Transparency & accountability

Sonora state government faces criticism following Hermosillo day care center blaze

Criticism against the Mexican government continued to rise along with the number of the victims of a June 5 that broke out in a government-subsidized day care center located in the northern state of Sonora.

The fire claimed its 46th victim June 15 as reports surfaced that family members of the state’s governor have benefitted financially from contracts to provide similar day care services.
The tragedy, in the city of Hermosillo, was prompting some media commentators to call for greater accountability and transparency regarding the operation of such centers. El Universal reported that siblings and cousins of Sonoran governor Eduardo Bours Castelo collectively receive about $300,000 each month for the services they provide to operate at least 13 day care centers in the state.

The ABC day care center was not found to have those same connections with the governor. However, some media have reported that ABC day care center, where the June 5 fire took place, is co-owned by a cousin of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s wife.

The privately owned day care center was meant to provide parents with affordable options for their children. The fire is believed to have started in an air-conditioning unit that was in the same building as the ABC day care center, and it spread along the roof. About 140 children were in the facility when the fire broke out. Attempts to rescue the children were hindered by a lack of available exit and entry points, which forced rescuers to break holes into the building to reach the children.

About 80 of the children were saved, and the other survivors were in critical condition immediately following the fire. Some of the children are being treated at burn facilities in the United States. Parents are blaming the government for what they see as a failure to enforce safety regulations at the day care center. El Universal reported that initial investigations into the day care building found “numerous deficiencies,” such as a false emergency door, deficient electrical installations, and fire detectors that were installed improperly. Despite these apparent problems, El Universal reported that the annual inspection by civil protection authorities had determined the day care center was “secure.”

On June 13, an estimated 5,000 people marched through the streets of Hermosillo, demanding justice and answers from Mexican authorities. The Mexican Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, said that the ABC day care center had been found to have safety irregularities in 2005, but it was unclear whether they had been fixed since then, and day care officials denied being told of any such problems. It had passed a safety inspection in May of this year.

Some of the accusations are aimed squarely at high-ranking officials, with some parents calling for the resignation of Sonora governor Eduardo Bours. At least six officials have resigned or been fired since the fires. They include: Noemi Lopez, the Sonora state day care center coordinator; Delia Botello, the Hermosillo city day care coordinator, and Emigdio Martinez, the Sonora chief of economic and social benefits.

The institute’s top delegate in Sonora, Arturo Leyva, was asked to step down, and two state government officials whose wives were connected to the day care center had also resigned. Gov. Bours said that political interests are behind some of the attacks aimed at him and others. He said the investigation is ongoing into how the tragedy elapsed.
The National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico has called for federal, state and local authorities to ensure that the investigations result in full accountability. Notimex reported that a representative with the United Nations Children’s Fund had called for a nationwide investigation into all day care centers to prevent similar outcomes.

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

“Mexico suspends 3 officials over day care fires.” Associated Press. June 13, 2009.
“Marchan y denuncian atencion deficiente a ninos quemados en Mexico.” La Prensa Grafica. June 14, 2009.
“El Millionario Negocio de los Bours.” El Universal. June 15, 2009.
Brice, Arthur. “Anger boils in Mexico over 46 deaths at day care center.” CNN. June 15, 2009.

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