Parents of Mexican preschool fire victims angry about ruling

Parents of some of the 49 children killed in a preschool fire last year reacted angrily Thursday to a decision by Mexico’s Supreme Court holding top federal officials blameless for rights violations related to the blaze.

The Supreme Court ended three days of televised hearings late Wednesday, ruling that the officials and a former governor were not responsible for what justices agreed were violations stemming from the June 2009 blaze in the northern state of Sonora.

The justices said they lacked evidence of “generalized disorder” in the federal agency that was responsible for the ill-fated preschool and runs nearly 1,500 others around Mexico by arrangement with private contractors.

The court, in its role as an investigative body, addressed only possible violations of constitutional rights and guarantees. The justices said the ruling did not affect criminal prosecutions underway of more than a dozen people, including the preschool’s owners.

Many parents, fearing inadequate action from law enforcement, had sought the Supreme Court’s help. The court has investigated other cases of possible rights abuses and blamed specific public officials, though its findings in such cases are nonbinding.

“The court had in its hands a historic opportunity to do something for the people of Mexico and they didn’t do it,” Patricia Duarte, whose son died in the fire, said in a radio interview.

It was the first time the full Supreme Court had delved into the fire, which left 75 children injured. The incident, in the state capital, Hermosillo, spawned a national outcry after investigators discovered grave safety lapses. The preschool was under the authority of the Mexican Social Security Institute but was run by the owners under contract with the agency.

A committee of justices investigated the fire and this year drew up a list of 19 federal, state and local functionaries it labeled as “involved” in violations stemming from the blaze.

That list included Juan Molinar Horcasitas, who previously ran the social security agency, and Eduardo Bours, then-governor of Sonora. It was whittled to 14 for the court hearings and included the current head of the institute, Daniel Karam.

The court ruled that the blaze amounted to “grave violations” of rights under Mexico’s Constitution. But, saying they lacked evidence of systemic failure, the justices held as responsible only seven lower-level officials.

“We have done what the constitution allows us,” said the chief justice, Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia. The court said the ruling “exonerates no one.”

Rights advocates criticized a separate ruling that upheld the system of private operators for government preschools.

“The court left the way open to corruption,” the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center said in a statement.