By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Who’s to blame for the terrible levels of air contamination in Mexico City right now (the worst levels of small-particle pollution in over five years)?
You guessed it: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his bumbling band of inept advisers and cabinet members.
Yes, high temperatures, stagnant air and a lack of any relief in the form of rain certainly are contributing factors (Mexico is well overdue for its rainy season to start), as the (Came) has pointed out.
But the main reason that Mexico City residents are enduring runny eyes and coughing their lungs out as they inhale soot and ashes is the rising incidence of uncontrolled forest fires across the capital and the nation as a whole.
As of early Wednesday, May 15, there were a total of 82 uncontrolled fires nationwide – mostly in central Mexico – and Mexico City had endured at least 135 major fires since May 2, according to the Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (Senarnat).
And it’s only getting worse: In the last week alone, there have been at least 200 major fires registered nationwide.
Schools citywide have banned outdoor activities, a semi-final soccer match has been suspended and numerous offices are sending their workers home rather than forcing them to endure the choking smog.
So how are AMLO and his gang of unqualified advisers to blame for all this (other than the president’s steady stream of political hot air and fiery insults aimed at his opponents)?
Well, as it turns out, in his misguided efforts to rescue the financially unsalvageable state-run oil giant Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) – which, with outstanding financial obligations of more than $106 billion, is the world’s most-indebted oil corporation – and to finance an even more disaster-destined refinery in the southern state of Tabasco and his ill-fated security force known as the National Guard (a militarized police force that has earned the condemnation of both national and international human rights organizations), AMLO has cut budgets for everything from public health services and HIV medications to daycare centers and shelters for battered women, and – wait for it – to the National Forest Commission (Conafor), i.e. firefighters.
While Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and others AMLO proselytes fall all over themselves offering stumbling excuses for the fires, saying they are a consequence of “unexpected climatic changes” (Have these people never heard of climate change?), the simple fact is that without firefighters, it is hard to put out the flames.
A 60 percent slash in Conafor funding from 2018 to 2019 means that there are less firefighters and more fires.
So while AMLO and his team are channeling more than 1.4 billion extra pesos into Mexico’s terminally ill oil company, Conafor is literally trying to put out the nation’s fires with 1.2 million pesos less than it had last year.
Moreover, AMLO cancelled all Conafor funding for hiring temporary firefighters during the high forest fire season (April and May).
In other words, the fires are burning out of control because there are not enough firefighters to put them out, and responsibility for that reality lies squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador.