakers criticized the government of the previous president, Carlos Menem, for not solving the case.
In a society prone to conspiracy theories, many believe that Menem or his close associates are somehow linked to the bombing.
This week, there were reports that a former high-ranking Iranian intelligence official had said Menem received money from the Iranian government to cover up its role in the bombing.
“The assassins and those who helped to obstruct the investigation are laughing at us,” said Hugo Ostrower, president of AMIA.