Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cromagnon (a synonym for corruption).

The word Cromagnon was meaningless before December 30, 2004. After a fire that left almost 200 youngsters dead in a Buenos Aires club called Republica Cromagnon, the term became a buzzword synonymous with tragedy, death, and corruption.

A night before New Year’s eve celebrations, a concert was held by a group called the Callejeros. Generally, the band holds concerts in outdoor or large enough venues that allow for the use of flares. Cromagnon was considered so unsafe for pyrotechnics that the Callejeros pleaded with their groupies that if a flare was lit, there would be a disaster.

A few moments into the show, someone lit a flare that engulfed the entire ceiling in flames within seconds. The ceiling was covered in a plastic net that produced flames and smoke that instantly converted the club into a gas chamber filled with over 1,500 youths.

If such a tragedy had occurred in North America (indeed, a similar tragedy did take place a couple of years ago in a Rhode Island concert which left almost a 100 dead), the pursuit of ‘justice’ would be fairly straightforward: the club owners, organizers and band members would investigated. Charges and lawsuits would ensue.

However, in a country were corruption is as widely practiced as fútbol, the question of justice is far more complicated.

Indeed, many consider the case of Cromagnon to be a test of Argentina’s ability to leave its corrupt past behind and become what people call a ‘serious country.’

Investigations have revealed that many deaths could have been avoided had four out of the six fire exits not been chained shut to avoid people from sneaking into the concert. Several babies and children were among the dead as a makeshift nursery was created in the women’s washroom. The club was overdue for a fire hazard inspection. Not surprisingly, many flaws in the city’s inspection services have surfaced.

Most Argentines have channelled their outrage into calls for punishment. Many not only want the club’s owner behind bars, but government leaders as well. I am probably in a minority that is more interested in knowing what concrete measures will be taken to prevent another Cromagnon.

At times, I have been shocked by how much the sadness and rage produced by the tragedy has been sensationalized and politicized. Cromagnon consumed so much of the media that a tsunami which killed over 200,000 people was not given the attention it warranted.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere filled with powerful figures joining the masses in calls for a narrow definition of justice, that is, one of revenge and retribution, I wonder if Argentina is ready to resolve its crises and conflicts in a serious manner.

Despite the incredibly slow pace, I believe the government is on the right path.

In what has been a painful process for families and friends, it took the state about five months to bring criminal charges to officials. So far, about 10 police officers and inspectors have been charged, along with the club’s owner and security chief, who face murder charges. The owner is also guilty of bribing officers to turn a blind eye from what became murderous concert venue.

Aside from tracking down those directly responsible for what happened, the city also took a deeper look at the problems with Buenos Aires’ out-of-control nightlife.

Realizing that countless clubs and bigger bars were violating many building codes, fire regulations and were also bribing officials, the government decided to shutdown ALL clubs and bars with dance floors for a minimum of two to three months while inspections and changes were made.

Since reopening, I have noticed that clubs are no where near as crowded as they used to be. Fire exits are easy to spot. It's almost impossible to enter a club past 4AM. And my 15 year cousin constantly complains about how hard it is for her and her friends to go out dancing.

If you know Buenos Aires, then you know that this is significant progress...


Blogger DAMIAN said...

That's messed up. I got curious and looked it up.
117 people died (unless the other two criticals or 800+ injured have passed since). And the sound engineer says he saw a young boy on his dad's shoulders shooting the flare (Dad? WTF?). Pretty shitty, but by the sounds of it, it could have easily been worse. Chains on the exits? I hope the owner got charged with more than just negligence.

4:24 AM  
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