Peru’s The Fifth Criminal Court postponed an ongoing trial until next Monday April 23rd, after prosecutors showed emotional videos that led to numerous breakdowns among the attending relatives of the 291 victims who perished in a fire in the Mesa Rendonda shopping area in downtown Lima on December 29th, 2001.
District attorney Ana Maria Cubas showed images of the terrible fire whose victims were drawn almost entirely from the millions of marginalized poor who go daily into the streets of Peruvian cities to earn a few cents or buy cheap goods.
The worst fire in Peru’s history began at approximately six in the afternoon that fateful day when someone set off fireworks in the crowded sopping district in Lima’s historic center. Mesa Redonda is an informal market where thousands of vendors sell their products in the most precarious conditions imaginable.
Traditionally in December, Peruvian workers and poor buy hundreds of tons of fireworks in Mesa Redonda to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
A videotape revealed that the fire began at the intersection of Av. Cusco and Andahuaylas and spread rapidly, consuming five blocks in a few minutes because the ground was covered with gunpowder that had fallen out of fireworks boxes as they were unloaded for sale.
In the following days, family members descended on central Lima hospitals and the morgue, holding photographs of their disappeared loved ones. Many held on in vain to the illusion that someone would bring them news that their family members were still alive. In the confusion, the number listed as disappeared rose to more than 800.
Close to 4,500 merchants and vendors lost their jobs and scarce savings in the fire. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the victims were youth, and the majority was female.
Watching the catastrophe unfold again today was just too much to bear for many of the heartbroken relatives. Several began to cry and the judge ordered a one-week recess. Abut 150 people are charged with several crimes and negligence, among them officials of the city of Lima and the Interior Ministry, as well as retailers.
The prosecution could not conclude with its demonstration today and will resume next week. The presiding judge also stated he would subpoena the more than 110 defendants who did not attend today’s hearing.
Among those are the former acting chief of the 7th Police precinct, Luis Sanchez, who presumably issued the order of retreating the police force from the area before Christmas, one main reason why so many pyrotechnical products entered the shops without surveillance and control, according to Cesar Nagasaki, one of the relatives legal representatives.
Also charged is Julio Mijichich, former director of the main directorate for Security, Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives Control (short: Dicscamec). He offered his resignation after the fire, but later reconsidered because he felt he wasn’t responsible.
Wholesale retailer Ricardo Wong is also one of the main defendants. He was presumably the main supplier of the firework devices.
Article by Wolfy Becker