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The Oarsman

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The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

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Oaxaca Demands Justice After Wildfire Disaster

Oaxaca Demands Justice After Wildfire Disaster
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Many know Oaxaca for its aesthetic look and for locations like Monte Albán, Hierva el Agua, Mitla, and outside markets. 

However this is only what they paint Oaxaca. I’m here to say this isn’t what my version of Oaxaca looks like. 

Oaxaca isn’t just about the looks—it’s about our indigenous culture that makes it beautiful. 

However nobody really pays attention to our indigenous pueblos and people. 

What’s even more disappointing is Oaxaca’s government doesn’t bother to help their indigenous people. 

Late last month, my pueblo, San Lucas Quiaviní, suffered what they thought would be a small fire that later turned into a huge forest fire. 

On Wednesday February 28 many residents noticed smoke coming from the cerro

Many were alarmed to see the fire becoming bigger. The municipio asked for comuneros to help put out the fire. Around 30 men went up to put out this fire; however a group of five brave men took a different route to get to the fire faster. 

As night came, their families were worried not to see their partner, grandfather, and fathers come back from helping.

The morning came and still the families haven’t heard anything back. Unfortunately the five men got caught in the fire and passed away.  

Their bodies weren’t found until later that day. They then confirmed the deaths of Rafael Antonio Morales (age 65), Celso Diego (age 65), José Hernández López (age 47), Felipe García (age 41), and lastly my uncle Pedro Curiel Diego (age 64).

These five brave men will never be forgotten; they passed away fighting for their hometown, for their families and for their ancestors. 

Keep in mind the fire was still getting bigger on Thursday and continued until early March. The Presidente of San Lucas Quiaviní asked for the government’s help since they noticed the fire becoming bigger. 

We had no government response and no equipment to put out the fire. Many of the younger generation took the role to advocate for their home. 

They agreed to protest on  Oaxaca’s main highway that leads to Puerto Escondido, which led to shutting down transportation to anywhere.

They wanted to send a message to the government. They held up signs that said, “Las infancias también queremos conocer cerros verdes, naturaleza y respirar aire limpio.” It translates to “children also want to see green hills, nature and breathe clean air.”. 

There’s many videos on social media where there are angry drivers saying it’s not their fault that the government isn’t helping. 

However we all felt it was the only way we could get the government’s attention. The protest lasted three days, while back in our pueblo, there was no hope. 

The burial for these five men who are our heroes took place on Friday March 1. The pueblo was filled with tristeza. My family agreed to all meet at my grandma’s place to watch their burial on Facebook Live. My cousins Diana and Jaime mourn their fathers death through a screen. Anger filled their hearts because they couldn’t attend their father’s burial making them feel hopeless,  but tears filled their eyes seeing their father one last time. 

Hearing their screams is a moment I won’t forget. I saw the burial of all five. I started to cry once I heard banda play a traditional song that is played when one passes away called “Te Vas Angel Mio and Dios Nunca Muere.” 

It took me back to when my grandfather passed away. It was like reliving it again and again. You could hear screams of family members and see many faint. My aunt hugged my uncle’s casket not wanting to let go. 

However Rafeal’s burial was one of the saddest because his body was severely burned and almost unrecognizable. Rafeal was born mute and saved a life minutes before his death. 

A young man said he remembers fainting and when he woke there was a man signing to leave because of flames. He says Rafeal pushed him so he wouldn’t get stuck in the fire but when he looked back Rafael wasn’t there.   

That only made him more of a hero.   

 After their burial we started to notice the fire expanding to other pueblos like San Pablo Guilá, San Dionisio, and Santiago Matalan. Thankfully we received help from other pueblos. The residents from other pueblos provided water and food; they volunteered to help us put out the fire. Animals were helping as well by carrying loads of water and food. Womens would carry loads of water up the mountain and make food for the men helping put out the fire. Children would buy material and ingredients for meals. 

By the sixth day, the government finally sent a helicopter. However they promised a helicopter for days and never arrived until Monday. They took pictures and lied saying they were helping and sending firefighters there. However that isn’t what happened. 

They posted a picture of the helicopter with water and wanted to take all the credit. On Facebook the government of Oaxaca posted saying “we did 70% of the work for them.” That’s a lie. We did all the work. 

The only thing the government did was send a helicopter but the fire was already dying down. By the time they got there the fire was easy to take out. 

However the residents at San Lucas Quiaviní are extremely grateful for the volunteers who helped them and repaid them with cases of water bottles for their families. 

Currently the forest fires in all the pueblos affected aren’t burning anymore. However the fire left our landscape dead and affected wildlife. 

Many asked how the fire started. San Lucas Quiaviní president Rafeal Morales Curiel stated a resident went to his terreno to burn out hormigas that were eating his crops. 

The resident left his terreno burning thinking the fire would go out by itself. However that isn’t what happened it grew bigger and stronger flames. Even after he saw smoke coming from the mountain he didn’t bother to help them put out the fire. Currently they said they’re not sure which jail they took him to. 

Many family members want to burn him alive. Three out of the five families sued the person who caused the fire. The other two families believe people make mistakes and believe he won’t do it again. However, how does this bring justice to our heroes who passed away fighting for a fire they didn’t even know what the cause was or who it was. All they wanted to do was save their lands and families. 

Some say the government is the ones with the blood on their hands. I agree that the government is at fault for this situation for not being fast enough. I also believe that the young man who started the fire should go to jail for causing it. Both sides are wrong and both should acknowledge the situation.

For those in LA who wanted to also help there was a protest March 4. The protest was at Consulado De Mexico led by @comitéoaxacali. The purpose behind the protest is to gather attention from the media and the Mexican government who continuously show careless actions by not sending aid to Oaxaca. I spoke to my cousin Edgar Lopez Curiel who is a member of Comitéoaxacali

“Time and time again the government of Mexico and Oaxaca has exploited Oaxacan culture and its rich traditions all to promote tourism, but fails to support us in our time of need,” he said.  I was at the protest and all of us there felt the urge to get the word out about the situation hoping for some validation from the Mexican Government. At the protest many feelings were shown not only by me but others who also feIt the same thing. We felt sad , frustrated , angry and at the same time grieving. 

I attended the mass and it felt almost like everyone was in despair. It pains me to know it took five lives to be taken and 700 acres burnt for Oaxaca to finally get attention. It’s frustrating to know my pueblo is popular for the fire and not for our beautiful culture and traditions.

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