Privatize! Then, Bury Your Children!
Tijuana, Mexico. Dec. 5: Protesting the scorching deaths of their children for profit, several dozen families brought their heartbreak and anger to the streets of Tijuana last Sunday.
Seeking support in their call for justice for the blaze which consumed 40 children immediately, with eight subsequently succumbing to their burns and another 70 disfigured, anguished mothers and fathers gathered in front of Tijuana’s children’s hospital to plead with every parent within earshot to demand the government take action.
Nineteen months after the June, 2009 fire which consumed the ABC day care facility in Hermosillo, in the state of Senora, agonizing parents with nowhere to turn for assistance traveled the 540 dusty miles to Tijuana, the border region’s largest city, to begin a public awareness and support campaign.
Forty-nine families, mostly workers with a few middle-class kin, were victimized twice. First, in the loss of their children, all under the age of five, and then, in the cover-up which pits them against some of Mexico’s most powerful people.
The day care facility, which housed 142 infants, was once state run but had been privatized by a corporation whose owners included the aunt of the President of Mexico’s wife, Margarita Zavala, as well as the uncle of the wife of the Governor of Sonora. Also, in ownership positions of the corporation were the wives of two ministers in the governor’s cabinet and his niece. The ABC Company has also taken over former public day care facilities in the Sonoran cities of Navojoa, Obregon, Nogales and a second in Hermosillo with 210 kids with the aid of federal and state authorities. Mexican President Felipe Calderon lied about knowing his wife’s aunt, even though they attended her 80th birthday in Hermosillo on May 31, 2009.
The media in Sonora is reportedly tightly controlled by Governor Eduardo Bours, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2012, and the parents have been unable to get local media to cover the truth because another owner is a cousin of the next Mayor of Hermosillo, Epifanio Salido. Likewise, President Calderon’s supporters own the national television networks Televisa and TV Azteca.
At the Tijuana gathering, equipped with only a bullhorn, a few signs and the truth, the surviving parents announced they would not cease to raise their voices in protest of both the profit driven tragedy and its cover-up. Only one independent television station’s reporter covered the demonstration.
With tears and bitterness, stricken mothers and fathers took the bullhorn to tell the crowd which gathered about manipulated building codes, overcrowding, insufficient staff and government inspectors pressured by politicians whose wives profited from the skimping on safety for the children.
Only 22 workers supervised the 142 toddlers at the ABC facility. The director of the Sonora office of the National Institute of Social Security (IMSS), Daniel Karam, who had handed over the day care center to the speculators over the concerns and protests of local residents and had refused to make the center comply with IMSS regulations, was paid to resign by the ruling PRI political party immediately after the fire.
Another federal official quietly discharged was the Regional Coordinator of IMSS daycare centers, Yadira Barrerra, who reportedly had allowed the well-connected wives consortium to hire inexperienced teenage personnel, permitted cradles with no wheels and too big to big to fit through the doors. None of the staff were injured leaving the children behind; while one desperate father, Francisco Lopez, drove his Silverado pick-up through the wall of the day care building in a futile attempt to save his daughter.
The converted warehouse where the children perished had only one functional exit with two emergency doors locked from the outside and another cemented over, the windows were too high for rescue efforts, there were no fire alarms or extinguishing system – it took firefighters two hours to snuff out the blaze. Between the exploding propane cooking canisters and the lethal levels of polyurethane fumes, the abandoned infants didn’t have a chance.
One mother rushed through the flames, suffering hideous burns, to successfully save her three- year old daughter, while other parents had to watch their rescued children die in area hospitals from acute kidney failure due to a severe loss of body fluids from the burns or respiratory collapse from smoke inhalation.
At the Tijuana protest, the mother of two-year Maria Magdalena Millan, who had perished as the roof collapsed, told of burying her daughter, and crying out she loved her very much and didn’t want to leave her there in the ground. The father of four-year old Herman Vasquez spoke of the horror of not being able to recognize his son with seventy-five percent of his body charred.
The mothers and fathers of the forty-eight children sacrificed to corporate profit say they refuse to accept the government’s meager response of seven low-level Sonora state finance department officials being detained, then fired; while the owners of the ABC day care conglomerate escape criminal indictments. They also pointed out to those assembled at the Tijuana demonstration their meager financial capabilities to bring civil actions in Mexico’s corrupt judicial system.
Grief stricken parents called on fellow citizens to demand the federal government act to investigate and punish those responsible. As a light rain fell, the gloomy dark clouds seemed to cast a ethereal darkness over this small section of plaza outside the children’s hospital in the Cinco y Diez neighborhood as residents began to learn the truth about this tragedy and its cover-up, their faces in shock as they held their own children tightly.
I asked Guadalupe Duarte, the organizer of the Tijuana protest, what those of us in the United States can do to help. She said the U.S. public needs to be aware of this atrocity “because your newspapers and television have focused on the heart bleeding stories of the children and not on their killers.” Bristling with anger, she said, “your Fox News has never once ran a story about those responsible because they have financial interests here with Mexico’s elite and other news organizations don’t want to jeopardize their access to the oligarchy which controls our country.”
She bitterly noted “the corrupt Mexican Supreme Court voted six to five in June of 2010 to clear top officials of any wrongdoing – either in the fire or its cover-up.” She encouraged those who wanted to help to go to the parents’ website www.movimiento5dejunio.org to hear the personal stories and keep up on the struggle for justice for the children “sacrificed for greed.” She noted all mothers and fathers should feel sympathy and should write the U.S. State Department to demand a full accounting of “this profit driven tragedy.” Bristling, she warned “this is what privatization looks like…and it will come to your country soon.”