SETAC Remains Closed Without Funds, Employees or Board of Directors

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New Non-Profit Formed to Deliver PrEP to Community

Francisco Javier Arjona Barbosa
Francisco Javier Arjona Barbosa

The Solidaridad Ed Thomas Asociación Civil (SETAC) remains closed as former workers claim non-payment and mistreatment by director Paco Arjona (Francisco Javier Arjona Barbosa). 

At its highpoint, SETAC had at least eight full time employees – not counting contractors that may have cleaned the office, etc. and a yearly budget of approximately $3.2 million ($3,276,000) pesos a year (approximately $192,705 USD). Those funds covered rent on two large locations, staff salaries and services provided to clients.

Arjona, on the other hand, continues to talk about the success of SETAC since he and his partner, Ed Thomas, started the non-profit organization in 2009 and talks about rebuilding and moving forward.

The New NonProfit PrEP Committee is made up (left to right) Paul Crist, Mikel Alvarez, Jet De La Isla, Don Pickens and Mike Owens. It is NOT associated with the current SETAC. Photo composition by Oscar Almeida.
The New NonProfit PrEP Committee is made up (left to right) Paul Crist, Mikel Alvarez, Jet De La Isla, Don Pickens and Mike Owens. Photo composition by Oscar Almeida.

And as Arjona struggles with these issues, former employees and financial supporters of SETAC have started a new non-profit organization to continue to provide free and low cost PrEP to the LGBTQ+ community. That effort has generated lots of interest in the community, with many business leaders stepping forward to provide funding, computers, office supplies, desks and even office space. 

The Board of Directors

SETAC has operated without a board of directors for at least the last two or more years – that is, an active board of directors. But Arjona told O&APV in a communication that he is its director and legal representative. It’s clear that he has maintained a firm control over the organization.

A photo of SETAC Founder Ed Thomas (right) and Paco Arjona, taken in 2014.
A photo of SETAC Founder Ed Thomas (right) and Paco Arjona, taken in 2014.

In legal documents filed with the government, it lists (Registro Federal de las Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil) its legal representatives as Francisco Javier Arjona Barbosa, general administrator;  Ed Thomas, president and legal representative; Sergio Rebolledo Macías, secretary; Emmanuel Carretero, treasurer; and Iliana Marcela Ruiz Orozco. You can view that here.  It says the board offices were appointed on June 28, 2011 for an indefinite period. Arjona was appointed on Oct. 29, 2009, for an indefinite period. 

In March 2018, SETAC posted that it’s board of directors were: Under the directive of Articles 180 and 181 of the State of Jalisco’s Civil Code, the following members concluded their membership on said board: Francisco de Santiago Rojas, Moisés Guardado Altamirano, Edgar Martín Hernández, y Nahum Santiago Arizmendi. Individuals joining the board of directors in 2018 included: Denise Deramee, Editor, Banderas News;  Javier Jiménez, owner of several businesses in Emiliano Zapata, among them, Flamingos and Garbo; Vidal Meza Peña, Owner, Almar Resort/Mantamar; Don Pickens, Owner, Casa Cupula; Cristóbal Rodríguez, Manager, El Ropero de Jovany; Iliana Marcela Ruiz Orozco, Dermatologist in charge of the Sexually Transmitted Infections Unit at CAPASITS; Marc Serrao, Real Estate Broker, Applegate Realtors; Ed Thomas, Founder, SETAC and Gustavo Silva Lacroix, Manager, Casa Cupula (this was the only post we could find that listed any board members). But none of this was noted on the legal document filed with the government stating who serves on the board. 

An annual report wasn’t filed for 2023, and the last annual report filed on time was in 2017. The legal address on the government form hasn’t been updated since SETAC had offices at Calle Constitucion 427. 

A photo of SETAC Founder Ed Thomas (left) and Paco Arjona, taken in 2014.
Ed Thomas (left) and Paco Arjona.

So it’s not clear, based on these documents, who is legally responsible for SETAC. Arjona has maintained that he is its sole legal representative.

All of this has left Arjona at its helm with little or no oversight. And a complete lack of transparency. While funds donated by other charities have been tracked, little is known about cash donations given directly to the organization.

