Mexican president vows ‘no impunity’ for 38 migrant fire deaths

MEXICO CITY (AFP): Mexico’s president on Wednesday vowed there would be “no impunity” over the deaths of 38 migrants in a fire at a detention center, as relatives waited desperately for news about the victims.

Authorities faced mounting scrutiny of their handling of the disaster after video surveillance footage appeared to show guards leaving as flames engulfed a cell with migrants trapped inside.

“We will not hide anything and there will be no impunity,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters after the blaze in Ciudad Juarez near the US border late Monday.

Those found to have been responsible for “causing this painful tragedy will be punished in conformity with the law,” he said.

In the video, whose authenticity was confirmed by the government, three guards seem to hurry away leaving migrants in their cell as flames spread and smoke fills the building.

El Salvador, which said some of its citizens were seriously injured, demanded that the people in charge of the facility be punished since the video showed migrants “were left inside the cells without any chance of getting to safety.”

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the video as “heartbreaking” and offered “condolences for the tragic loss of life.”

She said officials from the two countries had been in contact, and raised the possibility that some of the injured might be allowed to receive medical assistance in the United States.

Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that the migrants were believed to have started the fire themselves in a protest against deportations.

“They put mats at the door of the shelter and set them on fire as a protest, and did not imagine that it would cause this terrible tragedy,” he said.

Amnesty International on Tuesday slammed Mexican authorities for leaving “human beings locked up with no way to escape the fire.”

Dozens of migrants spent the night outside the National Migration Institute (INM) facility in Ciudad Juarez waiting for information about their relatives and friends.

The government had not yet identified those who lost their lives or the conditions of the 28 injured.

The group included people from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador, Mexican authorities said.

“We want to know if they were in there or not,” said Venezuelan Gilbert Zabaleta, who was looking for two friends.

Migrants left candles and flowers during a vigil outside the detention center, demanding better treatment by the authorities.

“You know what angers me? You arrive here after battling so hard in life,” said 22-year-old Embeer Gutierrez, also from Venezuela.

Ecuador landslide death toll rises to 12

The death toll from a landslide in southern Ecuador has risen to 12, authorities announced, with dozens of people still missing.

The toll climbed by one after a young male who had been pulled from the mud died in the health facility where he was being treated, the public prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday night.

Torrential rain overnight Sunday to Monday triggered the mudslide that buried dozens of homes and injured more than 30 people in the village of Alausi some 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of the capital Quito.

There were 67 people still missing, the SNGR risk management secretariat said, adding that 163 homes have been affected.

The area in the path of Sunday’s disaster had been in a designated yellow alert risk zone since February following other landslides.

The government opened three shelters for those affected by the landslide, which covered an area of more than 24 hectares (59 acres).

The same region was hit by an earthquake just over a week earlier in which 15 people were killed.

After months of heavy rains, the government last week declared a two-month state of emergency in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces, allowing economic resources to be redistributed to affected areas.

Rescuers and family members of those still trapped continued to work at the disaster zone on Wednesday.

Every so often they pulled personal belongings such as clothing and photographs from the mud.

President Guillermo Lasso has vowed to continue the rescue effort for “as long as is necessary,” but he was jeered by locals when he visited the site on Monday night.

Since the start of the year, heavy rains in Ecuador had already caused the deaths of 22 people, destroyed 72 homes and damaged more than 6,900 residences before Sunday’s landslide, according to the SNGR.

Meanwhile, around 2,000 indigenous protesters took to the streets of the capital Quito on Wednesday demanding that the constitutional court gives the green light for an impeachment process against Lasso.

The president has been accused by some opposition legislators of protecting a criminal organization headed by his brother-in-law Danilo Carrera and a former government official, Hernan Luque.

If the court allows the impeachment process to continue, the National Assembly would then need to vote by a two-thirds majority to remove Lasso from power.

Last June, Lasso survived another impeachment attempt by opposition lawmakers who accused him of being responsible for indigenous protests against the high cost of living.