Residents of flooded communities in Tabasco are criticizing the federal government for choosing to flood poor areas of the state in order to save Villahermosa, and denouncing the failure of authorities to provide humanitarian aid in a timely manner.
President López Obrador said Sunday that the government diverted water to low-lying, poor areas of Tabasco by closing a sluice in a river that runs through the state capital.
The decision – completely at odds with López Obrador’s oft-repeated maxim,“For the good of all, the poor come first” – caused severe flooding in the municipalities of Jalpa, Nacajuca and Centla. One community that was hit particularly hard was Caparroso, located in Centla.
Homes were flooded and crops were destroyed, leaving the community’s many farmers without a source of income. Days after the flooding started, residents still hadn’t received any assistance, the newspaper El Universal reported Tuesday.
Caparroso local Magali Méndez condemned the government’s decision to give preferential treatment to Villahermosa as the state struggled to cope with heavy rains brought by two cold fronts and a tropical storm.
“This was a bad decision. [López Obrador] saved Villahermosa but the water ruined us,” she said. “They support those in the center [of the state], those who have money, and they never help the poor.”
Jackeline Valencia Ávalos, another Caparroso resident, also denounced the government’s decision.
“It’s a decision that the president took but he didn’t stop to think about us; as citizens we ask [the authorities] to support us … we haven’t received anything – that they haven’t even give us a single food package is unfair,” she said.
Floodwaters are so high in Caparroso, El Universal reported, that it is impossible for short people to venture outside their homes because they would be completely immersed. Residents also fear that snakes and crocodiles are lurking in the floodwaters.
To purchase supplies such as food, water and medicines, residents need a boat and a lot of strength to row through the murky waters, the newspaper said, adding that some people without their own means of aquatic transportation have had to pay their neighbors to take them to stores.
People are constantly monitoring the floodwaters for any signs that they are rising, fearful that their homes could be completely submerged.
Hundreds of other communities across Tabasco, where more than 300,000 people have been affected by recent flooding, face similar situations.
Although flooding was avoided in the city center of Villahermosa, some neighborhoods were inundated with water after the Grijalva River burst its banks last week.
A resident of Gaviotas Sur, one of the affected neighborhoods, staged a unique protest on Monday to condemn the delay in getting government assistance to flood victims.
In front of the government palace in Villahermosa, William Morales Alejo, a former municipal official who represented Gaviotas Sur, allowed another man to whip him some 20 times on his shirtless back.
Before he was subjected to the painful treatment, Morales accused the army, the National Water Commission (Conagua) and Civil Protection authorities of abandoning Villahermosa residents affected by the flooding.
“Thousands of families were left trapped; they didn’t even take them a can of tuna,” he said.
“It was only the day before yesterday when the president came that the army started to distribute [supplies] in areas where the water went up to people’s ankles, [but not in areas where flooding was worse]. It’s not fair,” Morales said.
“I don’t know if this government lacks humanity but it’s not okay that … [López Obrador] sells a discourse at his morning press conferences that everything’s going well in Tabasco; it’s a lie – it’s day 12 [of the floods] and only yesterday help started to arrive.”
Meanwhile, Conagua director Blanca Jiménez came under fire on social media after she said in an interview that Tabasco residents have to be prepared to deal with flooding because “aquí les tocó vivir.”
Her use of the phrase, which roughly translates as “this is where you have the misfortune of living” was condemned as insensitive by many social media users.
Memo Arias, a newspaper columnist in Tabasco, was among those who criticized Jiménez.
Instead of telling people to prepare for recurrent floods, the Conagua chief should get to work on flood prevention projects in Tabasco, he wrote on Twitter.
The previous federal government pledged to spend almost 20 billion pesos on such projects but only ended up spending 14% of that amount, while the current government has only budgeted 90 million pesos to build flood prevention infrastructure in 2021.