A hunger strike reveals some internal problems at the federal disaster fund whose resources will play a crucial role in rebuilding after this month’s destructive earthquakes.
A group of 15 workers at Fonden declared a hunger strike yesterday to protest that they have not been paid for five months.
The unhappy employees started their fast just after 10:00am at the Chilpancingo, Guerrero, offices of the Secretariat of Agrarian Development and Urban Planning (Sedatu), the federal department they say owes them the back pay.
The conflict arises from a difference of opinion over whether reconstruction work to repair damage in Guerrero caused by back-to-back hurricanes in 2013 has been concluded or not. Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel made landfall in the Pacific coast state within the same 24-hour period in September 2013, causing widespread damage and 101 deaths.
Four years later, Sedatu hasn’t paid wages for their rebuilding efforts over the past five months seemingly because they believe there is no work left to be done, although Secretary Rosario Robles hasn’t publicly explained why the agency has stopped paying the salaries.
The workers disagree that work announced under the 2-billion-peso (US $110-million) “New Guerrero Plan” has been finished.
Jesús Vicente Molina, an engineer and one of the strikers, says there are still 9,000 homes awaiting repairs and the contracts the workers signed state that their employment doesn’t end until all reconstruction work has been completed.
He said the work was mandated by the president and that resources have already been allocated so there was no reason to stop it. There have been allegations that a lot of the federal government money designated for rebuilding has ended up in the pockets of unscrupulous politicians, officials and construction companies.
Apart from the unpaid wages, which Molina says extend to 33 workers in total, there are also operational costs incurred by workers who in some cases have to travel between worksites on opposite sides of the state.
The protesters recognized that the representative for Sedatu in Guerrero had shown solidarity with their cause but couldn’t resolve their problem because he doesn’t have access to the purse strings.
“We know that the funds have to be released from the central offices but there they are more focused on what happened in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Morelos and Mexico City because of the September 7 and 19 earthquakes,” Molina said.
In total, at least 3 million pesos (US $165,000) are owed to Fonden workers, he said, warning that the hunger strike wouldn’t end until they receive their overdue income.