Madrid bombing anniversary exposes divisions in Spanish society
Ten years after bombing that claimed 191 victims there is little agreement on how to remember them
People waiting for a train on the platform 2 of Atocha railway station read newspapers on March 11th, 2005, with front pages commemorating the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombing. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
Araceli Cambronero caught a commuter train from a suburb of Madrid into the city on March 11th, 2004, as she did every weekday morning. But her routine was horrifically broken when bombs ripped through the train as it pulled into Atocha station. The carriage next to Cambronero’s was destroyed and many of those near her died. But unlike the 191 victims of the blasts on four trains that day in the Spanish capital, she survived.
Her only injury was a constant ringing in her ear, which still comes back to haunt her. Yet she has been left far from unscathed. “When you suffer a massive post-traumatic shock, it can damage you psychologically for a long time,” she says. “And that can have an effect on your family, your work and your health.”
The bombing affected her relationship with her husband and they divorced. She found it harder to do her job, which she lost soon afterwards. Cambronero was then diagnosed with breast cancer and in a further twist of bad luck she lost €15,000 in an investment scheme which turned out to be fraudulent.
Now 45, she has overcome the cancer and can even laugh at how dramatic her catalogue of personal disasters looks. The past decade has also given her a sense of perspective. “I’m not saying that day [of the bombing] is to blame for everything that’s happened to me,” she says, stroking her dog in the small flat she shares with her two children. “But it did seem to have an effect on a lot of the things I’ve been through. ‘March 11’ started on that day, but for me, March 11 has never ended.”
Yet to heal
Cambronero and those who lost loved ones in the attack will mark its 10th anniversary this week. They will look back on a tragedy that not only turned their lives upside down, but that left a division in Spanish society that is yet to heal.
The bombings took place just three days before the general election that removed the conservative Popular Party (PP) of José María Aznar from power. Immediately after the attack, Aznar insisted they were the work of Basque group Eta, despite mounting evidence that jihadists had been responsible.
The notion that the government had not told the truth and that its support for the invasion of Iraq had provoked the bombing appeared to help Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to win a surprise victory.
Zapatero, who governed until 2011, was branded by many on the right as an illegitimate prime minister who had directly benefitted from terrorism. In addition, conspiracy theories started to circulate: that Eta had in fact been involved or even that the security forces had organised the attack. In 2007 a group of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists was jailed for carrying out the bombings.