Soldiers serve food in Santa María Xadani, Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Soldiers serve food in Santa María Xadani, Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Local officials accused of hoarding quake aid

Military ordered to take charge of aid distribution

A week after the massive earthquake that devastated parts of the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, hundreds of communities are facing severe shortages made worse by reports that local officials are hoarding aid.

At least 109 towns in Chiapas and 41 in Oaxaca were declared emergency zones following the 8.2 magnitude quake that struck just before midnight on Thursday last week.

Ninety-six people were killed and hundreds of thousands were directly affected with many of them losing their homes, making swift distribution of aid an imperative.

But while aid has been flowing into the affected areas, reports indicate that it is insufficient to meet the needs of the affected population.

The mayor of Santa María Xadani, a small town in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, said that aid is not arriving fast enough or in the quantities needed.

“There’s not enough food, there’s nowhere to get it from, we don’t know what to do,” Hermenegildo Santiago said.

Federal Police helicopters carrying aid have arrived at San Pedro Tapanatepec, a town in the south of Oaxaca, but according to the local mayor once the aid reaches the ground, disorder prevails.

“. . . there are not good logistics [in place] to deliver the aid . . . . It’s chaos,” Gustavo Argyll explained.

Apart from shortages and distribution difficulties, infuriated local residents have accused local officials of hoarding aid, leading the federal government to order the military to take charge of the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Two-hundred military police have also been deployed in several communities in Oaxaca to combat looting and aid theft.

In Juchitán de Zaragoza — the Isthmus municipality where the greatest devastation and highest number of deaths occurred — a group of disgruntled citizens protested outside the homes of six local officials where they said more than 5,000 food aid packages were hidden.

While protesting at the home of the municipal government secretary Oscar Cruz López, a vehicle carrying aid arrived, confirming in the eyes of the protestors that it was being diverted from the Army and secretly stockpiled. Their angry shouting attracted the attention of security forces.

Municipal police tried to move the protestors on but military police, who also arrived, intervened and took possession of the aid, transferring it to a military base in Ciudad Ixtepec, one of two being used for aid distribution.

The leader of a local citizens’ group called Juchitán Libre criticized the municipal secretary for not following the federal government directive that aid be distributed by military elements, an order designed to avoid its politicization.

There have also been reports of unofficial collection centers in Oaxaca where donated aid might not reach victims of the earthquake or could be used for political purposes, a Red Cross official warned. At least one case of using human suffering for political gain has been reported.

Further complicating aid and recovery efforts, heavy rain brought by Hurricane Max fell yesterday on Juchitán where many people who lost their homes continue to sleep in the streets due to a lack of any alternative.

Despite the inclement weather, military general Alfonso Duarte said that distribution of aid will continue and assured that it is being given directly to victims of the quake without any intervention from third parties. He also stated that the military is keeping a strict inventory of all aid received.

Source: Reforma (sp), Milenio (sp)

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