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by Diego Cevallos

Massive Floods Leave 1,000,000 Mexicans Homeless

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- In the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco, hundreds of thousands of people made homeless by unprecedented flooding are queuing for up to six hours to collect food and water, a large part of which has been donated by ordinary Mexicans, but which is being used by some authorities and politicians to their own advantage.

On Wednesday the media in Tabasco began to broadcast publicity spots with a catchy jingle, encouraging flood victims to get on with rebuilding their lives, and showing state Governor Andres Granier, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), embracing evacuees and handing out aid.

On the government of Tabasco's web site a press article appeared on Monday, titled "Thank You, Chemist (Governor Granier's profession), We Were Not Wrong When We Voted For You!" The story goes on: "Flood victims say that the state governor has been capable of meeting the needs of Tabascans in their present misfortune."

Weeks of torrential rains have left 80 percent of Tabasco under water in the worst floods in the state's history.

One million people have been affected, half the total population of Tabasco. Thousands have been evacuated and are living in shelters, in their own state or in neighboring Veracruz. Others have stayed in their own flooded homes.

Spokespersons for the administration of conservative President Felipe Calderon, of the National Action Party (PAN), said that the shelters will have to continue to operate for at least three months.

In many places people are complaining about not receiving timely aid, and about having to queue for hours to be given a parcel with tinned food, water, toilet paper, diapers and some medicines.

The Interior Minister, Francisco Ramirez, has accused the Mexico City government, controlled since 1997 by the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), of failing to follow established procedures for the delivery of aid, which is supposed to be received and distributed by the army and civil defense.

On Sunday a plane arrived in Tabasco with five tons of food from the Mexico City government. The aid was picked up by a group led by Jesus Valencia, the head of the Integrated Family Development agency in the capital.

Central government officials claimed that this aid, contributed largely by ordinary citizens, was for distribution only in the Tabasco municipalities governed by the PRD.

Civil defense and military personnel in charge of distribution at the airport were not able to prevent those who collected the aid at the airport from taking it to places with a majority of PRD sympathizers.

For his part, Miguel Moreno, secretary of Civil Protection for Mexico City, said the army was not distributing aid properly in Tabasco, and therefore the municipal government of the capital had decided to act on its own account.

"To make hay from aid is insulting to the victims, but the government is doing it too. President Calderon has visited Tabasco four times in the last seven days, and has made sure the media spotlights are on him when he hands out aid to evacuees," political scientist and university professor Esteban Escalante told IPS.

"Everybody wants to turn things to their own advantage. It's deplorable that the desperation of so many people should be used to make political capital," he said.

In Macuspana, the home town of former PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, local people prevented a navy helicopter from delivering food. Surrounding the helicopter, they said they would not accept any aid from the conservative PAN government.

Lopez Obrador, who lost the presidential elections to Calderon by less than one percent of the vote, and who is referred to as the "legitimate president" by some sectors of the left who claim that electoral fraud was committed, organized his own aid collection campaign for Tabasco, and according to some of his critics, he is taking it only to areas where he has political support.

PRD leaders, however, denied these allegations. At a meeting of the Progressive Broad Front (FAP), comprising the PRD and the small Labor Party and Convergence Party, it was agreed to devote 10 percent of their legislators' salaries, for two months, to aid for Tabasco and for Chiapas, the southernmost state, which has also been hit by the flooding.

Lopez Obrador organized a rally in Tabasco on Monday, and regretted not having a bigger budget to help those who were left homeless. "As you know, we were robbed of the presidency of the republic, and that ‘pelele' (puppet) Calderon is monopolising the budgets," he said.

The Calderon administration says that it is doing everything necessary, but the complaints continue.

"The aid is generally arriving without political strings attached, but I have heard that the PRI and the PRD are using it in some places for political propaganda," Gilberto Luna, the owner of a small hotel in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco, told IPS in a telephone interview.

"The situation has been very difficult here and perhaps that's why the aid seems insufficient, but it is getting through," added Luna, whose hotel was partially flooded.

"I've had big losses, but we will recover from this," he said with confidence.

The water levels in the state, which is on the Gulf of Mexico and is low-lying, with altitudes of less than 100 metres above sea level, began to fall on Monday as the rains which poured down for the previous two weeks let up, and the tide on the coast receded, allowing rivers to drain.

The damages are huge. All commercial, industrial and educational activity came to a halt, and in addition to the destruction of infrastructure, agricultural and livestock losses are estimated at above 500 million dollars.

Hundreds of people have taken water, food and medicines to collection sites in the Mexican capital for the people of Tabasco. Outside the Red Cross building and other collection centers in Mexico City, entire families can be seen bringing donations for the flood victims.

Meanwhile, radio and television stations are organising collections and banks have opened special accounts to receive donations. Several countries have announced they are sending aid to Mexico, and Congress has passed special measures to help Tabasco financially.

"We have to help now, while the situation is alarming. Who knows whether later on it will be our turn to be in need?" Miguel Cohen, a shopkeeper in Mexico City, told IPS as he and his wife arrived at the Red Cross to hand over 10 containers of drinking water.

Around 2,500 volunteers are working in shifts at the Red Cross in the capital, which has already sent more than 500 tons of aid to Tabasco.

"The people there are in great need, so the least we can do is send them water. God wants us to help those in need, no matter what their religion or politics may be," said Cohen.

The government of Tabasco warned that if aid is not delivered in time, serious social problems could erupt.

Fifty-four people were arrested in the last few days for looting houses and shops in several places in Tabasco, and 10 trucks carrying aid have been assaulted. In both cases, the majority of the suspects were desperate for food.

When the floods recede, problems such as crime, unemployment and housing shortages will soar, as well as the risk of epidemics, the authorities said.

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2007   (

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