The smoke reveals the points, like the X marks the treasure on a map, where the fire still consumes the garbage. On March 26, flames devoured a landfill in Tepotzotlán, State of Mexico: a huge mountain of compacted offal that is silhouetted against green hills. More than two months later, there are pockets that continue without extinguishing, embers lodged in the gaps between the waste, fed with the changes of wind that works like a bellows on the waste pyre. 20 meters away, a row of shanties – and the people who populate them – faces the remains of the fire, the toxic cloud that emerged after the combustion of tons of waste, the dense smell that thickens the air and sticks to the eyes, hands, clothes.
The disaster, neighbors say, is not an isolated event. On the contrary, they denounce: it is the umpteenth example of mismanagement in a territory preyed upon by speculation and surrendered to multinational companies. The landfill, they say, is clandestine and is located in a protected natural area. Like many of the warehouses that are glimpsed on the horizon, part of one of the eight industrial parks of the municipality that have turned it into an important industrial focus, according to official data. Although, as often happens in these cases, the reality is not so simple.
The red house of Federico Cosiano is one of those that resists the toxic onslaught of the landfill. He is a heavy machinery operator and has been living in the San Sebastian neighborhood for 25 of his 50 years, in front of the mountain of waste. He recalls a sweltering smoke on the day of the fire: "My wife got sick from her throat. The smell was very pungent, chemical. We thought [the garbage dump] could explode, it thundered a lot." That night they placed damp rags in the cracks of the windows to keep out the corrosive cloud. "We were thinking of going somewhere else, but where? Here is our heritage. With so much pollution, who is going to want to buy from us? Several neighbors have gotten sick, they have gotten cancerous tumors because of the garbage."
A house with a message against industrial developments in Tepotzotlán, on June 1. Rodrigo Oropeza
Green for grey
Tepotzotlán has a dilemma. The municipality faces the old debate between economic development or the defense of the land; between preserving an environment already punished by the consequences of globalization or accepting the jobs it brings. The landfill fire is just the latest and bloodiest example of how poor urban planning and the use of agricultural land for industrial activities is affecting the lives and health of neighbors. At the close of this article, the City Council, asked by EL PAÍS, has not made statements.
It all started years ago. With the new millennium, the municipality, with traces of colonial town in its historic center, began to industrialize. Prologis, a multinational real estate company that builds large logistics warehouse complexes for other companies, was installed there. In a short time he erected four industrial parks that attracted financial dinosaurs such as Amazon or Mercado Libre. The newspapers spoke of large investments of capital and employment. But with progress came problems. The neighbors saw their environment mutate: the agricultural land was requalified to build on it, the green areas became gray, the department stores occupied land that, according to the collective, are protected natural areas.
Aerial view of the colony of San Sebastián next to the Tepozpark III industrial park.Rodrigo Oropeza
Life, in short, began to change. Thousands of cargo trucks entered and left the town daily, eroding the roads and coexistence. Then came the noise of traffic, the chaos of industry, workers from outside, the sense of loss of identity and community fabric, the increased perception of insecurity. In just two decades, Tepotzotlán went from 60,000 inhabitants to more than 100,000.
—The trigger was 15 years ago. The city council changed the use of the land to attract industry. There we thought it was progress, controlled development. The city has grown disproportionately with a failed model, they have been preying on everything that was not important for the business. There is a very deep structural corruption.
Aldo Lima summarizes the opinion of Ciudadanos Organizados, the main front against the massive and uncontrolled industrialization of Tepotzotlán, a group of neighbors who got tired of the quality of life getting worse and worse. "When I was a child, everything outside my house was green. Now everything is concrete," protests Estefanya Márquez, Fanny (31 years old). "We want to clean up bad public practice from the local level, participate in decision-making," says Juan Carlos Molina (50), a social worker. "It was said that it would bring employment to the people and no. The warehouses are logistics, not production. And now they are going to be automated, the few jobs that were there are going to disappear," concludes Marta González (30).
