Yesterday the chairwoman for the Association of Victims Families taught Spanish political parties and media a lesson during her intervention before the 11-M parliamentary commission. Having won the right to speak publically (the Association successfully fought the original plan which was that the testimonies of victims’ families would be held behind closed doors), Pilar Manjón read out an eloquent, extremely critical and very moving document which had the approval of all members of the association comprised of victims who were injured in the terrorist attack, their families and the families of victims who were killed.
Mrs Manjón, whose son Daniel was killed in the bombs, appealed for the commission to be closed. She said that it had become a farse, and accused all parties of trying to gain political advantage from the investigation. She accused the main political parties and the Spanish media of using the victims’ association to their own political (parties) or commercial (media) advantage.
She said that the victims’ were no longer prepared to be manipulated in this way. She also criticised the delays in care, psychiatric help and financial compensation experienced by the victims, and she underlined their need to know exactly why the terrorists were able to carry out the attacks and how the tragedy could be prevented from happening again. She maintained that a commission already corrupted because of the way it has been used by its members to score political points would be incapable of giving them the answers they needed in order to honour the victims who died or injured by the train bombs.
When she finished her speech, the spokesmen of the political parties represented in the Commission accepted the criticism unanimously, and the Spanish media seems to have done the same. Her criticism was headline news on all television and radio news programmes yesterday, and all Spanish newspapers contain the full version of her speech this morning.
The Spanish government spokesman made a public apology to her and to the victims for the mistakes made by Spain’s governments before and after the terrorist attacks. And shortly after her intervention, Spanish president José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, announced the creation of a High Commissioner for the victims of terrorism whose role will be to make sure that the needs of victims of terrorist acts are met and to improve communication between families of victims and government. The person to fill this post has already been named, Gregorio Peces Barba, vice-chancellor of the Carlos III University in Madrid and one of the fathers of the Spanish constitution.
Here are a couple of short extracts taken from the speech made by Pilar Manjón yesterday:
“We appear today before you today in the home of peoples’ sovereignty where our only mission is to try to become the voices of those who are missing and those who were wounded and continue their calvary of pain… so that their voices….
. alive and powerful in our memory, resound within these walls. One hundred and ninety two dead and one thousand five hundred wounded. A mere figure to many of you; a whole world to each one of us.”
“We and our families have never before entered this house which is supposed to belong to all of us. Today is the first time you have made room for us…. because you would prefer to continue to use the victims as a weapon and argument to discredit your opponents. Your honours, let us just for a brief moment, be the only and real owners of this Commission, a commission which should have belonged to all Spanish citizens, but which you have taken over in order to pursue your own playground politics”.
“We have come to reproach you as members of parliament and, above all, as representatives of the people, something you should not forget… to reproach your behaviour, your laughs, your noise, your cheers during some of the interventions before this commission, as if you were in a football match. What were you laughing at my honours? Why were you booing? What were you cheering for in this Commission?” etc etc.
Yesterday Pilar Monjón became the voice not only of the victims but of many of us who live in Spain and have been appalled at the way the 11 March parliamentary investigation commission has been carried out. While we can never properly understand the degree of the pain and desperation of Mrs Monjón and all the victims of the terrorist attacks, we certainly share her message and applaud her bravery yesterday as her small voice filled the parliament and everyone listened in silence.