Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Three years later, Mexico Still Waits for its Nursery Law

This is the one hundredth post for That’s Inked Up, and while I had planned to celebrate this occasion with a post on an entirely different topic, I have chosen instead to discuss an event which since has  changed the focus of my own artwork, and has compelled me to inform others visually about issues and causes I feel are important. In a departure from discussing the prints of other artists, this post is dedicated to the 56 children of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, who needlessly died in a fire that broke out on June 5th, 2009. The situation, as you will see, has been a brutally frustrating legal process, but for the deceaseds’ families one can only pray they find justice as they march annually in cities all across Mexico, begging the judicial system and President Calderon to implement the Nursery Law, which would help  protect children and set operational safety standards.

Most working parents have to consider some form of daycare for their young children, but the opportunities, other than family, are limited, and as is commonly found in Mexico, most of these businesses  take in extra children. They want the money, and parents have to work, so sets the background for this story…

The ABC Nursery in Hermosillo was a business licensed since 2001 by the Mexican Social Security Institute, or IMSS to provide legally required childcare services to workers' children, aged 2-5.  The building in which ABC operated was set to manage 40 children.  Before 2006, the IMSS sought to privatize Mexico’s daycare system and subcontracted over a thousand such businesses across Mexico. In a country rife with corruption, not even the children of Hermosillo would be spared.

This particular ABC Nursery was set up in an old warehouse with toxic and inflammable walls, with a facing wall adjacent to an auto and tire company. While the IMSS claims annual safety inspections of daycare centers occur, that doesn’t bear muster. Unfortunately for the IMSS, this daycare supposedly passed an ‘inspection’ 10 days before the fire. If it had actually happened, the inspectors would have found only one working exit instead of three (the others were barred and bolted), and no working sprinkler system, nor any fire extinguishers. The Nursery’s fire alarm system was later found to be in working order, but it didn’t go off.

The actual numbers of children found in the ABC Nursery on the day of the fire was much higher than was allowed by law. There were over 100 children in the Center, and they ranged in age from 3 months to 6 years old. The Center normally operated with a staff of 20, but on that day only 6 were working. When the fire broke out, firefighters, parents and civilian rescuers frantically tried to rescue the children and one man rammed a hole in the Nursery’s cement walls with his truck so rescuers could enter the building. A side note* That day, most of Hermosillo's police and public safety bosses had been attending a meeting in the US when the fire occurred.

Result: 56 dead, 75 injured, including children aged 3 months to 6 years old.

The Mexican government called for an investigation and the Supreme Court eventually found several members of the Sonora Finance Ministry had direct responsibility for operating a warehouse full of tires and old files in the same building as the ABC Nursery. The Sonoran Governor and wives of other high-ranking officials were also identified as having culpability with the incident. The owners of the Nursery have never been brought to justice, nor served any time for this event. Additionally, the investigation found that of the 1,480 outsourced contracts signed by the IMSS, only 14 met all the legal requirements. 

The results of the ABC fire were so horrendous it made international news for a few days, and it continues to pop up periodically as the families of the deceased call for the President and the government to enact the Nursery Law. So far, no action has been taken.

When this tragic story came to my attention on the internet, I felt a call to speak about it.  I was later able to commemorate the incident in two installations in Mexico, and in a print suite called UN- Natural Disasters. Nothing can bring back those innocents, or heal the emotional and physical scars of the injured, but SOMETHING can be done to help prevent it from happening again. Not naming any one person, for there are numerous people involved and it is pandemic of the country’s lack of a governing body, but it is clear that the collective responsibility of the government has failed, at least in this situation, to care for its own people – something they were elected to uphold. As for my print, it seeks only to acknowledge a injustice,  give support to those families who have lost their babies and pray they will one day find peace.

A book about this tragedy, written by Mexican journalist Diego Osorno, is called "Nosotros somos los culpables" (We Are to Blame). Royalties from its sales will go to the Citizens Movement for June 5 Justice.

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