Estefanya Marquez.Rodrigo Oropeza
A stream with water of the color and density of oil, through which the waste is dragged, is the border between the landfill and the colony of San Sebastian. Its shore dots the first row of houses, built by the villagers themselves, often with recycled material from the garbage dump. There, the perception of industrial buildings is very different from that in the center of Tepotzotlán. " We are in favor of the industry, many people in this neighborhood would be unemployed [if the warehouses closed]. It is a source of work", defends Federico Cosiano.
His neighbors agree. "The industrial park is good, but they had to bring green areas," says Genaro Rodríguez (57), a merchant. Mario García (57 years old), who says that to earn tortillas and pay bills he does "a little bit of everything", considers that the constant transfer of trucks is serious: "It's chaos." In San Sebastian, everyone agrees that the garbage dump is the biggest of their problems, even before the fire.
The mayor, María de los Ángeles Zuppa —of Movimiento Ciudadano, daughter of Ángel Zuppa, who governed the municipality four times with MC and the PAN—, declared at the end of March that the landfill was clandestine and was closed in 2016 for "not having permits or conditions to operate." However, it continued to operate until the flames consumed it. Now, a couple of policemen guard its entrance, but it continues to be a toxic time bomb that puts at risk the health of everyone who breathes that air. The big question is how waste is going to be managed from now on, how can tons of garbage disappear when no one is responsible and the owner has vanished, questions Organized Citizens.
Mario García, resident of the San Sebastián neighborhood.Rodrigo Oropeza
The neighbors, faced with the inactivity of the authorities, created a committee. Arturo Cruz, who is 25 years old, is a nurse and studies medicine, is part of it: "Many people have gotten sick, there are colleagues even in hospitals for breathing the smoke, but the most regrettable thing is what comes in the future. The consequences of breathing the smoke from the combustion of human solid waste are diseases such as cancer of many types, chronic bronchitis...", he explains.
The conflict is served in Tepotzotlán. On the first morning of June, the same week that the PRI and Morena are contesting state elections in the State of Mexico, more than a dozen neighbors meet with EL PAÍS reporters to tell their vision of the problems in the house of Lulu, a woman outraged because her home, which previously overlooked the countryside, Now it is surrounded by ships: "I no longer live in peace, I have constant noises, I do not sleep from stress. The other day I had a medical emergency and I couldn't get out because there was a trailer in front. There's no planning, it's not right to have factories around your house."
Inhabitants of the Ampliación San Sebastian neighborhood walk next to the municipal garbage dump. Rodrigo Oropeza
The ten neighbors raises an eloquent list of problems in which the corruption of different political administrations are mixed; the caciquismo of the families that own the land; the tricks of big business to take advantage of the situation; the pressures of other citizens who see industrial development as a way for them too to make a profit; the loss of agriculture that drives up food prices; the growing scarcity of water that industry uses hand in hand; population densification; the rise of precarious and low-paid jobs; The right to a dignified life, to enjoy the tranquility, peace and beauty of a countryside that is not plagued by industrial landscapes. Juan Carlos Molina sums it up like this:
Mexico is such a corrupt country because it is a business model, the election is a fight for that business. What is happening in Tepotzotlán is an example of historical and structural corruption. But we arrived before the companies. The right to the city belongs to everyone. Human rights must be put before economic profit.
Two images illustrate the complaints of neighbors. The first is a crossroads: on the one hand, the Flores Magón neighborhood, a humble neighborhood whose population has increased significantly due to the flow of workers who have moved to work in the warehouses; on the other, 20-meter fences surround Amazon's massive warehouse. The road, narrow, irregular and full of potholes and holes, comes down full of cargo trucks. The second snapshot is, again, in the San Sebastián neighborhood, the one that survives at the foot of the smoking landfill. A dog sniffles through a pile of waste looking for something to eat. Several motorcycles pass through the dirt road raising a dust. A cloud of herons flutters over the garbage dump. It is getting dark and in one of the shacks at the foot of the stream with the oil-colored water music plays. First, a lying corrido. Then, the chords of a song by the Asturian rock group Illegals, which sings that of "ten thousand unemployed workers wait on the platform of collective suicide". The wind brings a viscous smell that stings in the eyes.
Aerial view of the ships of an industrial park in Tepoztotlán.Rodrigo Oropeza
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