It has (or had) a yearly budget of approximately $3.2 million ($3,276,000) pesos a year (approximately $192,705 USD). Those funds covered rent on two large locations, staff salaries and services provided to clients.

Arjona says that he continues to look for ideal people to serve on the board, and that there has never been employee mistreatment and that employees have not been paid only because of a lack of funds.

O&APV has also learned that in addition to non-payment to the employees, SETAC has not paid rent on two buildings for at least the last four months.  One of those is a 350 sq. meter space at Insurgentes 174b, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, a space that was partially remodeled as the new LGBTQ Community Center, but remains unused (see more on this below). 

“It should be noted that all this began when the economic funds diminished after SETAC decided to continue paying the salaries and benefits that corresponded to the government of Jalisco and in this way not to suspend the PREP program and other services,” Arjona said.

SETAC Staff in front of mobile clinic
A community meeting was held in August 2023, where it was announced SETAC was reorganizing and would have new leadership and a board of directors. None of that happened. Here is a photo of some of the employees at that time. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

Two fundraisers have been held in recent months, and in the last six months there were announcements of reorganization, a new operations director and that Arjona was “stepping back” from day-to-day operations. 

But those changes were short lived, and former employees said that Arjona made threats and never intended to step back. 

“Part of the staff were fired, others decided to resign due to the lack of payment and the staff who continue to work do so without receiving their respective biweekly payments,” said former staff members in an open letter to the community, issued on Jan. 2, 2024.  The letter does not list names because of fear of retaliation.  However O&APV has talked to several former staff members who have all agreed with the contents of the letter.

“Neither those who resigned nor those who were dismissed have received the corresponding compensation. In addition to this, during our time working, we received mistreatment, unfulfilled work promises and our ability to exercise our duties was constantly questioned, this in addition to other actions that we consider labor violence. This unfortunate situation was triggered as a result of the lack of direction, decision-making incongruous with the situation, absence of the board of directors and lack of economic resources,” the letter says.

The History

Paco Ruiz and his partner David were active in the late 1990s and early 2000s helping those that had HIV and AIDS, but never formed a legal non-profit.

Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA was founded by Paul Crist in 2007. Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA was very active, hosting health fairs, participating in community events  but it closed in May, 2010
Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA was founded by Paul Crist in 2003. Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA was very active, hosting health fairs, participating in community events  but it closed in May, 2010

Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA (VES) was founded by Paul Crist in 2003. Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA was very active, hosting health fairs, participating in community events, and even had a mobile HIV testing van.

It closed in May, 2010. Paco Arjona served as its executive director from approximately 2007 to 2009. Julio Madrid was its executive director from 2009 to 2010.  

Paul Crist, who was the founder and President of VES, said VES and Arjona terminated their relationship in 2009.

In 2009 SETAC was formed by Ed Thomas (and then partner of Paco Arjona), a former Bostonian who retired to Puerto Vallarta.  Some have speculated that the organization was started out of spite because Arjona’s relationship with VES was over. After receiving financial support from Club Manna owner Peter Deep, they proceeded to open SETAC.

It wasn’t long before funding and donations for VES dried up.

“Funding from a AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a major supporter of VES, had been significantly reduced after the 2008 global financial crisis,” Crist told O&APV. “And a mysterious fire that destroyed the VES HIV mobile testing van had people concerned.”

Thomas said in a 2017 interview with OAPV that SETAC was formed originally as a gay community center, but that didn’t work out like they had hoped. 

“You know, we started off as a gay community center,” said Ed in the 2017 interview. “And after a couple years we were realizing, first of all, the gay community center aspect didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to. Paco was running another AIDS organization in town, the only other one in town, and I opened this up and it was intended to get the kids out of the park and off drugs and stuff, and so I figured a community center like up in the U.S. was a good idea.”

The AIDs organization that Paco worked for was closing, and SETAC was retooled to focus on HIV and AIDS. 

“Then Paco’s organization was folding,” Ed explained. “He had the HIV and the AIDS background, so I figured we’d have one part of the community center would be with HIV and AIDS. Well, eventually the HIV and AIDS took it all over.”

Thomas and Arjona met in Puerto Vallarta in 1996 when both were on vacation. They met on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1996 at Paco Paco.  They moved to Boston, USA, in 1998 where Arjona worked for the department of public health in the HIV drug assistance program. 

