Crime gangs block access to forest fires

 Crime gangs block access to forest fires

19 April 2017

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Mexico –   It’s been a bad year so far for forest fires in Guerrero: 132 fires — three times the number registered during the same period last year — have damaged 13,600 hectares of woodlands.

And there are reports that organized crime, whose tentacles reach far in the state, has made matters worse.

The Chilpancingo Civil Protection office has reported that in that municipality alone, in which the state’s capital is located, 47 wildfires have devastated almost 6,300 hectares.

Two of those wildfires remained active as of yesterday. Located between the capital and the port of Acapulco, both have consumed over 1,000 hectares of what state authorities described as “the main lung” of Guerrero’s central region.

The losses caused by these fires are considered serious given the large trees prevalent in the area.

Historically, the region has been the most affected by wildfires, most of them caused by humans.

Local farmers practice a pre-Hispanic farming technique called tlacolol, or slash-and-burn agriculture, which entails burning off weeds to prepare the land for sowing, but the fires can get out of control.

State and municipal authorities have made no arrests in connection with the fires.

The presence of criminal organizations has made a serious situation nearly unmanageable, although authorities have yet to acknowledge that publicly.

The Civil Protection chief in Chilpancingo, Gustavo Vela Guevára, reported that his office was unable to deal with wildfires in the communities of Llanos de Tepoxtepec, Amojileca and Xocomanatlán last week “for social reasons.”

When pressed to clarify why the fires were left unattended, Vela vaguely noted that it was “for reasons outside our control.”

Municipal officials quoted by the newspaper Milenio offered a more complete version.

They said armed gangs from the upper mountain regions intercept firefighters to keep them away from opium poppy plantations.

“They tell us they’ll take over” and prevent them from approaching the fires.

At the El Veladero National Park, located north of Acapulco, fires have consumed some 72 of its 3,159 hectares.

Governor Héctor Astudillo Flores declared that the number of wildfires is worrying and that public participation is needed to confront them.

“We will meet with the mayors in the next few days to ask for their intervention, because the staff from Conafor [the National Forest Commission] and the Army can’t do it by themselves.”

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