Manuela Lancharro does not know where Strasbourg is. Until very recently, the name meant nothing to her. But now it does: the European Court of Human Rights, located there, has ruled that Inés del Río, the ETA terrorist responsible for the death of her brother and 11 other people, must be released from prison. Not only that, but the Spanish state has been ordered to pay Del Río 30,000 euros in compensation for having been kept behind bars for too long according to the legal formula known as the “Parot doctrine.”
Antonio Lancharro died on July 14, 1986 in one of ETA’s bloodiest bomb attacks, which killed 12 members of the Civil Guard in Madrid’s Plaza República Dominicana. Del Río had selected her target well: it was the bus used by the law enforcement agents to travel around the city. Antonio was 21 years old and had joined the Civil Guard less than a year earlier. He had been based in Madrid for just three months.
“I don’t understand a thing, I don’t understand a thing,” repeats Manuela 27 years later, standing in front of the monument that pays tribute to the victims of that horrendous attack. “Why do outsiders, who know nothing of what families broken by ETA have been through, have to have an opinion on this? It’s hard to understand why they should be able to make decisions regarding our pain. I would like to take those folks from Strasbourg to my house, introduce them to my mother, and show them the altarpiece full of flowers, candles and photographs that she has built in memory of Antonio. She talks to him every day.”
Manuela was 17 when ETA murdered her brother. “My mother and I were in Seville, at a shopping mall, when they called us over the public address system,” she recalls. In order to cushion the blow, her mother was initially told that Antonio had had an accident and was at the hospital. “She cried all the way to Madrid. When we got there we saw the eight coffins: my brother’s and those of seven others who died on the spot.” Four more officers died later from their wounds.
“At first we couldn’t believe it. My brother had just been with us, in our home town of Monesterio [Badajoz province], that very same weekend. On Saturday we went out to enjoy the fiestas in a nearby village. We always went everywhere together. A friend told him, ‘Antonio, be very careful. They’re killing a lot of civil guards.’ He smiled and replied, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a case of the proverbial bad penny.’ By Monday he was dead.”
Manuela gets emotional. “This kind of wound never heals, but knowing that they were still in jail thanks to the Parot doctrine was a small consolation. Why do they give them 3,000-year sentences if they are going to be released in less than 30 years? It doesn’t matter whether they kill one person or 12. They pay the same price. I don’t understand it, I just don’t understand it! It drives us insane to think that [Del Río] is going to walk free and celebrate with champagne. Why does it seem that we owe ETA something?
I don’t understand a thing, I don’t understand a thing”
“To us, justice is for the murderers to spend as much time as possible behind bars,” Lancharro continues. “It will never be enough, true, because a life has no price, and my brother had his whole life ahead of him. We knew that one day they would be released and enjoy life again, spend time with their partners, get to hug their families; my brother can never get out of the place where he is. That is why the Parot doctrine was a consolation, because we knew it meant the maximum prison time for them. But even that consolation has been taken away from us now.”
This is not the first time that the family has had to swallow news of this kind. “It was very hard for us when they released De Juana Chaos [an unrepentant ETA member convicted on 25 counts of murder who served only 18 years]. My father, who was the strong one in the family, broke down after that. He slipped into a depression and refused to watch TV or listen to the radio. He died a year later,” recalls Manuela. “Now they are going to release Del Río, who selected the target, and many others like her. They are walking time bombs. I don’t think ETA is finished because in that case they would have turned in their weapons. If only it were true and no more families had to go through this. I don’t think that a murderer’s word is to be trusted. They’ve killed during a ceasefire before, and they can do it again. I don’t believe in their repentance, either. [ETA member] Antonio Troitiño said he would have set off the bomb even if his own father had been walking by. They are savages. They have no conscience.”
Manuela gets emotional again. “It’s as though I were seeing him again. I was so proud of my brother! We think about him every day. During the Christmas holidays he still has a chair ready for him,” she reveals, after leaving a bunch of flowers on the monument, next to other tributes left for the victims.