Scrutiny on public officials and owners in June fire at ABC day care center in Hermosillo, Sonora

In the aftermath of the devastating fire in May that claimed the lives of 47 children at the ABC day care center in Hermosillo, Mexican authorities have come under attack for allegedly failing to provide proper documentation and oversight. An ongoing series of reports by Mexican media are also shedding light on how concessions for these centers seem to have financially benefitted the politically connected.

El Universal reported that government concessions for day care centers throughout the country were given to at least 14 people who are either former elected officials or their family members. These include: Jose Vicente Quesada, the brother of the ex-president Vicente Fox; Oscar Medina Plascencia, the brother of an ex-governor of Guanajuato; Antonio Gonzalez Kuri, the ex-governor of Campeche; Monica Borrego, the sister of an ex-director of the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS); and Nicolas Castaneda, who worked with the Zacatecas government.

At least four of the 21 day care centers contracted by IMSS in Chiapas are also operated by relatives of former elected officials, according to La Jornada. Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos, Mexico’s Secretary of Health, told La Jornada that he was not aware of any favoritism regarding the distribution of these contracts, and added that the owners “are of all colors and types.” He said IMSS expects to review rigorously each of these contracts to make sure they are complying with their functions.

In response to the criticisms, Genaro Borrego Estrada, who oversaw the IMSS from 1993 to 2000, confirmed that his sister Monica is owner and director of the Guarderia Querubines in Zacatecas since 2001 but he said this did not represent any political favoritism because it happened after he had left his office. Meanwhile, former-President Vicente Fox criticized the reports as distorting reality. His brother told reporters he had been associated with a day care center until 2003, but has had no ties since then. Meanwhile, Tarcisio Torres Calderón, who is related to the current president, admitted he is one of the owners of a day care center, but that he became part of the association in 2005, prior to the election of Felipe Calderón. Torres Calderón said he has been trying to sell his ownership rights to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Complicating the issue is poor record keeping that makes it hard to pin down information on the parties responsible for some of the day care centers, according to Maria Marvan of the Federal Institute of Access to Information. Marvan said that there appears to be no central archive that includes all the information.

In Jalisco, Milenio reported that running a day care center is an unusually profitable business based on the amount of money the government provides the centers as compensation per child. In Jalisco, that may be as much as 1 million pesos per month at some of the state’s 97 day care centers. The newspaper reported that until this year there was no public bidding process. This year, however, many of their contracts expire and new centers are undergoing a public bidding process while those that have received contracts are receiving less money than their predecessors. Milenio raises the question as to whether this lower amount might impact the quality of service for the children.

Other critics claim that the Mexican Constitution and other international agreements signed by Mexico provide special protections for children that could serve as the basis for the claim that their basic rights were violated in the government’s alleged failure to prevent the tragedy. A request has been filed with the Supreme Court to form a special commission to investigate the matter.

Also, Mexican media reported other unusual developments in other child care facilities in the country. For example, the name of the daughter of alleged drug trafficker Ismael Zambada shows up as an associate of a child care facility called the Estancia Infantil del Niño Feliz in Culiacan, according to one report. That facility tends to 2009 children and receives 2,249 pesos on a monthly basis per child. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Treasury identified this child care center as a suspected business used to launder money.

In response to the media coverage, IMSS reportedly demanded an investigation into whether the information is correct regarding the connection of Zambada’s daughter – Maria Teresa Zambada Niebla – and money laundering through the child care facility. The Mexican branch of the U.S. Attorney General’s office that investigates organized crime responded that an investigation is ongoing to determine the origin of the financial resources of Zambada Niebla. IMSS officials, meanwhile, said they would not suspend the day care center as long as it is providing adequate services to the children and complying with security and safety measures.


From the July Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:

http://www.justiceinmexico.org/news/recent_news.php

SOURCES:

Arvizu, Juan. “La PGR investigara guarderia de ‘El Mayo’.” El Universal. July 11, 2009.

Cabildo, Miguel. “Niega Fox que su hermano sea socio de guarderia del IMSS.” Proceso. July 11, 2009.

Cruz, Angeles. “La subrogacion de guarderias del IMSS debe continuar via licitacion: Cordova.” La Jornada. July 10, 2009.

Mercado, Angelica. “Familiares de politicos en la lista de guarderias.” Milenio. July 8, 2009.

“Critica el IFAI desorden en los Archivos de los IMSS.” Milenio. July 3, 2009.

“Entrego IMSS guarderia al Cartel de Zambada.” Notisistema.com. Retrieved July 13, 2009.

“IMSS Mexicano pide investigar quarderia adjudicada a hija de narcotraficante.” ADN. July 11, 2009.

“Propietarios de guarderias defienden calidad en operacion.” Informador. July 10, 2009.

Rello, Maricarmen. “Guarderias, negocio de milliones de pesos.” Milenio. June 11, 2009.

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