Brazilian authorities inspected and shuttered night spots around the country on Thursday as part of a crackdown on unsafe public spaces after a deadly nightclub fire left 235 people dead and shocked the nation. Officials in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico followed Brazil's example and tightened scrutiny on their own nightclubs.
The action comes just a week before Carnival celebrations get under way across Brazil and much of Latin America, with revelers set to pack streets and popular venues.
Inspectors in the Amazon city of Manaus have ordered the temporary closure of some 58 bars, nightclubs and other public buildings, the city's Em Tempo newspaper reported. Owners of the affected night spots staged a protest Thursday outside City Hall to denounce what they said were arbitrary closures, the newspaper said.
It added that fire code irregularities have been found even inside Manaus City Hall, including faulty emergency lighting and nonfunctional fire extinguishers.
In Rio de Janeiro, officials said they were studying the possible closure of some of the dozens of cultural centers operated by state and local governments, including theaters, libraries and museums said to hold expired licenses. Nine out of 10 municipal theaters in Rio have expired fire inspection certificates, the O Globo daily reported on Thursday. It also said two nightclubs in the Rio neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca have been closed.
The legal status of the Kiss nightclub in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria has come under intense scrutiny since Sunday's blaze, with firefighters and top officials insisting they had carried out inspections in accordance with the law. But the police inspector leading the investigation into the tragedy has said the club was so blatantly hazardous that "any child" could have seen it should not have been operating.
Police have said the blaze likely started when a band performing at the club lit a flare, which ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling. That initial error was compounded by the near-total lack of emergency infrastructure such as a fire alarms or sprinkler systems, police have said. The club also had only one working door and a faulty fire extinguisher.
The tragedy prompted action in several Latin American countries.
Mexico City's government launched a round of detailed inspections of bars and nightclubs, with plans to visit some 4,000 locations over the next four months to check smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency exits and other safety requirements, said Macarena Quiroz Arroyo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Civil Protection. She said the city regularly inspects entertainment venues but will carry out more minute evaluations than in the past.
"What happened in Brazil is a warning for the whole world," Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told reporters this week. "In Mexico City, with its nightlife and many places where large crowds gather, it's essential that we get to work in order to be sure" that conditions are safe.
The city is also letting businesses voluntarily request inspections to make sure all necessary safety measures are in place, rather than being subject to spot inspections based on complaints to authorities. Businesses will have 30 days to fix any problems, rather than being subject to immediate closure as frequently happens under spot checks.
Civil Protection officials in the Pacific resort of Acapulco on Thursday were about halfway through an inspection of the 90 or so biggest bars and clubs along its famous beach and high-end Diamond Zone neighborhood ahead of a holiday long weekend expected to bring thousands of vacationers, department head Efrain Valdez Ramirez said.
He said inspectors had so far found only minor violations. Similar inspections were taking place across Mexico, including in the state of Tamaulipas on the Texas border, local media reported.
Venezuela's government announced new inspections of nightclubs and other venues and outlawed fireworks at public events held indoors. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on television that after the Brazil tragedy, the government wanted to take "all preventive measures to keep that from happening in the country."
For its part, Nicaragua was banning the use of fireworks or other incendiary devices in nightclubs and other enclosed spaces, police spokesman Francisco Diaz said Wednesday.
Brazilian authorities have detained the co-owners of the Kiss nightclub and two members of the band performing when the fire started.
Jader Marques, an attorney representing one of the co-owners, insisted his "client's responsibility is having trusted too much in the inspectors and in those responsible for the construction."
"Hindsight is 20-20," he said, emphasizing that public officials had signed off on the club.
Marques denied reports that overcrowding helped compound Sunday's tragedy, insisting there were only 600 to 700 people in the club at any one time/ The band's guitarist told media that the space was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people, and police have given the same estimate. Capacity for the 615-square-meter (6,650-square-foot) nightspot stood at less than 700.
Marques insisted that any higher tallies of people at the club that night were due to club-goers cycling in and out.
Since the tragedy, victim families and local townspeople have repeatedly called for those responsible to be punished. On Wednesday, a young tagger sprayed oversized white graffiti reading "justice for all" on the facade of the club as onlookers cheered and police watched from below, Brazilian media reported. He then escaped over neighboring roofs, the reports said.
More than 100 people remain hospitalized, dozens of them in critical condition.