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Argentine Mayor Ousted Over Fire

Times Staff Writer

Culminating months of raucous hearings and street protests, lawmakers in this South American capital ousted Mayor Anibal Ibarra on Tuesday for his administration’s failure to enforce safety laws before a 2004 rock-club fire that killed 194 people.

A city legislative panel voted 10 to 4, with one abstention, to remove Ibarra, 48, a lawyer and onetime rising star in Argentine politics allied with President Nestor Kirchner.

Relatives of the dead, who gathered outside the city legislative building, called the decision a rare instance of a public official being held accountable in a nation with a long history of political corruption and impunity.

“We are finally seeing some justice in a country where we are not accustomed to such an outcome,” said Edgardo Gonzalez, whose son, Federico, 18, died in the fire at the Republica Cromanon club on Dec. 30, 2004. “It took the death of our children to accomplish this. It doesn’t relieve the pain, the hurt.... But at least we can see that something is starting to change.”

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Mariela Frias, her eyes filled with tears, said she fought for the mayor’s ouster in memory of her brother, Christian Frias, 43, who left behind two children, Nahuel, 12, and Ayeen, 7.

“For us, it was very important to demonstrate that they couldn’t buy justice with money, because the power we confronted was very strong,” said Frias, who cried and smiled at the same time, an illustration of the mixed emotions of many. “We plan to continue the battle. We want this to be an impulse to change Argentine society.”

The debate about the mayor’s fate had divided the city for months, as relatives of the victims painted Ibarra as the symbol of a renegade political system. Supporters of the left-center mayor marshaled counter-protests calling Ibarra a scapegoat and a victim of right-wing political forces.

Investigative findings indicated that the discotheque was overcrowded with more than 2,000 revelers, many of them in their teens and 20s, when a flare ignited soundproofing material, and that locked exits barred stampeding club-goers. The carnage stunned Argentines as the country was recovering from its 2001-02 economic collapse.

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Ibarra, who was suspended last year while the impeachment process unfolded, is to be replaced by his vice mayor, Jorge Telerman, until his second four-year term ends in December 2007.

The ex-mayor vowed to pursue a court case to win back his post, portraying himself as an honest and principled leader caught up in political bloodletting and raw anger.

“I don’t know if the parents will be more at peace with this,” Ibarra said.

“No one can return life to them.... To create a scapegoat takes us further away from truth and justice.”

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Still pending is a criminal investigation of more than 20 others implicated in the fire.

“What I couldn’t do for my son on that Dec. 30, I am trying to make up for now,” said Rita Lucas, whose son, Esteban, 18, died in the blaze. “I hope this has served for something, at least for future generations.”

Times researcher Andres D’Alessandro contributed to this report.


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