~ This article was originally published by SinEmbargo on May 3, 2016 ~
Mexico City, May 3rd (SinEmbargo).—Activists claimed that the fires started by avocado growers in Uruapan “have revealed the cynicism and unstoppable greed” of a small sector of the population in Michoacán. According to the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) the fires destroyed 1173 acres in three days, from Wednesday the 27th of April until Friday the 29th.
One member of the Michoacán Food Sovereignty Defense Front, an organization which has been active for approximately three years, spoke with SinEmbargo about the incident, but requested that their identity remain anonymous in order to avoid reprisal.
“All of Uruapan was asleep when it [the fire] happened, and it wasn’t until ten in the morning that they began to fight it. Then, it wasn’t until Friday—two days after the fire had broken out—that they sent the helicopters to help extinguish it, even though the firefighters had been asking for them since the 27th of April, when the fire started. The helicopters arrived only because of pressure from the citizens. People started organizing and taking charge of the situation themselves because the state firefighters didn’t come to put out the fire. There were actually a lot of volunteer firefighters, but the citizens don’t have the knowledge of how to properly stop a wildfire of this size”, the member stated.
The member added also that residents reported having seen various people going up the hills with gas tanks at approximately 3:25 in the morning before the fire broke out, “the interesting thing is that there are usually military personnel present in Uruapan and on those days there weren’t any, nor were there any helicopters; it wasn’t a normal day in Uruapan”, she said.
On the organization’s Facebook page, environmentalists wrote:
“Flames devoured the hills in plain view of all the citizens of Uruapan, just like the fields of avocados have decimated entire forests, leaving in their wake highly toxic green wastelands and aquifers contaminated by pesticides, as well as sickness and death for the laborers and their families, who endure miserable living wages and inhumane working conditions.
The time has come to put an end to this economy that runs on blood, it is time to stop this ecocide that puts the future of our children in danger.
It is entirely possible to have sustainable production of many different varieties of avocados without the use of pesticides and still favor local businesses and local consumption.”
The Crop that Broke the Camel’s Back
“In Uruapan, a lot of people are getting a rude awakening; these fires were really the tipping point in making the actions of the avocado industry visible, because there weren’t many people who were conscious of these things before. You could say that this is what made them aware of what’s going on”, said one commenter.
It was also noted that the fires have uncovered the truth about the avocado industry, “In Michoacán, the avocado growers got rid of the woods in order to have control over the land and open it up to monoculture farming.”
The Secretary of the Commission for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change of the state of Michoacán (Semarnacc), Ricardo Luna Garcia, claimed that the forest fire in the town of Uruapan was provoked by “the ambitions of avocado businesses”, and stated at that point in time that 865 acres of woods had already been destroyed by the fire.
Dozens of Uruapan citizens marched on Saturday to protest the switch to monoculture farming on the land, in addition to demanding punishment for those responsible for the fires.
According to the Michoacán Food Sovereignty Defense Front, every day more citizens “realize the negative impacts represented by monoculture farming and agriculture chemicals like those used by the avocado industry. It is a business controlled by few that mainly benefits company owners who are not held accountable by the community, and who are held even less accountable when it comes to the environment. In Michoacán, avocado producers who grow their crops sustainably are very few. In both permaculture and agro-ecology, most only want to generate profit and care little about the consequences. We have had enough with these capitalistic businesses that destroy forests and contaminate water sources”, they claimed on social media.
The Michoacán Food Sovereignty Defense Front, which is composed of several distinct organizations, assures that avocado monoculture is responsible for the decimation of close to 75% of the forest lands in the state of Michoacán. In conjunction with this problem, they claim that, “[the avocado growers] use a lot of pesticides. There are high numbers of cases of cancer here, and what’s more, farmers don’t have medical benefits and they don’t pay an environmental tax, even though they consume nearly all of the water.”
A Citizen Questions Aureoles, Governor of Michoacán
The National Forestry Commission (Conafor) stated that on Saturday a group of 452 firefighters and six helicopters began fighting the fire in el Cerro de la Cruz, Uruapan. That same day, Silvano Aureoles Conejo, the governor of Michoacán, met with some of the firefighters who were working to put out the fire. The Governor wrote on his Twitter account, “I thank the volunteers and firefighters for their attention and for putting out the Uruapan fire in record time.”
However, after the event, a citizen began to question the Governor about the delayed decision to send helicopters to help the firefighters.
“The equipment is not just waiting there for whoever needs to use it, there are fires all over the country […] Perhaps you should have come to help the firefighters put out the fire yourself”, Aureoles responded, noticeably annoyed by the citizen’s questioning.
According to Conafor, the states that have been most affected by forest fires this year are Oaxaca with 32,682 acres destroyed, Michoacán with 21,026 acres destroyed, and Puebla with 19,706 acres destroyed. In addition, 5,515 forest fires have been registered which have destroyed 2,101,270 acres of land, of which 95% were pastures.
This article was originally published by SinEmbargo on May 3, 2016 under the title “Aguacateros y su “incontenible avaricia” arrasaron 475 hectáreas de bosque en Uruapan: ONGs” and is available at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/03-05-2016/1655505
Translation by Allana Noyes, Trans-Border Freedom of Expression Project Volunteer Translator