Mexico’s Blame Game over Juarez Fire Tragedy Begins
By KELIN DILLON
As the fallout of the lethal fire that occurred at Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on Monday, March 27, continues to unfold, the blame game of who exactly is culpable for the incident – which reportedly left at least 38 migrants from Central and South America dead and another 29 injured – has already begun.
The fire allegedly began after the detained migrants protested their anticipated deportation by setting their mattresses alight in the INM facility cells, though a controversial video released to social networks revealed that INM personnel fled the scene soon after the facility fire began while leaving the protesting migrants still locked in their cells to be engulfed by the blaze.
During his daily press conference on the morning of Wednesday, March 29, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – who previously blamed the migrants for their deaths – said there would be no impunity for those responsible of the incident, saying, “there is no purpose of hiding the facts and protecting anyone.”
“All the investigations are being done to find out what really happened,” AMLO went on to say, noting that the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (FGR) is handling the investigation alongside an independent inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). “There are versions of events, we already have preliminary information, but we want to have all the evidence to report, if possible today, about what happened.”
Despite this claim of intent to hold those culpable responsible, López Obrador’s words ring hollow considering the widespread impunity in Mexico that’s been allowed by his administration, an issue that was pointed out in a recent U.S. Department of State report much to the chagrin of López Obrador.
Similarly, some members of the Mexican and international press have pointed the finger for Monday’s “avoidable” lethal fire at AMLO himself, claiming it’s the Mexican federal executive’s own wavering immigration policies that allowed a deadly incident such as this to occur in the first place.
“López Obrador is the one who decided that Mexico could house tens of thousands of migrants that the United States sends every year,” wrote journalist Carlos Loret de Mola in a scathing column published in daily Mexican newspaper El Universal. “He is the one who said that where one eats, two eat. He is the one who did not increase the budgets for the care of migrants, the one who did not comply with the human rights recommendations, the one who gave hugs to the organized crime organizations that abuse migrants as they want on their way north.”
“He, López Obrador, is politically responsible for this tragedy, which stems from his government decisions and his arrangements with the United States,” said Loret de Mola. “These are the 38 of López Obrador.”
The fight over culpability for the blaze also came to a head within the Mexican federal government, as Secretary of the Interior (Segob) Adán Augusto López placed the blame directly on the shoulders of Secretary of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard.
“Why does the Secretary of the Interior want to talk about the issue if he is not in charge of operating the immigration system?” asked Augusto López in an interview, though it should be noted that INM matters fall under the jurisdiction of Augusto López’s Segob as delegated by Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law. “Formally, the Secretary of the Interior is in charge of administrative matters, but it is Marcelo, the Secretary of Foreign Relations, who is in charge of the immigration system.”
Ebrard, who’s been in charge of Mexico’s Inter-Ministerial Commission for Comprehensive Care in Migration Matters since 2019, responded to the accusations by noting that “everyone must do what corresponds to them at this time,” going on to reveal that “those directly responsible for the events have been brought before the FGR.”
“I have conveyed Mexico’s deep indignation at what happened and the will of the government and people of Mexico to clarify the facts and punish those responsible,” added Ebrard on his social media accounts about his correspondence with the injured and deceased migrants’ home countries.
Though the Mexican government’s internal blame game is set to continue in the days ahead, Mexico and its politicians are not the only ones catching flack for the tragedy; activists and human rights organizations have held the United States government complicit for its role in Monday’s events, claiming that U.S. immigration policy is culpable for the migrant deaths and that the United States has “blood on its hands and should bear the moral weight of such behavior.”
Likewise, Catholic bishop organization the Conference of the Mexican Episcopate (CEM) has also spoken out against the lethal incident, characterizing the conditions of migrants in Mexico as “subhuman” and claiming INM facilities, “are not ‘shelters,’ they are immigration stations that actually operate as prisons as punishment for irregular migration.”
“The pain and suffering of leaving home is already too much, and we cannot allow migrants’ transit through Mexico to become an ordeal for those who leave their family and country in search of a better life,” said the CEM at the time. “The bishops of Mexico are attentive and call on the authorities at all levels to not criminalize migrants.”
While it remains to be seen who is ultimately held responsible for the tragic deaths of the 38 migrants at the INM facility, if Mexico’s haphazard handling of May 2021’s deadly Line 12 metro crash and the López Obrador administration’s demonstrated penchant for impunity has set any precedent, it’s that AMLO and his federal government lackeys will almost certainly get off scot-free from the situation.
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