In the Bowels of the Hurricane: Catastrophe in Guerrero

Abel Barrera Hernández

With the fury of the wind our house vibrated. We felt that at any moment we would be buried. The water, which reached one meter, forced us to look for a place to take shelter. There was no way to go out into the street. Its force swept everything away. The sensation of death was a latent threat. We resisted in a corner of the house where the water was losing strength. They were five intense hours of fear, suffering and crying, of incantations and prayers. The palms and the holy water could not contain the destructive passage of Otis. In Coyuca (de Benitez) the river flooded the streets. We thought it would again claim more deaths. The families of the 11 policemen murdered on October 23 had received their bodies in the morning at the Semefo of Chilpancingo. On the night of the hurricane they held a wake for them. Before Otis made landfall, the mourners were left alone and had to improvise a place to cover the coffins with nylon. The families held out on the precarious roofs. Nothing could be salvaged. They just prayed to God and, hugging each other, they had the courage to prevent the wind from carrying them away. Wet and fearful, they remained on their feet all morning.

In the rural communities of the Costa and the Montaña there will be no harvest of corn, beans or squash. The basic staples of rural families have been lost. On the feast of San Miguel, September 29, the older women and girls danced in the milpa and made an offering to the mayantli, the hunger (personified by the devil) that flees from the town after the lost battle with the archangel Michael. In October and November the families harvest the new fruits that they place on the altars of their deceased. The hurricane brought the bad winds that will leave empty stomachs.

All the cornfields are broken. The squash blossoms have wilted, the pumpkins will remain pachichis (shriveled) and will not ripen. On the ground, the tender cob rots from the water and the leaves are wet, but dried out. Corn is scarce in these days of the dead. Even the dead will go hungry because there will not be enough money to buy what was once harvested from the plots of land and the fruit and coffee orchards. The impassable roads prevent the people of the highlands from going down to buy the basics. In addition to the scarcity of basic necessities, high prices prevent their purchase. The mayantli will return to the communities to wreak greater havoc among poor families who will not be able to harvest their crops out of hunger. In the Montaña, where it is always delayed, the tlacololes (parcels that have been burned) were washed away by the rains and the milpas were covered with mud. The little corn that is harvested (300 kilos) in half a hectare in the steep mountains did not even fruit. The migration of poor families to Sinaloa to work as agricultural day laborers will increase, in adverse conditions due to the overexploitation of their work and the lack of social security. Indigenous children will continue to be abandoned, playing in the furrows and with no possibility of shelter or schooling.

Rural Acapulco is invisible. The people of the communities belonging to the agrarian center of Cacahuatepec take to the highway to ask for food and water. The Papagayo River, which is over-exploited by the gravel and hotel businessmen, swept over everything it could find. It flooded several communities and inundated their lands. The poverty they have suffered for decades was exacerbated by the storms Ingrid and Manuel 10 years ago. The ferocious onslaught of Otis devastated their entire surroundings, destroyed their crops, killed their livestock and left them without garden plots. Although Salsipuedes is home to the deep wells that supply water to Acapulco’s hotel zone, the port’s rural communities survive in the mire of oblivion. Their homes are left without roofs and they die of thirst even though they have the Papagayo and the deep wells within their territory.

In the sea and lagoons tragedies are multiplying. There are several fishermen missing, some were out at sea fishing, others were swept away by the water. Most of the poor fishermen lost their boats and the ones they rescued were rendered useless. They were left without the implements of their trade. They do not have the resources to repair their boats, oars and motors. Their nets (tarrallas) and trawls were lost and others were broken. The coastal fishermen (trawlers) have begun their activities and the deep-sea fishermen have not yet risked going out because they are looking for their companions and because their boats were damaged. A large number of families living along the beaches have their homes damaged and all their palapas have been blown away. Tourist activity is suspended because there are no conditions to walk on the beach. What they urgently need is to repair their houses to have a safe roof to sleep under and to repair their kitchens. Children collect dried coconuts and muddy branches to cook food. Gas is scarce and expensive. The big task ahead is to clean up the beaches. It will take weeks or perhaps months to rebuild their habitat and set up their palapas. Otis destroyed the most beautiful natural heritage of Acapulco and the two coasts of Guerrero, its beaches and palm trees.

The desperation of poor families in Acapulco is exacerbated by the lack of water and food. Countless roofs in the peripheral neighborhoods have collapsed. The precarious plumbing was rendered useless and the Rotoplás water tanks, where water was stored, were blown away. The serious water problem, which is already a problem in the port, has now become an irresolvable issue in the short term. It is part of the atmosphere of ungovernability in the port. Shortage is widespread. The hotel zones suffer the same as the poor neighborhoods of the port. The authorities are overwhelmed and the population is very angry. Older people, but especially young people, are determined to fight for a portion of food and a few liters of water. Sticks and machetes are beginning to be brandished.

Original text published in La Jornada on October 29th, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

OTIS Hurricane: Collection center for indigenous peoples in the state of Guerrero: at the address of the “Casa de los pueblos ‘Samir Flores Soberanes’”, located at Av. México-Coyoacán 343, colonia Xoco, Alcaldía Benito Juárez, Ciudad de México, C.P. 03330. Deposits and bank transfers in support of these towns and communities in the account number 0113643034, CLABE 012540001136430347, SWIFT code BCMRMXMMPYM, BBVA bank in Mexico, branch 1769. In the name of: “Ciencia Social al Servicio de los Pueblos Originarios”. Phone number: 5526907936.

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