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Thousands Protest in Hermosillo, Mexico
Citizens demand justice for daycare center tragedy
Erich Adolfo Moncada Cota (komodo)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-17 10:55 (KST)   
This article is lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
Hermosillo, June 14 -- Two large protests were held at the capital of Sonora, the biggest in recent history. What it used to be a quiet, ordinary Northern Mexican city, became the stage of a nasty, nationwide political turmoil. Twelve days after a fire that destroyed ABC nursery, just a handful of low-level public officials were fired or resigned, but currently there are no detainees behind bars.

The sign says: "IMSS: We demand safe nursery centers"
©2009 Benjamin Alonso

The latest death toll is 46 children dead, 17 hospitalized, 3 in critical condition and 46 suffering non-threatening respiratory problems and first degree burns.

According to official findings, an alleged short-circuit caused a fire in cooling device, burning a government warehouse and the neighboring nursery center. Regardless of hard evidence linking public functionaries from all government levels with corruption, nepotism, negligence and omission acts that led to the children셲 death, the crime appears to have left without any punishment.

Just a few days after the ABC accident, a bold and creative citizen organization was born. A small group of concerned citizens held public meetings and agreed to organize a protest. Young people used the Internet, cell phone texting, blogs and other social networks to invite people using both electronic and printed flyers.

On Wednesday, June 10, 8,000 to 10,000 people flooded the streets. The 10 kilometer march started from the ABC ruins and ended in Sonora University Museum. Most protesters were dressed in white, holding hand-made banners and candles. Sad and angered relatives held pictures of their kids tightly to their chests.

©2009 Benjamin Alonso

Signs carried by protesters demanded IMSS (Mexico셲 Social Security Institute) for stricter safety measures to prevent another incident. 쏶top corrupt profiteering, it's taking away innocent lives was written on one sign. 쏧rregularities were obvious, your excuses are insulting read another.

The mass was attended by many women and their families, students and workers. Leftists, rightists and independents marched together. Their eyes were grim, their faces hardened.

"We HATE the ones responsible. Show your face"
©2009 Benjamin Alonso

The largest group continued to Zubeldia square, while a smaller but still sizable crowd walked to the State Palace, office of Governor Eduardo Bours. The silent protest broke into desperate screaming and cursing. 쏮urderers! Murderers! they yelled. At times I was afraid the whole thing could turn out of control. Nonetheless, there were no reported acts of violence or material damages.

At the museum, people gathered in silence. Protesters, surrounded by families of the dead children, began demanding: 쏛ll the children to Sacramento (Shreiner셲 clinic, in California), 쐏rison to ABC owners and 쐉ustice without colors.

Authorities did little to ease protesters demands. Instead, they tried to blame each other for the fire. That셲 why a second, larger protest was set on June 10.

In the days prior to June 10, more facts unfolded. Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora, in charge of PGR, revealed that irregularities were confirmed in ABC since 2005 (although he never explained why his agency never sanctioned the daycare center). Shockingly, he also told the media that ABC owners could be out of jail, because of they did not intend for the crime to happen. Parents of wounded children sent to Guadalajara IMSS clinics, complained about pressures from federal officials refusing to send the young patients to California.

On June 12, 7,000 people took the streets again, marching from Zubeldia square to the State Palace. 46 white flags waved on the air representing the 46 children. A 25 meter-long sign was featured with names of all the dead kids written all over it. Artists on stilts and music performers joined the protest. More signs appeared: 쏪ustice to Santiago, 쏮ale, you will always be in our hearts, 쏪ulio Cesar, 100 percent angel, 쏷he angels are in heaven and the devils in Office.

Sign says: "Mexico cries for the ambition of a few"
©2009 Benjamin Alonso

The march arrived in complete silence to the State Palace. The anger returned. A group of 20 parents stood in front of the main gate. Some called for Governor Bours to step down. Someone in the crowd told assistants to bring torches instead of white flags, to burn the Palace. 쏞orrupt government! yelled a man. 쏪ustice, justice, justice was a constant claim.

