Photo: Rosa del Carmen Verduzco
The 79-year-old founder of the La Gran Familia shelter in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, where 500 children living in squalid conditions were rescued last week, said that her age prevented her from noticing incidents of abuse and mistreatment.
“My strength was diminishing and there were things I could not keep an eye on,” Rosa del Carmen Verduzco said in an interview with the U.S. Univision network, published Wednesday by the Mexican daily El Universal.
Verduzco, known as “Mama Rosa,” said that after the scandal unleashed by the intervention of federal authorities in the shelter’s operation someone told her: “Your sin, Rosa, has been to grow old.”
“If I, through omission of care, hurt the children not only do I regret it but it pains me. And I say to them: Forgive me,” Verduzco said in the first interview she granted after having been released from a hospital in Zamora, Michoacan, where the shelter is located.
Verduzco discussed details of life inside her organization and emphasized the differences between the world of the dispossessed and those who have everything they need.
In La Gran Familia, sexual abuse, physical and psychological maltreatment were committed and children were deprived of their freedom, according to accounts from residents and statements accompanying more than 150 criminal complaints filed against the shelter.
“The people who have a very high standard of living think that drinking an expired soft-drink is very bad. I’ve been eating like that for 80 years and I’m healthy,” said the shelter director, who has no charges filed against her due to her advanced age and poor health.
Mama Rosa acknowledged that she used “tough love” to help discipline the children at times. She justified the bars on the shelter’s rooms, the lack of hygiene, the use of expired food and her attitude toward the parents of the kids, whom she made sign notarized documents giving up their children’s rights.
Regarding the unhealthy conditions in the shelter, where - authorities say - there were rodents, cockroaches and bedbugs, Verduzco said that was no different from what occurs in other homes and asked the interviewer if they had ever seen a mouse in their own house.
Verduzco, who owns 21 properties, confirmed that over the past six decades at least 4,000 children passed through La Gran Familia, which had government-paid teachers and medical services from the public health care system.
Six people who worked with Mama Rosa are in custody facing charges for kidnapping, child trafficking and other crimes.