Arjona wanted to be closer to his family and the two moved back to Puerto Vallarta in 2007. 

“They hired me as a director of the organization for HIV that was here,” Arjona told OAPV in a 2017 interview. “It was Vallarta Enfrenta el SIDA, Vallarta Confront AIDS. It was run by the owner of Hotel Mercurio, Paul Crist. We came back in 2007. And 2009 is when [Ed] founded this.”

Since 2009 SETAC has undergone several changes as it struggled to find its identity and mission – ranging from serving as a LGBTQ+ community center, to a full health clinic and its core mission of HIV services.

Accomplishments

2009 Solidaridad Ed Thomas Asociación Civil (SETAC) is legally formed.

SETAC offices in 2014
SETAC offices in 2014, which was in Zona Romántica, Constitucion #427.

2014 announced it had opened a community center at Constitucion #427 on the corner of Manuel Dieguez,

In 2018 it was one of the first organizations in Mexico to launch a PrEP program through a United Nations grant with the drug Truvada.  That program has become one of its main services and has been providing PrEP to several hundred patients a month. 

SETAC opened a new office in Zona Romantica in February 2019, but then closed that office in 2023 (which then became the Vallarta Gay Clinic, a for-profit health clinic that SETAC founder Ed Thomas helped start). Since then it has maintained space its had at Aldanaca #178 Esq. Viena Interior 4-A, Col. Versalles, Puerto Vallarta.

March 2019, SETAC rebranded as the SETAC LGBTQ Wellness Center.

In 2019 and 2020 it launched a mobile van testing program

In 2021 it announced that it would build a community center, remodeling a building in Emiliano Zapata with more than 350 square meters.

The center was projected to have a Safe Space for a LGBTI kitchen, a sewing workshop, and a cooperative beauty salon, etc.

Even though SETAC has been paying rent on the space, and much remodeling was done, the plan has yet to materialized.

But much progress was made in the buildout of the space, according to Víctor Espíndola, the former director of Institutional Development of SETAC.

Up until Feb. 2023, Espíndola was overseeing the project and solicited donations for the work.

“I left the space with covered walls and ceilings, new windows and doors to the patio, a kitchen bar and sink were all ready. Water installation, with upper tank and sanitary bathroom was ready, as well as basic electricity installation. In the same way, furniture and crockery were purchased that would be for the dining room, as well as grills and stoves,” he said. “I feel indebted to those who contributed donations.”

You can see those plans here. The space has remained unused and unoccupied since the lease was signed, despite all of the work and donations.

In 2022 it was granted a ten year lease for the use of the booth located in Lázaro Cárdenas Park for promotion and prevention in health, as well as its link to the LGBTIQ+ community. 

In February 2023, it announced it would stop providing free PrEP but then in March 2023 it reversed that decision

In August 2023, it was announced at a community meeting that SETAC was reorganizing, a new board would soon be in place and that funds were needed.  More than $200,000 pesos were raised at that meeting. The reorganization never happened. 

The Future

The future for SETAC does not look bright. A lack of transparency since the association formed has many of those who used to support the organization and donate funds not donating anymore.  

SETAC tested more than 1,500 people this past year for HIV, distributed over 120,000 condoms, and saw more than 250 patients each month. It has said it’s got about 700 patients who seek PrEP treatment from the center. 

Should the non-profit organization cease to exist, it’s charter says its assets would “Once the liabilities and liquidation expenses have been paid and the Association is liquidated, all of its assets, including public support and incentives, will be allocated in their entirety to entities authorized to receive income tax-deductible donations that are registered in the Association. Federal Registry of Civil Society Organizations, this article is established as irrevocable.”

And those assets include medical equipment, office furniture, computer equipment and supplies, a mobile testing van and more.

O&APV has been told there are legal actions pending over the lack of payments made to former employees for their salaries and work.

Arjona continues to behave as if all is ok, and that he will rebuild SETAC. In a communication to O&APV he talks about the accomplishments of the past and his goals for the future.  

We learned on Jan. 10, 2024 that Arjona had called a press conference with local media at SETAC offices, but then later canceled the event.  O&APV was not invited and can’t confirm that this was going to take place. 

Detalle de la OSC
Details of SETACs registration with the government, from the Federal Registry of Civil Society Organizations.

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