10 years on from Atocha bombing

Dr. Trish Watson, author of Eternal Spain: corruption and crisis, reviews a La Sexta television documentary, The Eyes of Vera,  on the 11M bombings in Madrid.


It was a bit like the Kennedy killing. Nobody will ever forget what they were doing when the bombs, 10 in all, went off killing 191 people in Madrid 10 years ago and maiming and destroying the lives of many hundreds more.

La Sexta television commemorated the victims in a moving documentary made around the life of a teenage student who, as a nine year old, lost her father in the bombings.

The documentary is indescribably painful as the teenager, now a university student, recalls the feelings of a nine year old and invites us into her childhood memories of her father.

Vera de Benito is dedicated to developing her career as a journalist and feels an obligation to take all the opportunities life offers her, for the sake of those who had those opportunities taken from them, 10 years ago on the train that goes from Atocha to Guadalajar, passing through the new suburban villas and flats built during the boom of the eighties and nineties.

The train itself somehow represented the new Spain, warm, comfortable with subtle background music and, mostly, a seat for everyone; except perhaps in the morning, just the time when the bombs went off.

Then it became crowded as it passed through areas where the new middle classes strived to pay for their centrally heated two or three bedroom flats, in Santa Eugenia, in the midst of greenery and flowering shrubs, just beginnings to bud, hinting at spring.

El Pozo, the most famous suburb of all, built by the Andalucian workers, who had left the poverty of their homeland, during the dictatorship, to find work in Madrid.

They had fought for democratic rights and a more dignified life, using their bare hands to turn their shanty town into surburbia, offering their children a better future. They didn’t deserve this.

Nobody deserved it. Not the immigrants who sought work and the chance of prosperity (the earlier the train, the poorer the traveller) nor the Spaniards who had ‘made it’ and owned their own spotless polished, coveted home in the suburbs.

Not the Poles, the Rumanians, nor the North Africans whose lives, in one instant when the detonator was pressed, were shattered like the shiny glass in the windows of the train.

Not the thousands who lived on and were scarred and disabled, nor the families who, like Vera de Benito, had to make sense of such madness.

We have to look to Vera Benito, the nine year old, now a formidable young woman, to find hope.

My hope, when this tragedy occurred, was that there should be no revenge on the innocent, Islamic population living in Spain.

Much to the credit of the Spanish themselves, this has certainly been the case and deserves recognition.

It would have been all too easy for an outlet to be found in savagery, but this was not the case.

The dignity of the Spanish people was not reflected in their politicians’ behaviour, however.

Those in government at the time, presumably in order not to lose the election, propagated the notion that ETA was responsible, not Al Qaeda.

Not a shred of evidence has been found to support this notion, a ploy to deceive the voters. Nor has the annexation of the victims associations as political ballast been a particularly edifying spectacle in the last ten years.

On March 14th the voters changed their government in an act of democratic protest.

The misinformation and newspaper distortion went on, nevertheless, and has only now been shown for what it is.

Judge Gomez Bermuda is clear that no evidence was found linking ETA to this bombing, whatever they had done in the past.

Perhaps the emphasis might now be placed on the victims themselves and how they have overcome their personal tragedies. How, like Vera, they can help us to see beyond hatred and violence.

In all 29 suspects were brought to trial for the bombings of whom 18 were found guilty and are serving jail sentences. Other suspects blew themselves up as police surrounded their hideout. 

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