(Mexico City) Operation Transparency: Taking into account an accusatory video, Mexican authorities announced on Wednesday the opening of a “homicide” investigation after the death of 39 migrants in the fire of a detention center in Ciudad Juárez at the United States border.
“None of the officials or private security police took the slightest action to open the door to the migrants who were inside (Editor’s note: of a cell) while there was fire”, a said human rights prosecutor Sara Irene Herrerías Guerra at a press conference.
Eight alleged officials have been identified, said Secretary (Minister) of Security, Rosa Icela Rodriguez, during this press conference less than 48 hours after the events.
The alleged perpetrators – three agents from the National Institute for Migration (INM) and five agents from a security company – “are already being heard” by the prosecution, continued the prosecutor. Four arrest warrants were to be requested from judges on Wednesday.
“The offense for which the (investigative) file has been opened is the offense of homicide,” she said, also mentioning the offense of “injury” and “damage to the property of others”. Prosecutions for other offenses such as “abuse of authority” or “ill treatment” are being considered, she said.
The prosecutor confirmed the authenticity of a 32-second video broadcast by several media including AFP: “This video is part of the investigation file,” she said.
These CCTV images show the start of the fire on the night of Monday to Tuesday. Behind bars, in the smoke, a man kicks against a closed door while another appears to put a mattress on the ground.
In the foreground, three officers withdraw with their backs to the people locked up behind bars, without giving them assistance.
This video provoked outraged reactions from civil society.
“How is it possible that the Mexican authorities left human beings locked up without the possibility of escaping the fire?” asked Erika Guevara Rosas, director of Amnesty International for the Americas, in a press release.
“Government, take responsibility,” read a banner held by a protester at a rally Wednesday in Mexico City.
During the press conference, the Secretary of Security revised the death toll upwards from 38 to 39. It also reported 27 injuries, including six in “extremely serious” condition, ten in serious condition, and nine in “delicate” condition.
The authorities have still not given details of the nationality of the victims, mentioning their country of origin, mainly from Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) and Venezuela.
Guatemala said on Tuesday that 28 of its nationals had died. El Salvador spoke of four seriously injured, asking that those responsible for the tragedy be brought to justice.
Authorities confirmed the fire was started by migrants protesting their possible deportation.
Several of them had been arrested in the streets of Ciudad Juárez, where they were begging or washing windshields at intersections in an attempt to survive.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador had promised that there would be no “impunity” by asking that “those who caused this painful tragedy be punished according to the law”.
The drama caused reactions beyond the borders of Mexico. “We pray for the migrants who died yesterday in the tragic fire in Ciudad Juárez,” Pope Francis said.
The United Nations has advocated for “safer” migration routes to the United States and the United States Ambassador to Mexico has insisted on “fixing a broken migration system” with his partners in the region.
Ciudad Juárez, neighboring El Paso (Texas), is one of the border towns from which many undocumented migrants seek to reach the United States to seek asylum after a long journey.
On Wednesday, dozens of them still tried to cross the border between the two countries, noted an AFP journalist on the spot.
Some 200,000 people attempt to cross the border between Mexico and its northern neighbor every month. Migrants say they want to escape poverty or violence in their countries of origin.
Since 2014, approximately 7,661 migrants have died or gone missing en route to US territory, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).