The poorest communities drown in despair and complaints of abandonment after losing everything in the floods that hit southeastern Mexico
The water transformed Cecilio Pérez’s house into a shelter for 14 families. Everything was destroyed. The banana trees he had in the backyard. The corral where he kept his chickens. The refrigerator that he paid for in installments. When he realized what was coming, he built in what he could to see what furniture was saved, but what was not ruined by the current, was demolished by rats, who began to chew cables and fabrics after not finding food.
Pérez’s house-hostel has a huge concrete ramp that connects the second floor with the road, a bridge against catastrophes. It is not the first time that the La Cruz ranch – a town in the municipality of Nacajuca, in the Mexican state of Tabasco – has been flooded. “The water is rising again,” says Pérez, 52, realizing that there are tiny fish swimming on the white floor of what used to be his front door and that the turkeys he sheltered on the roof are making noise from the shower that just fell.
The catastrophe that hits Tabasco is marked by superlatives. They are the worst floods in more than a decade, which have left almost thirty dead and at least 300,000 affected, according to the latest official data report. It is the Atlantic hurricane season with the most cyclones since records began in 1950. And this 2020, marked by the most serious pandemic in more than a century, is also the year with the most rain in the last five years in the area where it rains the most and which has the two largest rivers in the country: the Grijalva and the Usumacinta.
The cluster of factors confronted the authorities last month with a dramatic decision: to use a system of hydraulic works and dams to mitigate the impact on Villahermosa, the capital and most populous city in the region, in exchange for sacrificing rural areas of the region. periphery. “The people of Nacajuca, the Chontal [indigenous], the poorest were harmed,” acknowledged the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, during an overflight over the affected communities of his native state, “we had to choose between inconveniences.”.
“They flooded us,” says Pérez, stunned and with his eyes fixed on the road. Along the road, he put up a makeshift sign with the legend “shelter”, with an arrow pointing to his house. He wanted to draw the attention of the Army and the Navy, he explains just when a convoy passes, but he says that the support does not arrive. “Water yes they send us, help no”, he claims.
The decision made by the federal and state authorities was strong in Nacajuca, a town that gave eight out of ten votes to the president’s coalition in the 2018 presidential elections. “We feel abandoned, here we are to what God says,” he laments José Solís, 60 years old, shortly after getting off a canoe(launch) from his truck and start a heated debate. “The truth is, I do agree with what was done if not, the economy would have stopped and the staff cuts would have begun,” asks Miguel Ángel de la O, some 20 years younger, who travels daily 30 kilometers to work in a factory in Villahermosa. The same route that Cecilio Pérez takes to work in a convenience store; Manuel Obando to buy and resell pasture, and thousands of people in Nacajuca. “There is no wool [money] here, we have to look for it to survive,” says Obando, 60.
The dilemma had been decided years ago. The El Macayo gate, the critical work to vent the tributary of the Grijalva river that passes through the countryside and relieve the river arm that passes through the capital, was completed in 2013 and with, at least, four years late. “The floods we harvest today were sown years ago,” explains Miguel Díaz Perera, a Tabasco historian specialized in natural disasters. “The damage is measured in lost cattle and refrigerators, so the criterion has always been to save what is economically most valuable,” he criticizes.
The economist vision condemns the most impoverished and those who have the most problems to recover, who will continue to move to urban areas to complete spending until the next catastrophe arrives. If to the chronic inequalities are added dams that cannot be emptied so that they do not stop producing electricity, an average elevation of 20 meters above sea level and the effects of climate change on the country’s oil heart – along with the construction of the new Dos Bocas refinery, 40 kilometers from Nacajuca — the results are dramatic. “Our problem is not the rains, it is the dams and those who manage them,” says Pérez.
“Every time something like this happens, politicians come to take the picture and then leave,” says Lucy Hernández, a 40-year-old resident of the neighboring town of El Arroyo, annoyed, as she shows a voucher for 10,000 pesos (about $ 500 ) that the Government gave him last month and that he has not been able to collect. With his house submerged almost two meters at the peak of the floods and a father died suddenly a week ago, Hernández has lived for more than a month in a makeshift house covered with vinyl tarps to stop the wind and escape the heat, others try to Follow your routines with the water on your knees. “We are afraid to go to a shelter and leave what little we have left, there are many bandits,” he explains.
“In the community of El Zapote, further away than the rest, the road is full of makeshift stables with cattle that cling to the ground and people sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the road, among useless furniture that has been left behind. Juan Obando, a 39-year-old designer, slaps what remains of his screen printing equipment on the floor and angrily rips the foam off a ruined sofa. “I have to go, somewhere else, to another country, but I no longer stay here,” he says desperately. The satellite image of his house paints the territory green until it runs into the Gulf of Mexico. Today it is a lagoon of troubled waters, a mirror that clearly reflects an overwhelming reality.
With 72 hours of heavy rain this week, the water that had been stagnant and with accumulated trash for weeks has fallen again, and it removes hopes that the floods will subside in the days to come. “Contaminated water is raining on us and we are getting sick,” says Ignacia Frías, a 63-year-old resident of the Corrientes ranchería, as she shows the comeduras (mushrooms) of her feet. Other residents speak of illnesses such as colds, diarrhea, and fever, amidst the collective anguish over the coronavirus pandemic.
The census of victims begins this Monday to count the damages and distribute aid of up to 8,000 pesos (400 dollars) in almost 1,400 localities. In the coming days, López Obrador will present a new plan against floods in Tabasco, a phenomenon that appears every year and worsens more or less every decade. It will be the fourth in four six-year terms. While the fight against mud and water continues, critical times are looming on the horizon for a state that, according to the Climate Central organization, will have more than half of its territory permanently flooded by 2050 due to the increase in the temperature of the planet.