Family of Amia Victims Balking at Points in Compensation Measure

As the 14th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center here approaches, Argentine lawmakers are considering a proposal to compensate the relatives of victims.

Most of the relatives are welcoming the idea of a compensation law linked to the July 18, 1994 attack, which killed 85 and wounded 300.

But at a June meeting with lawmakers, many relatives objected to several provisions in the draft proposal.

In order to be eligible for compensation under the draft proposal, relatives would have to drop any individual litigation against the state. Several such lawsuits are pending.

One suggestion is that those who receive redress through the courts have the award deducted from any compensation received under the new law.

Relatives say the system to distribute the compensation would be subject to the country’s oscillating inflation and long-term bureaucracy, thus making the amount uncertain.

The lawyer for the Familiares de las Victimas group, Paul Warszawski, said the measure needs to clearly define whether it is “compensation or a benefit.”

Another problem for the relatives: the same Justice Ministry that has not brought anyone to justice in the attack near downtown Buenos Aires would decide who qualifies for compensation.

The AMIA bombing, the worst terrorist attack in Latin American history, is currently the focus of an investigation by Interpol. The Argentine government has formally accused Iran of orchestrating the truck bombing. But after years of twists and turns in the case, no one has been fingered for the attack.

Pedro Guastavino and Sonia Escudero, senators from the ruling Peronist Party, called the meeting to discuss the compensation law. Some relatives criticized the “political timing” to talk about the measure, just as the anniversary was approaching.

Laura Ginsberg, whose husband was killed in the bombing, was especially critical of the draft.

“Half of the statements in the draft should be modified, the other half eliminated,” said Ginsberg, who heads a group of victims’ relatives seeking justice in the case.

Ginsberg said other laws created in the aftermath of the AMIA bombing did not advance the case. They include one that allowed those accused of participating in terrorist attacks to show repentance and provide information.

At the meeting, Andrea Gualde of the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Department said discussions of a compensation law resulted from a denunciation of the Argentine government by the Memoria Activa relatives’ group to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

At a March 2005 meeting in Washington with the human rights commission, Argentine officials admitted the government’s responsibility.

Nestor Kirchner, then Argentina’s president, acknowledged later in Buenos Aires that indeed the government was responsible for not preventing the attack or properly investigating it.

At the June 3 meeting to discuss the proposed legislation, relatives pointed out the lack of progress in the case even as Guastavino stressed the political will of Kirchner and his successor — his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner — to make inroads in the case.

Diana Wassner of Memoria Activa complained that while the government has talked publicly about finding justice in the case, there have been no advances. The opportunity to see the perpetrators of the attack in prison “keeps fading away,” she said at the meeting.

Wassner stressed that justice was the goal, but that financial compensation was crucial as well.

Andrea Pochak, the deputy director of the local nongovernmental organization Center of Legal and Social Studies, said the measure would provide an opportunity to compensate those who did not file suit against the state within two years of the attack, as proscribed by Argentine law.

The reparation is more than financial, “but the financial is an issue and relatives shouldn’t be ashamed,” said Pochak.

The senators were uncertain how much money the state would have for AMIA compensation. Escudero said she understood the desire to allocate the money, but noted other issues of concern in Argentina — notably in her hometown province, Salta, where half the residents are living below the poverty line.

Several of the victims’ relatives objected to the comparison, saying they were well aware of the poverty in Salta and elsewhere in the country.

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