Opposition Lawmakers Call for Minister to Explain Children’s Deaths

Opposition lawmakers from Peru’s Fuerza 2011 party have presented a motion calling for the minister of Social Development and Women, Aida Garcia-Naranjo, to answer questions related to the deaths of three children earlier this month due to poisoning in a national food program.

Fuerza 2011, which supports jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori, said it collected signatures from the Alianza por el Gran Cambio and Concertacion Parlamentaria parties as well, daily El Comercio reported.

“There are dead Peruvian children and there has to be someone politically responsible, and in this case it is the minister,” said the president of the congressional health committee and member of Fuerza 2011 for Cajamarca, Segundo Tapia.

Peru’s attorney general said this week that the children were poisoned by insecticide that was in their food.

The children were given the food as part of the government’s National Food Assistance Program, Pronaa, distributed through the school system. Another 89 children at the Redondo village school, in the province of Cajabamba, were taken to hospital because of the food poisoning, and 65 still remained hospitalized on Wednesday. Some of the school teachers had also suffered from mild poisoning.

The president of Congress and member of President Ollanta Humala’s ruling Gana Peru party, Daniel Abugattas, said he thought the request from Fuerza 2011 was “overdone” because “it won’t solve the root of the problem.”

“I’m not minimizing the deaths, but it is clear who is responsible,” he said. The government has said the individuals responsible for the deaths are the officials in the food program, and not Garcia-Naranjo.

The food is stored and distributed by Pronaa in towns and villages, and then stored in the schools or centers where it is prepared and served. 

According to acting executive director of Pronaa and the vice-minister of Women and Social Development, Eduardo Ballon, the food is fumigated against weevils at the Pronaa warehouses with Gastion, which is not toxic, he said, contrary to accusations by a Pronaa director in Cajamaca.   The fumigation guidelines are strict, Ballon said.

“The products that are fumigated every four months are covered with blankets/coveralls, the tablets are in contact with oxygen for five days… After the five days, the blankets are removed and the products are ventilated for three days. In those eight days, the product is not moved and that can be verified with all the guidelines and procedures,” Ballon said. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women and Social Development has ordered the reorganization of the Pronaa administration, and a committee has 60 days to evaluate the current operations procedures and recommend changes and strategies.

In 1999, during the Fujimori administration, 26 schoolchildren in the village of Tauccamarca, Paucartambo, Cusco, died tragically from food poisoning — the Pronaa foodstuffs were found to have been stored next to the chemical insecticide Parathion.   The following year, the government banned the fertilizer, and the state attorney found the schoolteacher, his wife and a peasant farm woman guilty of mishandling the food. The teacher was sentenced to six years in prison.

Political commentator Mirko Lauer described the call for Garcia-Naranjo’s direct responsibility in the death of the three children as a natural part of the opposition’s daily attempt to bring about an early demolition of  President Humala’s cabinet, but considered the reasons to be “feeble.”

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