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Deadly Storms, Delayed Aid Devastate Mexico's La Montaña Indigenous

Camp of indigenous people displaced by storms. Photo from The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center used with permission.

Camp of indigenous people displaced by storms in La Montaña. Photo from The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center. Used with permission.

Two major storms, Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, hit Mexico last month, leaving behind 157 deaths according to the latest official reports. One of the hardest hit areas is La Montaña, a region in the southern state of Guerrero, considered one of the poorest and most marginalized areas in the country.

The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, which is based in La Montaña, described the situation in an opinion piece published in the online version of local newspaper El Sur [es]:

En la Montaña, esa región olvidada que conforman 19 municipios y más de 650 comunidades indígenas, el panorama es desolador. Cuando comenzaron las lluvias, nadie imaginaba la destrucción que dejarían a su paso. No hubo un solo aviso sobre lo que se avecinaba que permitiera tomar precauciones. Simplemente, la lluvia inició y se prolongó como si fuera interminable, con una furia devastadora nunca antes vista.

[...]

El conteo de los fallecimientos en la Montaña, que asciende ya a más de treinta personas, debe considerarse todavía preliminar pues el colapso de carreteras y caminos mantiene en la incomunicación a pueblos ubicados en los lugares más recónditos de Acatepec, Metlatónoc y Cochoapa.

In La Montaña, that forgotten region made up of 19 municipalities and more than 650 indigenous communities, the outlook is bleak. When the rains started, no one imaged the destruction they would leave in their wake. There was not a single warning about what was coming in order to take precautions. The rain simply started and lasted as if endless, with a devastating fury that had never been seen before.

[...]

The death count of La Montaña, which now amounts to over 30 people, must still be considered preliminary since the collapse of roads and paths have kept communities in the remote corners of Acatepec, Metlatónoc and Cochoapa isolated and unable to communicate.

The government has declared [es] all 19 municipalities of La Montaña a natural disaster zone.

The article also denounced the authorities’ slow response, which they say “reveals the discriminative face of the Mexican State”:

Pero ninguna autoridad de alto nivel de los gobiernos federal y estatal llegó a la Montaña los primeros días del desastre. Con las autoridades volcadas en el traslado de turistas acapulqueños, la penuria de las comunidades indígenas de la Montaña fue, en los hechos, relegada a segundo plano.

But no high-level authority of the federal and state governments came to La Montaña during the first days of the disaster. With authorities dedicated to the transfer of Acapulco tourists, the hardship of the indigenous communities of La Montaña was, in light of the facts, relegated to the background.

Camp of indigenous people displaced by storms. Photo from The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center used with permission.

Camp of indigenous people displaced by storms in La Montaña. Photo from The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center. Used with permission.

WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America), which gave the The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center a Human Rights Award in 2009, also shared the Center's reports:

According to Tlachinollan, several indigenous communities in the region suffered from landslides; roads have been destroyed, crops vital to their survival have been washed away, and the communities are without electricity and phone service. Communities lack food, water, medicine, and gasoline but the government response has been slow and insufficient.

Furthermore, WOLA called on Mexican authorities to take action and “respond to the immediate needs of communities in the La Montaña region of Mexico in a coordinated and transparent manner.”

Paris Martínez reported for website Animal Político [es] on the people of Moyotepec and La Lucerna, two indigenous communities from La Montaña, on September 25:

Según los cálculos de sus autoridades tradicionales, en estos dos campamentos permanecen más de 3 mil personas, que han dado por perdidas sus viviendas y sus cosechas, ya sea por haberse derrumbado o por estar a punto de hacerlo. Y como Moyotepec y La Lucerna, los habitantes de al menos media centena más de localidades indígenas de La Montaña, permanecen en campamentos y refugios a los que la asistencia oficial apenas ha salpicado.

According to calculations made by their traditional authorities, in these two camps there are more than 3,000 people, who have lost their homes and their crops, either because they have collapsed or because they are about to. And like Moyotepec and La Lucerna, inhabitants of at least 50 indigenous communities of La Montaña remain in camps and shelters where official help has barely trickled in.

Martínez shared two videos of the camps.

In his report, Martínez highlighted that by September 22 the inhabitants of Moyotepec had been waiting eight days for help. He says that a few hours after reporters began releasing the testimonies of those affected, Army and Ministry of Health doctors, and trucks with blankets, water purification tablets and groceries arrived in Moyotepec. But he pointed out that the authorities were in such a hurry that they drove by the La Lucerna camp without providing any assistance.

At the end of his article, Martínez reported that the Secretary of Social Development, Rosario Robles, arrived to the region a day after that quick relief operation. Robles said that they'd been “all over the state of Guerrero” and that the alleged lack of attention to indigenous communities has been a problem of media coverage, not a problem related to their work.

Citizen media are not the only ones denouncing government officials’ negligence, as Nina Lakhani reported in Al Jazeera: “Several national newspapers started to suggest that authorities had neglected evacuation plans in Guerrero because they were too caught up in public holiday festivities.”

In an email sent to Global Voices this week, the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center said that indigenous youth are using social networks like Facebook to share information and organize the delivery of humanitarian aid to their communities. 

Tlachinollan also reported that according to the governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, more than 13,000 people of La Montaña have been displaced and there are currently 49 camps where people are taking refuge after their homes were affected by the rains. Furthermore, 31 communities need to be relocated, and 215 – one third of the indigenous communities of La Montaña – have been isolated and unable to communicate since September 14.

Tlachinollan also referred to their current efforts to help the indigenous communities affected by the storms:

At Tlachinollan, we are now all turned to the emergency, doing very different actions, from gathering humanitarian aid to bring to the communities and documenting how state aid is allocated, to opening channels of communication with federal authorities to remind them that this region is a priority as it is already one of the poorest in the country.

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