The Tabasco floods, which affected 80 percent of this Mexican state last October, have returned to the news this week amid developments of the true cause of this tragedy.
It now appears that the floods should not be attributed to misfortune or extraordinary natural conditions, as information collected by the National Commission of Water (Conagua) has revealed that rainfall levels up until the end of October 2007, even if abundant, did not exceed the average level over the last decade.
The official stance supported by President Calderon, however, is that the floods were caused by two factors: extremely high rainfall (a theory refuted by official data), and the lunar cycle – attributing the same behavior which occurs in the sea to rivers and artificial lakes.
This week in the Italian newspaper The Manifesto, an alternative position was expressed. It revealed that during a period of torrential rain, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) gave urgent orders to open the last of the four dams (La Penitas) on the Grijalva River, which flows from Chapas to Tabasco.
Experts maintain that this was a necessary action, as the overflowing water could have damaged the structure of the dam. However, the discharge raised the water level of the Grijalva too quickly and dangerously and some days later, a few kilometers from the Penitas Valley, a landslide collapsed into the river causing a surge of water which covered an entire village – resulting in twenty-five deaths.
So, why wasn’t water in Pentitas Dam released earlier and more gradually? Water flowing out of this dam powers a public hydro-electricity plant that the government did not want to operate. The nation’s largest private gas-driven electricity plant – located a few hundred kilometers away on the border between Tabasco and Campeche – has a contract with CFE that binds the Mexican government to purchase a certain amount of energy up until 2015. Thus, their first priority had been to reduce public energy production by retaining more water in the dam, regardless of the consequences – even if this included flooding.
The International Slow Food association has been assisting Tabasco food communities to rebuild their agricultural livelihood since the floods. Click here to read the article.