Corruption, Incompetence Alleged After Devastating Downpours
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 19, 2007; Page A12
MEXICO CITY -- Long before the devastating flooding this month in the state of Tabasco, Mexico'sbehemoth state-run oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, was pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into local government coffers for flood abatement projects.
From 1997 to 2001, at least $3 million was donated to build dikes, raise levees and move poor residents from low-lying areas, according to analysts and independent investigators. But a crescendo of questions about whether the oil money was ever used for the intended projects is raising the possibility that corruption and incompetence might have played as much of a role in the tragedy as historically torrential rains.
The Saint Tomas Association, a nongovernmental organization, has said there was no evidence that two previous Tabasco governors -- Manuel Andrade Díaz and Roberto Madrazo Pintado, who also was a 2006 presidential candidate -- spent the oil money on flood projects.
The group's investigators say they have found proof that flood abatement money was used to pay off contractors who never completed jobs, as well as to fill the gasoline tanks of private vehicles and to buy large quantities of cigarettes, pastries and other sweets.
Mexican legislators have responded angrily, launching investigations and questioning whether the former governors siphoned flood money to their political campaigns.
A series of factors are generally believed to have contributed to the flooding, including rampant development and deforestation to meet demand for a rapidly growing cattle-grazing industry. Without natural barriers to block the flow of water, silt drained into the rivers throughout the state, severely shrinking their channels and making them more prone to overflow.
In years past, Petróleos Mexicanos, known as PEMEX, has been blamed for environmental damage that activists say exacerbated flood risks. Since the mid-1990s, the company has donated millions of pesos to oil-producing states, including Tabasco, to compensate for the damage.
"The money was flowing," José Manuel Arias, of the Saint Tomas Association, said in an interview. "But there was not proper accounting at the state level. It was like a blank check."