The FSP Sends Aid to Mexico for Hurricane Relief
October 2017

Building shelters in Juchitán.

The FSP collected $775 in a campaign initiated by the Partido Obrero Socialista in Mexico to deliver a caravan of aid to the indigenous town of Juchitán, Oaxaca. Juchitán suffered extensive earthquake damage last September. What follows is a report by a participant in this solidarity campaign.

“How will the peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec rebuild after the earthquakes?”

By Cuauhtémoc Ruiz
October 9, 2017

Can you imagine that more than half of the population in your city loses their homes?

This seems to portray a scene of a disaster film, but unfortunately it is a reality in Juchitán and the rest of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

About half a million people live there and it is estimated that around 70 percent of homes were destroyed or are uninhabitable after the September earthquakes; and that similar devastation occurred through the neighboring region. Suddenly hundreds of thousands have lost their capacity to live or work. Many are literally camping on the streets. Will the government be capable of restoring this enormous loss? Will the peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec mobilize to guarantee adequate reconstruction of their homes and lives?

Jesús Valdés, a young construction worker and socialist activist and I arrived in Juchitán on September 30. The trip from Mexico City lasted almost 14 hours, two or three hours longer than expected. The bus driver told us that he had to change route because in Palmarillo the huachicoleros - crooks who steal fuel from the pipelines - had blocked the road. This is Mexico today—a country where the government cannot even guarantee unhindered public transit. Arriving in Juchitán we were enjoyed a delicious breakfast, which we ate with some guilt because we were already aware of the difficult conditions that so many there are suffering through. We arrived with 46 cartons filled with food, tarpaulins, medicines, clothes and other items. These barely fit into our four vehicles in Mexico City and then were transferred into a van once we arrived on the isthmus where the indigenous language of Zapotec is widely spoken.

"Seventy percent of the houses were destroyed in an erratic pattern in which some houses survived while neighboring ones ended up rubble,” said one compañero. Despite this catastrophe, the residents of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec haven’t lost their sense of humor. Now they say that, “The isthmus has been renamed the Earthquake of Tehuantepec.” We met with 18 people over an hour’s time in which three smaller earthquake aftershocks occurred. One of them created panic with people shouting and running for cover. Present at our meeting was a brigade of the indigenous civil association (Comunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias-ICT) that arrived to join in the efforts to build shelters. Asunción Magariño, a housewife and typical garment worker who since May 3 had been in charge of the community kitchen told us that it is “very, very ugly what we are experiencing here. Have you seen the zombie movies? Well, that is how people behave when they find out there's going to be the distribution of provisions or tarpaulins."

They propose that we take a “tour,” a term they use. The destruction is enormous and for me the city in some places is unrecognizable. An area where there once were schools, playgrounds, the House of Culture and a small garden is now fenced up. The buildings no longer exist and some heavy machines carry off the last of the debris. I take some pictures that convey more than I can adequately describe. It looks like a newly bombed town. Miguel Linares a resident cautions me several times that I must walk in the middle of the streets because the sudden arrival of an earthquake could easily collapse the remaining standing walls, loose tiles or entire buildings. The center of the city is impassable and in many areas neither cars nor motortaxis are able to circulate. There are thousands living in the streets because their houses are destroyed or irreparably damaged.

A contingent of self-described socialist teachers from Section 22 of the teachers union arrived in Juchitán the same day we did. They came from Miahuatlán and the central valleys of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Among these teachers are Mario and Heriberto Martínez. For them this is the third or fourth trip to Juchitán. They say that the dissident faction of the teachers union has been more effective than the government in delivering aid in a number of places. A day later a group arrives from the city of Puebla with a full truck of material aid. It included Alfonso, Guillermina and María Elena who had previously gathered aid in Izúcar de Matamoros and the surrounding area. They drove more than 10 hours to arrive in Juchitán. They remain in Juchitán for only a few hours since they had to return to go to work on Monday.

We brought three or four boxes of medicines that are given to Valentín Toledo and Eufemia, two doctors with a reputation for treating city residents with modest incomes. Valentín treats people in the street.

I recognize an 80-year old resident, Ana Benita. She lost her house and appeared in a video speaking Zapotec and crying. When the volunteers arrived, she begged them to retrieve just one single valuable item from the rubble: a photograph of her parents.

Juchitán was one of the main centers of rebellion against the 60-year dictatorship of the PRI. In 1980, Juchitán elected the first non-PRI city council. Coordinators of workers, peasants and students organized to resist the PRI regime. However, Professor César de la Cruz believes that the last several governments have violated this legacy of struggle and solidarity by accepting gifts and favors over the years from the parties in power.

Juan Magariño, a member of the Section 22 of the teachers union and his wife Mari de la Cruz, who is the coordinator of a community kitchen, both report that three years of drought were followed by torrential rains. This has hindered the development of agriculture that so many depended on. Juan comments that as a result many people have been forced to work in commerce but this sector too has collapsed. So, many are lacking a source of income. "People are suffering a lot and they will suffer more," he adds.

Heriberto Magariño, a former leader of the teachers union who was jailed last year as a political prisoner by the federal government, wonders what will happen in the coming weeks and months. Currently, there is a lot of aid in Juchitán but the situation could become explosive when it ceases. He reports that in a certain neighborhood (the Seventh Section) the people ran to the Mexican army for aid.

Professor Miguel Linares is also a veteran union activist. His small house was damaged. He immediately organized a neighborhood communal kitchen with his wife and children. There they serve 60 families who volunteer in the preparation of the food. The purpose of this is to meet the needs of the people and also build community organization.
Action was taken to distribute items in four communal kitchens and build bigger shelters for them. One of these kitchens is in Ciudad Ixtepec where a preschool teacher Ofelia Rivera is the coordinator. Ofelia is a tireless activist and organizer.

Today, Monday, October 9, a truck from the Tehuacán Valley arrived in Juchitán with a load of more than one thousand pairs of jeans donated by maquiladora workers in a campaign named "Altepexi Vive."

We want to thank all who donated funds for your generosity and trust in us that your donations would be well used.
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Translated by Stephen D. October 15, 2017