By RICARDO CASTILLO
There are some wounds that never heal.
One of them is the death of 49 toddlers in a fire at a Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) daycare center 10 years ago on June 5, 2009, in the city of Hermosillo, Sonora, near the Arizona border. The oldest toddler was just five years old.
Last June 6, the parents of the children met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) at the National Palace to demand that the file on the fire be reviewed and that justice be done since up until now only a few “obvious scapegoats” have been charged (and released) for the responsibility of what the parents consider “a heinous crime.”
AMLO visited Hermosillo on Monday, Sept. 2, and met again with the parents with the difference that this time he ordered the Fiscal General of the Republic (FGR) to pull the files out of the freezer and revive the case.
Among possible culprits for the cover-up is then-Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours, who failed to proceed against the owners of the daycare center, including Marcia Alta Gómez del Campo, cousin to then-First Lady Margarita Zavala, wife of former President Felipe Calderón. The parents suspect a full cover-up by Calderón’s office.
In that first meeting with the parents, AMLO instructed IMSS Director Zoe Robledo to meet the demands that the IMSS was making and to make sure that this issue be resolved legally, since there are 14 now-former government officials involved, the owners of the nursing home included. Also, AMLO told the IMSS to restore the rights of the parents at that institution for life.
Robledo said back then that AMLO told him that “we don’t want this to become a political issue. It is justice and not propaganda. We must do it right.”
Right at the bottom of this quagmire is the fact that the daycare center was a makeshift enterprise established in a warehouse. The lessees of the warehouse, including the first lady’s cousin, had been awarded a hefty outsourcing contract to run the place, which hosted over 200 children attended to by approximately 50 employees. It was presented as an IMSS daycare center, but the reality was that, again, it was an outsourcing company providing the care for the children.
Since the warehouse was not suitable for housing that many children, there were no anti-fire security measures. The fire apparently – that’s not clear – began in a different warehouse next to the ABC Daycare Center and rapidly spread into the furnishings.
Also, the Interior Secretariat (SeGob) and IMSS issued a joint press release announcing that they have additional information that will be added to the files for the FGR to carry out new investigations to fully clarify the roots of the fire and who the real culprits might be.
Over the years and under pressure from the parents of the dead children, some officials have been charged “for their alleged responsibility” of mismanagement of institutions devoted to public service.
One of them was Delia Irene Botello Amante, then an IMSS official in Hermosillo in charge of daycare centers in the region. She was arrested in 2011, and released on 2014 for “data fading.”
Three other officials went through the same ordeal as Botello Amante, but were released after questioning for insufficient evidence involving them directly in causing the fire.
Ten years after the ABC fire tragedy, many have been pointed to as potential culprits, but the fact is that at the end of the line, nobody is in jail for this incident.
A valid reason why this issue has not gone away with time is that there are many top officials allegedly involved in the cover-up, as well as a lot of influence peddling going on. Among protectors of the alleged culprits are none other than Calderón and his wife Zavala, both busy nowadays forming a new political party to possibly launch her candidacy for president.
The issue has been in every court of the nation, including the Supreme Court of Justice. Current Supreme Court President Arturo Zaldivar was attracted to the case because he saw an “inexcusable negligence from authorities in charge of caring for the children.”
“This tragedy was not a mere accident, but also an injustice and a grave violation of (the parents’) human rights,” he said. Back then, Zaldivar’s investigation was not approved by the rest of the Supreme Court, some suspect because of influence from Calderón himself.
Now the case is taking a renewed course under the independent Fiscal General of the Republic’s office. That means that the case may get “political” if taken as far as the parents of the toddlers feel it should go.
The list of potential cover-up culprits, starting at the bottom with then-Sonora Governor Bours, may go as far as the current administration may want to take it. If it goes up the political ladder to Calderón and Zavala, then there will be no question about it: It will get politicized because Calderón may have been responsible for the government at the time, but was never involved directly in the causes of the tragedy.
Caldron’s cousin-in-law, Alta Gómez del Campo, however, was the one visible head of the contract between the IMSS and the outsourcing company responsible for the daycare center.
That would be a good place to start the thawed investigation now that it’s fresh out of the legal freezer.