Catalina Soto, head of Sonora University Human Rights Commission, was the movement셲 spokeswoman. She read a manifesto containing a parent셲 pleas regarding the tragedy. The more relevant requests included dignified financial reparations to parents; immediate cancellation of inadequate nurseries; demolition of ABC premises and the construction of a hospital in its place and a memorial for victims.

The sign says: "Score: Dead Children 46/ Detained 0/ Total Impunity"
©2009 Benjamin Alonso

Then the parents took the microphone. Abram Fraijo, Emilia셲 (age 3) dad, said the 12,000 dollar reparation payment set by IMSS was a 쐌ockery. 쏷hey will not silence us with that money, he declared. Then he lifted her daughters photograph over his head, tears filling his eyes.

Parents of dead children, stand in front of the State Palace.
©2009 Cesar Fraijo

Danitza Lopez, an ABC worker, told the crowd how she was able to save four children셲 lives, but not her own child, stranded inside. 쏷here wasn셳 a fire on the warehouse It was an explosion! Please, don셳 let us stand by ourselves the woman asked the crowd.

쏽ou셱e not alone! the people repeatedly yelled back to her.

A participant said: 쏬et셲 burn the owner셲 houses! They are murderers!

Another woman screamed: 쏧 know the address of one of them! Let셲 lynch them!

Roberto Zavala, a young man, grabbed the microphone. He was Santiago셲 dad. 쏧셫 guilty for voting. I셫 guilty for paying my taxes. I셫 guilty for being honest and for having a working schedule. I셫 guilty for letting them go on.

Then his sorrow became a burst of fury: 쏧셫 sick of this! They셱e mocking us. Mexico is full of trash, corruption, drug trafficking쪰 will find the ones responsible, and if there is no justice, authorities will face the people셲 rage! he warned.

A couple of minutes later, power to the microphone was disconnected from inside the State Place. But that didn셳 stopped protesters from bringing a vehicle and a new sound system.

Finally the crowd dispersed after they prayed 쏦oly father.

The sign says: "Angels in heaven and government is in hell"
©2009 Cesar Fraijo

I went back to Zubeldia square. I was staring at the improvised memorial for the children. Many sad people were also looking at the eclectic altar built for the victims. I felt disillusioned and resentful.

Then I remembered a sign carried by someone that read, "more wood thrown into the social fire. The events of ABC fire opened a deep and dangerous wound in society's skin. Time could ease the pain. But I셫 scared of how people will react to the next accident. It is very likely that violence will conquer all.

Or worst. Maybe Mexican society is already too repressed, afraid and disenchanted that even the mass death of 46 children isn셳 enough to shake up people.

Hermosillo, traditionally a conservative city, has a considerable amount of educated and informed citizens. Over the last 10 years, there have been important protests.

Benjamin Alonso, an award winning journalist, remembers how several thousand people went to the streets during the global antiwar rallies in 2003 against US invasion of Iraq. Other high profile mobilizations took place in solidarity for national causes: the 2005 impeachment of Mexico City셲 Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador; the 2006 Oaxaca uprising; and the 2007 Tortilla March against rising food prices.

View of the protest on Zaragoza square.
©2009 Cesar Fraijo

I took down statements from participants of the day's march.

Mercedes, housewife -- "I셫 here because I feel impotent. I feel solidarity with other people셲 pain. Thank God, no one was affected in our family. I just want to see someone behind bars. Who셲 responsible? Those who authorized daycare center operation without safety measures."

Carmen Valdez, psychologist -- "I came to protest against the murders. Against negligence. Against lack of justice. It셲 the fifth day and nobody셲 in jail. I demand safe places for parents to let their children without worries. I demand institutions that protect our rights, and justice, of course."

Gisela Carvallo, researcher -- "I셫 marching because I셫 angry. I ask the authorities to punish those responsible. They should not be saying that the daycare center complied with all regulations, because it's obvious the emergency doors weren셳 working."

Guillermo Noriega, activist -- "I ask for the end of impunity in this country. No more favoritism. I want people to wake up. They should know that governing is not a game. That picking representatives is not a game."

Gustavo Lorenzana, college teacher -- "I셫 here to support the families who lost their love ones. But I셫 also here to express my dissatisfaction with this decade-long system where the welfare state has been stripped down, harming the poor."

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Erich Adolfo Moncada Cota

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