Monday, November 5, 2007
Floodwaters Devastate Tabasco, Mexican Gulf Coast
By Allan Wall
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.
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 last week’s
flood in Tabasco, a low-lying gulf coast state in eastern Mexico. There is flooding in Tabasco every year, but this time ten days of heavy rain caused massive
80% of the state’s land area with water.
The state’s capital, Villahermosa, was particularly
It resembles New Orleans after Katrina hit in 2005. Indeed, the two cities are similar as both are mostly below 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 vehicles 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 Felipe Calderon canceled a trip to Panama, Colombia and Peru, visited
and flew over the flooded areas, met with officials and said, "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 crops are 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 Calderon, of the PAN (National Action Party), has been cooperating with Tabasco Governor Andres Granier, who
is of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).
Governor 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 Revolution Party).
So, amidst all this Mexican solidarity
politics has been cast aside, right?
Well, no, not entirely.
Somebody has injected politics into it. None other than
AMLO (Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador), the
losing 2006 presidential candidate and a 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.”
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 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 private companies that generate electricity. Since AMLO hates privatization
so much, he had to bring that in.
As the situation stabilizes, it’s likely that other
Mexican politicians will politicize it also. That’s not a big surprise, after all it happened
in the U.S. with Katrina.
Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He
currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.