Editorials | Opinions | November 2007
|Politicizing Mexico's Natural Disaster|
Allan Wall - PVNN
Geographically, Mexico is a diverse country, with one of the world's most diverse climates. The country is also prone to a diversity of natural disasters. In different parts of the country there are hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, forest fires, and floods. Last April there was even a tornado in a border town.
|This is not just the worst natural catastrophe in the state's history but, I would venture to say, one of the worst in the recent history of the country.|
- President Felipe Calderon
The most expensive recent disaster was Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the most fatal the 1985 earthquakes in which over 9,000 perished.
The latest natural disaster visited upon Mexico is the flood in Tabasco, a low-lying state in eastern Mexico. There is flooding in Tabasco every year. But this time 10 days of heavy rain caused massive flooding, covering 80% of the state's land area with water.
The state's capital, Villahermosa, was particularly hard-hit. It resembles New Orleans after Katrina hit in 2005. Indeed, the two cities are similar, as both are mostly under sea level.
Villahermosa's archaeological treasures, the great Olmec stone heads, relics of Mexico's earliest civilization, were half submerged.
As for Tabasco's living residents, they were hard hit. Over a million Tabascans - half the state's population - have been directly affected, with at least half a million losing their homes. Many of these people have lost all their material possessions.
Those in danger from the rising waters sought refuge on rooftops, from which they were rescued by helicopters. Other rescue vehicle included boats, jet skis, military vehicles and even tractors.
Some Tabascans were swimming to safety, through waters infested by venomous serpents.
The police and military have been deployed to help in the rescue efforts and prevent looting.
Mexican president Calderon canceled a trip to Panama, Colombia and Peru, visited and flew over the flooded area, met with officials and said that, "This is not just the worst natural catastrophe in the state's history but, I would venture to say, one of the worst in the recent history of the country."
The first priority is to rescue the people, of course, but another fear is that of a cholera outbreak, or another waterborne or mosquito-borne disease. Also, the refugees must be fed and housed, and given fresh drinking water.
The reconstruction work ahead in Tabasco is enormous, and looks to be expensive. The economic devastation of the flood is enormous. The state's entire banana, chili and corn crop is lost.
Mexicans in the rest of the country have been generous, sending food and supplies. Though banks are normally closed on November 2nd, for Day of the Dead, they opened so people could make donations for Tabasco relief. Carlos Slim's Telmex is even allowing free calls from public phones in Tabasco for as long as the emergency lasts.
President Calderón of the PAN (Nacional Action Party) has been cooperating with Tabasco Governor Andres Granier, who is of the PRI (Institucional Revolutionary Party.)
Tabasco Governor Andres Granier emphasized the political goodwill when he said that "Here there are no colors, no parties." The governor especially noted the contributions sent by Mexico City, governed by the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party.)
So, amidst all this Mexican solidarity, politics have been cast aside, right?
Well, no, not entirely. Somebody has injected politics into it. None other than AMLO (Andres Lopez Lopez Obrador,) losing 2006 presidential candidate and native son of Tabasco.
In an interview, AMLO blamed corruption for the Tabasco disaster, charging the Tabasco government with diverting funds that should have been spent on public hydraulic projects. AMLO also used the interview as a platform to condemn Mexico's leaders. "They are part of this disgrace and this tragedy, because they are defending an economic model that is totally unpopular, that only privileges a few. They are part of what is happening in Tabasco."
How, exactly? "Right-wing governments," explained AMLO, "support a devastating economic model, where the human being passes to second place. The 'right' dehumanizes everything."
That sounds a little vague. AMLO also accused accused officials of not letting water out of reservoirs soon enough, which made the floods worse. AMLO may or may not be right about that. But if true, it would be a mistake, not a "right-wing" mistake.
And, of course, Lopez Obrador also suggested the disaster might be linked with with private companies that generate electricity. Since AMLO hates privatization so much, he had to bring that in.
As the stituation stabilizes, it's likely that other Mexican politicians will politicize it also. That's not a big suprise, after all, it happened in the U.S. with Katrina.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
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