By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Ever since he took office in December 2018, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been repeating ad nauseum his favorite motto, “primero los pobres” (“the poor first”), using it to justify everything from closing down more than 5,000 public soup kitchens and women’s shelters, to denying crucial medications to children dying from cancer, to overtaxing the nation’s rich and shortchanging northern (opposition-run) states that pay the lion’s share of the nation’s taxes.
On Monday, Nov. 16, he gave the phrase new meaning as he justified his administration’s intentional flooding of the impoverished lowlands of Tabasco in order to protect the city of Hermosillo following unprecedented torrential rains from tropical storm Eta, which battered Tabasco and nearby Chiapas at the start of this month.
As a result of his decision to divert the overflowing Peñitas Dam waters into poorer, less populated, indigenous portions of Tabasco, at least 27 people died and over 180,000 were left homeless.
“It was a hard decision to make, and I feel deeply for the victims of the flooding,” AMLO said, when asked about the tragedy during his daily morning press conference on Monday.
He went on to say that had he not chosen to flood the poorer lowlands of the state, “a lot more people would have been affected” in the wealthier city of Hermosillo, home to 350,000 Mexicans.
“The flooding harmed the (impoverished and indigenous) people of Nacajuca and the Chontal, the poorest people, but we had to make a decision,” AMLO said.
Later, AMLO added insult to injury when he callously said that he would be visiting the state at the end of this week, but that he would not go into the flooded areas because it could result in exposing him to the rampant covid-19 coronavirus that has now engulfed the country with more than a million cases and nearly 100,000 deaths — this from a man who, since the pandemic first broke out in Mexico in February, has steadfastly refused to wear a face mask, promoted unfounded claims that avoiding junk food would protect against covid, and encouraged people to gather in public places to support the economy.
On Monday, AMLO said that he has sent in the National Guard and other emergency workers to help the flood victims, and, with humanitarian donations from Spain and other countries, has set up relief centers and shelters to provide for the homeless.
But late Tuesday, Nov. 17 — 12 full days after the government-managed flooding began — most of the victims were still waiting for even the most basic necessities.
AMLO also vowed to drag river channels and reduce the focus on hydroelectric power production at the Peñita Dam.
But with just 900 million pesos allocated for dams and water distribution in the government’s 2021 federal budget — less than 5 percent of the amount allocated during previous administrations — the president will be hard pressed to keep that promise.
Whatever aid may come to the victims in the weeks ahead will be cold comfort for those left homeless and without any source of income for years to come.
One thing is clear: We now all know the true meaning of AMLO’s pet platitude, “primero los pobres.”
…Nov. 18, 2020