Monday, December 26, 2016

Governor Eruviel Ávila: Who Is Going to Pay For The Tragedy at San Pablito?

San Pablito Market after the explosion
Lesli Hernández was at the San Pablito Market of Tultepec this fateful December 20th. She had gone there with her grandmother, Eva Báez Palacios, who wanted to buy fireworks to resell them at her shop in the City of Nicolás Romero. Leslie's uncle, Yasmani González, and her two-year-old child were also there when all of a sudden, a powerful blast shook the place.

"At the moment of the explosion, I turned around and there was a huge smoke cloud," Leslie recounted in an interview with Claudia Solera, a reporter for Excelsior TV. "And you could not see anything. I just heard my uncle screaming to my grandma: 'mom!'"

Unfortunately, Leslie's grandmother and uncle did not make it, and neither did 34 other people. Eight of them were children, and eighty seven more were injured.

This was not the first time that an explosion rocked the San Pablito Market, which is solely dedicated to the fireworks industry. Accidents in 2005 and 2006, both in September, injured 63 people and destroyed all 300 stalls. The City of Tultepec is famous for pyrotechnics, but it is also notorious for its tragedies. The Ministry of Civil Protection in Mexico State says that from August of 2015 to August of this year there have been eleven explosions there, and that most of them have been caused for the mishandling of explosives.

Juventino Luna Rodríguez, director for the promotion of artisans and pyrotechnics in Tultepec, told Milenio that he found that the safe zones between the stalls were not being respected at San Pablito during an inspection days before the tragedy.

"Even though they were removed, I do not doubt that the sellers insisted in expanding to increase their sales during the Christmas season, and it is also possible that they had excessive amounts of  merchandise. When the stored fireworks exploded, they reached the nearby stalls due to the invasion of the safe zone put in place for this reason."

See, the tragedy at San Pablito should never have happened. The Federal Law Rules for Firearms and Explosives are very strict. They require anyone wanting to make or sell fireworks to ask for a license from the President through the Mexican Army, which can deny the permit if it believes that it poses a risk for the population. Included with the request, applicants must attach a favorable opinion from the Governor, in this case Eruviel Ávila, and a safety certificate issued by the local authority "with detailed projects that assure that the installations, storage and fireworks will be adequate to avoid harm to people and things."

After the tragedy, a lot of questions have been raised, but not by the politicians who should be doing it. Governor Eruviel Ávila gave monthly allowances to the families of the victims during a ceremony on the 23rd, but there was no "we will get to the bottom of this." In an interview with Azteca Noticias, Ávila did not make any mention about justice for the dead either, saying that those left alive "were our only priority." President Enrique Peña Nieto, a great friend of Avila, has not made any calls for accountability either.

Governor Ávila has not mentioned the México State Institute for Pyrotechnics either. The agency, which has come under fire, was created in 2003 to issue and supervise safety standards, but an investigation by Sin Embargo found that 13 million out of the 18.2 million pesos it received in 2016 were used for "personal services." And its director, Juan Ignacio Rodarte Cordero, said days before the explosion that the San Pablito Market "was the safest in Latin America."

If San Pablito had been properly guarded, vendors would not have invaded the safe zones, and if it wasn't being properly policed, it was the job of the México State Institute for Pyrotechnics to address the problem. It was given plenty of taxpayer money to do so. The fact is that three explosions at the same place are just unacceptable. Somewhere, there must be a breakdown of command, and the State must hold those causing it accountable.

"The chain reaction showed that the security measures in place at the market failed due to the excessive accumulation and mishandling of fireworks that were placed outside of the displays, which were specially designed to minimize risks, and to the illegal occupation of the twelve-meter safety zones between stalls," Luna Rodríguez, the Tultepec official, concluded.

One of the main responsibilities of a government is to provide safety to its citizens. With eleven explosions just in the last year in Tultepec, obviously, this is not happening in México State. It is the duty of Governor Ávila to hold his appointed officials accountable, and to make sure that the law is being followed. In many countries, many heads would have rolled by now. But this is México, where the hands of justice are many times tied up by corruption and party affiliation. Ávila is a long-time member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has a long history with corruption.

There are a lot of questions to answer, beginning with the México State Institute for Pyrotechnics, which is in the end in charge of Governor Ávila. What did it do with the money? How often did its director report to the Governor. Why does Carolina Silva Ortiz hold two positions there. She is listed, according to the Sin Embargo investigation, as a private secretary and the under-director of prevention and promotion. All Mexicans should be asking these same questions.

"There is no value more fundamental than accountability. If the voter does not strongly judge those who govern him/her, then the political class will be more inclined to embrace impunity and shamelessness", journalist León Krauze wrote in an editorial for El Universal.
"Our political system has been nurtured for years by the purchase of political wills and by the amnesia of the voters. Both vices must be erradicated as quickly as possible."

Another very important questions arises because all of the explosions have taken place before Christmas and the celebration of independence, peak times for the sale of explosives. What was happening at the market during these seasons, and where were the organisms in charge of providing security to the residents?
San Pablito Market before the explosion

The story of Lesli and her grandmother and uncle will break anyone's heart. It was not their fault that they lived in México State, where safety may come second or third in the list of priorities, and where crime and corruption are rampant. It was not their fault either that they lived in the state that tops the country's list for kidnappings, and where 49 percent of the inhabitants are poor.

Thankfully, Lesli was able to save her daughter and herself. She was very lucky to have been in the outskirts of the market at the time of the blast, and to have been helped by two good Samaritans. They grabbed her and took her to a restroom about 20 meters away, and they locked themselves in there.

I grabbed my child, and without thinking I ran as far as I could. I think I was hit by flying rocks, but I did not stop. The only thing that I wanted was to saved my daughter. I did not want anything to happen to her."

Lesli's pleas for help from the public after her loved ones went missing were equally devastating. Crying, she asked: "Please help us find Eva Báez Palacios, who is 67 years old, and Yasmani Gonzalez Baez, who is 31. Tell them that we are waiting for them here at home. Please." Sadly, her pleas were not answered. Hopefully, justice will give her some peace.

Enlace a historia en español.