Tabasco: Let The Fingerpointing Begin

Corruption, in addition to climate change, may have been responsible for the devastation caused by the Tabasco floods.  You’ll remember that floods in Tabasco last month, caused by up to 30 inches of rain, ruined all of the crops, stopped oil production, and caused one million people, about half the state’s population to be displaced.  About 70,000 people were in shelters in Villahermosa and another 20,000 were living on their roofs.  Indigenous people in the interior found themselves stuck on islands in the flood water.  And recently, it was reported that the entire state was being sprayed with insecticides to prevent an outbreak of dengue, a mosquito born disease similar to malaria.  280 people are still unaccounted for.

Today the AP, comparing the situation in Tabasco to Katrina, reported:

The government knew Mexico’s Gulf coast was a disaster in waiting long before three rivers surged out of their banks, flooding nearly every inch of the low-lying state of Tabasco and leaving more than 1 million homes under water.

But officials admit they never finished a $190 million levee project that was supposed to have been done by 2006 and would have held back much of the rising waters that flooded Tabasco at the end of October.

The tragedy was reminiscent of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, when levees failed and swamped much of New Orleans, forcing people to flee by wading through dirty waters. In Tabasco, days of relentless rain – not a hurricane – were to blame.

What exactly was the project that was supposed to prevent the disaster?

Both the state and federal government acknowledge Tabasco wasn’t prepared for unusually heavy rains that hit in October, even though a flood-control plan had been drawn up after flooding in 1999 left tens of thousands homeless and caused $375 million in damage.

In 2003, officials announced the Integral Project Against Flooding, which called for building 110 miles of levees and 120 miles of drainage canals along the Grijalva, Carrizal and Samaria rivers.

But state officials admit they never finished the levee project, 72 percent of which was funded by the federal government.

It’s not known what happened to the money earmarked for the project.

Let the fingerpointing begin.  Today, the WaPo reports that funds paid by Petroleos Mexicanos for flood prevention weren’t used for that:

From 1997 to 2001, at least $3 million was donated to build dikes, raise levees, and move poor residents from low-lying areas, according to analysts and independent investigators. But a crescendo of questions about whether the oil money was ever used for the intended projects is raising the possibility that corruption and incompetence might have played as much of a role in the tragedy as historically torrential rains.

The Saint Tomas Association, a nongovernmental organization, has said there was no evidence that two previous Tabasco governors – Manuel Andrade Diaz and Roberto Madrazo Pintado, who was a 2006 presidential candidate – spent the oil money on flood projects.

The group’s investigators say they have found proof that flood abatement money was used to pay contractors who never completed jobs, as well as to fill the gasoline tanks of private vehicles and to buy large quantities of cigarettes and pastries.

Mexican legislators have responded by launching investigations and by questioning whether the former governors may have used the funds in their political campaigns.

“Where’s the money?” Moises Dagdug, who represents Tabasco in the lower house of Mexico’s Congress, asked in an interview. “My personal perception is that it was not used well. Unfortunately, we have a lot of corruption in our country.”

Madrazo, who was governor from 1994 to 2000, and Andrade, who was governor from 2002 to 2006, have denied improperly using donations from the oil companies. In a written statement, Andrade said he had “absolutely nothing to be ashamed of” and pointed to the construction of 74 miles of levees and 62 miles of drainage systems.

But corruption has not been isolated as the cause of the disaster.  Incompetence and poor planning may have played a significant role.  AP reports:

Fingers also are being pointed at the Federal Electricity Commission.

Critics say it waited too long to let begin letting water out of a dam upstream, forcing workers to release a huge amount in a short time when the reservoir level surged. The agency also gave little warning to people downstream about the impending disaster, critics contend.

Some people also blame deforestation in Mexico’s highlands, saying that has lessened the ability of mountainous terrain to absorb heavy rainfall and reduce runoff into low-lying areas like Tabasco.

The initial disaster received little attention in the US traditional media.  The lingering effects of the flood and the attempts to sort out responsibility have received even less.  In part, that’s to be expected.  Interest in the US, except for certain communities, about what goes on south of the Big River is slight.  That’s why nobody should have been surprised when, recently, Vice President Cheney stated that Hugo Chavez was the president of Peru


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    • pico on November 23, 2007 at 18:25

    start blaming the people of Tabasco for living in an flood-prone area?  Or have they already played that spiteful little card?

  1. the disaster cappies side. Jeez you would think that they would at least take steps to keep the oil flowing? Or perhaps in this pirates loot and plunder game they relish and welcome any thing that creates scarcity and keeps the people desperate, Shock Doctrine.  Seems like its a race, to which will implode first the global robber barons or the earth. Either way nobodies gonna be left to buy their stuff. Insanity! I bet they have the funding to build the NAFTA highway to hell to truck the fruits of the Mexicans labor north, and about that wall?  

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