New Details, Responsible Parties Emerge from Night of Deadly Juárez Blaze
By KELIN DILLON
As the investigations continue into the tragic Monday, March 30, fire at the National Migration Institute (INM) detention facility in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, that left dozens of detained South and Central American migrants dead, new details have emerged clarifying what occurred the night of the incident, in addition to who is expected to be held responsible by the government – as well as perhaps who should be held culpable – for the deadly blaze.
Recent reports reveal that the guards on duty at the Ciudad Juárez INM facility the night of the incident were employed by Specialized Investigation and Custody Services (SEICSA), a private Nicaraguan company owned by Honorary Consul of the Republic of Nicaragua in Coahuila and Nuevo Leon Elías Gerardo Valdés Cabrera, which also reportedly received 3 billion pesos worth of contracts from the Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) presidential administration despite of the numerous purported human rights violations complaints filed against the company.
On Wednesday, March 29, Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection Rosa Icela Rodríguez announced that eight likely perpetrators had been identified, calling the lethal incident “an unforgivable act” and publicly lamenting that the facility’s public servants “did not adhere to the protocols for the protection of life and civil protection.”
“At the moment, eight people probably responsible for the events have been initially identified: two federal agents, a state immigration agent, as well as five elements of the private security company employed at the facility,” said Icela Rodríguez, though she declined to name SEICSA during the conference, even when directly questioned by members of the press.
Political analyst and opinion columnist F. Bartolomé pointed out in his Thursday, March 30, opinion column in daily Mexican newspaper Reforma that all of the problems Icela Rodríguez said occurred at the INM facility were administrative issues, meaning the culpability should fall on INM head Abraham Ezequiel Zurita Capdepont – an official that was appointed by Secretary of the Interior (Segob) Adán Augusto López, who’s notably attempted to distance himself from the deadly fire in the days following the incident.
Augusto López’s public attempts to deflect responsibility for the fire has caught the Segob secretary much flack in turn, prompting Reforma columnist Manuel J. Jauregui to liken Augusto López and the Mexican government’s actions to that of biblical figure Pontius Pilate.
“Our current rulers turned out to be good disciples of Pontius Pilate, at least in that tactic of WASHING THEIR HANDS of all guilt,” wrote Jauregui in his Thursday, March 30 column. “The treatment of these migrants is INHUMANE, which is why the INDIFFERENCE is so outrageous, the lack of empathy from those responsible, from those who lead our immigration policy, who decide how migrants who try to reach the United States through our territory are treated.”
“It must be considered that Augusto López received very bad advice on the subject of human relations, firstly when he shook off the legal entrustment, and secondly, when he decided, when the bodies are still in the morgue, to walk around and enjoy himself, laughing and laughing, as if the tragic events did not make a dent in him or were the least of his business,” Jauregui concluded.
While the Mexican government and López Obrador alike have been running with the version of events that the migrants started the Monday night fire in protest of their anticipated deportation, new accounts from the scene say that the migrants actually began their protest due to the lack of sufficient drinking water provided to them by staff at the facility.
Similarly, Venezuelan migrant Antony González, who spent several days in an INM migrant detention facility just weeks before, went on to provide insight into the conditions of the INM facilities to American news network Telemundo.
“Being there is totally like being in jail,” said González. “When you enter, they take everything from you, from watches and bracelets to their clothes, they strip you naked.”
According to one of the lawyers of the migrants impacted by the fire, Jorge Vázquez Campbell, the blame for the incident should fall squarely on the shoulders of Rear Admiral and Chihuahua INM Head Salvador González Guerrero, who purportedly ordered INM facility staffers to keep the migrants locked up in their cells even after the fire began.
“He did it by phone, the staffers spoke to him and warned him of the situation, and he said ‘no no, don’t open the bars, leave them.’ Let them stay there dying,” Vázquez Campbell told Reforma.
Vázquez Campbell then took the accusations against Vázquez Campbell to the legal arena, filing an official suit with Mexico’s Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) on the matter.
“I was informed by my clients, whose identity I reserve their identity for their safety, that Salvador González Guerrero was the one who gave the order by phone that the migrants were trapped inside the place where the fire started, and that the doors were not to be opened for any reason,” the suit read.
“Having the death of people who did not commit any crime as a consequence, because of an administrative fault such as being in the country illegally, is not a reason to keep them deprived of their liberty, much less allow them to die in this way,” the filed complaint went on to say.
In the wake of Monday’s fire, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) academic Francisco Burgoa said the fallout of the Ciudad Juárez tragedy should inspire Mexico to investigate the physical conditions of its other migrant facilities located across the country, as well as investigate further into the treatment of the migrants housed in said facilities to prevent a situation such as this from occurring in Mexico ever again.
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