On October 24 in Ciudad Juárez, the Dulces Blueberry maquiladora, a low-wage manufacturing plant that specializes in American Halloween candy, turned into a real-life house of horrors when an industrial explosion killed four workers, injured several dozens more and showered the area with a cloud of dust.
According to the border-based outlet Frontera Norte Sur (FNS), as a result of the blast, “Fire broke out on the plant’s premises, fueled by spilled chemicals and sugar, and windows of homes in an adjacent residential district were reportedly shattered.” FNS has also revealed that the factory struck by the Halloween blast was known for producing gimmicky trick-or-treat candies like “Real Annoying Orange” and “Plants vs. Zombies” gummies.
Though the site of the collapsed factory is now under investigation by government authorities, officials reportedly left grieving family members in the dark for days and there is still little information available on the exact cause of the explosion. Texas-based WFAA initially quoted Rosario de la Torre Mesa, the mother of 20-year-old worker and father of two Miguel Angel, as saying: “Since yesterday at five in the morning when [Miguel] left for work, I haven’t seen him. I haven’t heard anything.”
By Saturday, WFAA reports, she’d only identified her son’s remains “after standing vigil outside the factory for two days.”
According to FNS Editor Kent Paterson, this disaster primarily “exposed the almost non-existent infrastructure in place [in Juárez] to respond to health and environmental emergencies.” The faulty organization was highlighted, he says, by the city’s halting emergency response to the explosion in the hours following the disaster. The chaotic aftermath was exacerbated, he continues, by longstanding resource gaps–hospitals that lacked the capacity to care for the injured and ambulances that “were not working or lacked gasoline.”
As horrifying as the city’s lack of emergency response is, however, perhaps more chilling has been the dead silence from the American side of the border about the labor conditions in the factory itself. The Blueberry factory is associated with U.S. brand Sunrise Confections, a division of the El Paso-based Mount Franklin Foods. The company has yet to respond to employees’ families claims that workplace hazards directly contributed to the tragedy. As of Wednesday afternoon, Mount Franklin had also declined to answer inquiries from Working In These Times.
El Paso’s KTSM reports: