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December 14, 2007 | Page 6

Man-made disaster in Tabasco
Holiday health care hikes

Man-made disaster in Tabasco

EARLY DECEMBER marked the one-month anniversary of the flooding of the Mexican state of Tabasco, quite possibly the worst natural disaster to ever hit Mexico.

In November, over 30 inches of rain pelted the low-lying state, flooding 80 percent of the land. Over 1 million people--half the population of Tabasco--have lost their homes, businesses or crops. Thousands are still displaced, and it will take at least 100 days for water levels to subside. Over 200 people have been killed. Economically, this year's entire cacao crop (which provides 80 percent of Mexico's cocoa) was destroyed.

Many of the same factors involved in the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans have been magnified for Tabasco. Two major problems have been the rampant deforestation and development of Tabasco lands, combined with corruption, nepotism and misuse of flood control money that mark Mexican politics.

Critics point out that in Tabasco, housing, roads and shopping malls were built in place that are floodwater drainage areas. Without the drainage areas, rain washed silt into the rivers, limiting their capacity to handle floodwaters. Jorge Escandon, head of Greenpeace Mexico stated, "Against the backdrop of climate change, which is producing ever more extreme natural phenomena, it's clear that Tabasco did not do the right things."

Guadalupe Trevino, a hydraulics consultant, told Inter Press Service that while Tabasco grew, the authorities "did not take seriously the fact that the state is in a swampy, low-lying tropical areas surrounded by rivers. Housing, highways, and other infrastructure should not have been built on land that was in the drainage course for floodwaters." The secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction stated, "The impact of the flooding could have been reduced by an early warning system and adequate land-use planning."

Felipe Calderón, the fraudulent president of Mexico, has been eager to sweep any criticism of the federal or state government under the rug, and solely blame climate change. But critics are also pointing fingers at the mismanagement of flood-control money.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate of the reformist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is from Tabasco, argued, "There was corruption among the authorities because no hydraulic engineering works have been carried out in the last 20 years."

In response to 1999 flooding in Tabasco, over $1 billion was allocated for flood control over the past seven years. Yet Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez said on November 2, "It is quite certain that these works were never carried out, and it is quite certain the corresponding investment has not been made in the past few years to prevent flooding."

Also, at least $3 million from PEMEX, the state-run oil company, poured into the state's coffers as well between 1997 and 2001. But the Saint Tomas Association, an NGO, stated there was no evidence that the two previous Tabasco governors spent the oil money on flood projects.

Instead, investigators found money was used to pay off contractors who never completed jobs, fill the gas tanks of private vehicles or buy large quantities of cigarettes and pastries! Officials admit they never finished a $190 million levee project that was supposed to be done by 2006, which could have held back much of the rising waters.

Tabasco is one of the richest states in Mexico due to its high amount of petroleum. But it is one of the poorest in regard to social services and health.

Nadia Gomez, a 24-year-old mother of three living in Villahermosa, told the Associated Press that the government did not do enough to protect low-lying neighborhoods. "Maybe if they had built more defenses, it would have been all right. But they only care about the rich people of Tabasco, not the poor."

The generosity of regular people in the face of this disaster has been inspiring. Food and clothing drives have been widespread in Mexico this past month, particularly leading up to the holiday season. Football clubs have collected significant donations and have played charity games.

Internationally, federal aid from other countries has been less inspiring. The United Kingdom pledged 10 inflatable dinghies, while the United States gave $300,000. (Wal-Mart on the other hand, pledged $600,000). Compared to the U.S., more money came from Ireland (1 million euros) and Germany (250,000 euros).

Many people share the view of Sergio Sermiento, a columnist for the liberal Reforma magazine: "If the floods could really have been prevented by hydraulic engineering works, and if these have been planned and there were more resources available for them, then we are talking not only about negligence, but criminal responsibility."
Kathleen Brown, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Holiday health care hikes

FORTY-SEVEN million people are without health insurance in this country. It's estimated that one-fifth of those who are insured don't have the coverage they need. Well, these numbers are about to increase, as news recently broke in Rochester, N.Y., that health insurers are hiking rates.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield--the area's largest health insurer--announced an 8.3 percent average rate increase recently with the most popular plans increasing by well over 10 percent. If that wasn't bad enough, Preferred Care--the second-largest insurer--announced rate increases between 11.6 percent and 17.1 percent. What a slap in the face for workers entering the holiday season!

What's worse is that Rochester Business Alliance President Sandy Parker blames workers for the price hikes. She was quoted in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle saying that we need to make "healthy lifestyle changes, choose more generic drugs," and reduce our "demand for expensive medical tests."

What a joke! A 2005 study in Health Affairs found that 21 cents of every private-sector health care dollar goes to billing paperwork--the price for extracting profit for health care and pharmaceutical corporations.

As long as health care is for-profit, corporations will continue to rake hundreds of billions of dollars into their pockets when workers get sick.
Kyle Brown, Rochester, N.Y.

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