Approximately 200 flood victims who say they haven’t received aid promised by the federal government gathered outside the airport in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on Wednesday to wait for President López Obrador and seek his intervention.
But the president slipped out an alternative exit at the airport after providing an update on the government’s flood relief efforts, leaving his welfare minister and the governor of Tabasco to deal with the disgruntled victims of the floods that caused extensive damage in the Gulf coast state last October and November.
Victims who claim that they haven’t received 10,000-peso (about US $500) payments and domestic appliances promised by the government blocked the main entrance and exit to the Villahermosa airport on Wednesday morning.
Inside the terminal, López Obrador, who had flown in from Mexico City with his wife, defended the government’s response to the floods, saying it has made 235,000 cash payments to flood victims and delivered domestic appliances to 75,000 households.
The government has spent 10 billion pesos (US $492.2 million) to respond to the floods and the damage they caused, he said.
The president acknowledged that 116,000 packages of domestic appliances are still to be delivered, explaining that will commence after the June 6 elections and conclude by mid-September. Electoral rules stipulate that aid cannot be delivered during the official campaign period in order to avoid the perception, real or otherwise, of vote-buying.
So many people require new appliances such as fridges and stoves that there wasn’t enough time to deliver all of them, López Obrador said.
“We don’t want to make the purchase abroad. It would have been easy to make the purchase in Asia or any other country and bring containers [containing the appliances] in one, two or three ships. But what we want is for them to be manufactured in Mexico,” he said.
López Obrador also defended his personal response to the floods in his native Tabasco, noting that he gave clear instructions to his fellow tabasqueños to leave their homes if they were at risk and seek shelter on higher ground.
He responded to criticism from his “adversaries,” who claimed that he wasn’t sufficiently hands-on in his response.
“My adversaries, who always want to manipulate me, really like giving instructions, orders about how I should behave. They think I’m a puppet – they’re wrong, I’m not a puppet. They wanted me to come to Tabasco and get in the water – they wanted that photo. I don’t like that, that’s a show, a spectacle,” López Obrador said.
After his remarks, the president slipped out of the terminal with his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez, and departed the airport via an another exit to travel to his ranch in Palenque, Chiapas, the newspaper Reforma reported.
Welfare Minister Javier May and Tabasco Governor Adán Augusto López acted as “decoys” by being dispatched to meet with the unhappy flood victims, Reforma said.
“May, we supported you but you betrayed us,” shouted the protesters, who said they had evidence of 785 people who were identified as flood victims by the authorities but never received any financial assistance.
Omar Alvarado Reyes, a 67-year-old resident of the municipality of Tacotalpa who was wearing a ruling Morena party t-shirt emblazoned with an image of López Obrador, chastised the president for not supporting his paisanos, or compatriots, at their time of need.
He said that he was a long-term supporter of López Obrador and that he used to used to meet with the people and listen to their grievances. Now, however, the president has forgotten those who have always supported him, Alvarado said.
Ángeles Morales of the municipality of Comalcalco told Reforma that she and other residents lost the entire contents of their homes in the floods but weren’t even identified as victims.
“We lost our houses, everything went with the water, the pigs drowned and those that didn’t died of hunger, but they didn’t even include us in the [damage] census,” she said while holding up a placard with photos of her flooded home.
The welfare minister and governor agreed to listen to the concerns of the victims but asked that they all move out of the sun and into the shade, Reforma said. That request prompted an angry response from one woman.
“We were flooded because the government allowed us to be flooded,” she shouted, referring to a decision by federal authorities to release large quantities of water from Chiapas’s Peñitas dam that subsequently flowed into Tabasco and exacerbated flooding.
“We put up with being under water for two months and you can’t even take 20 minutes in the sun!”