20 | ENE | 2019
Santos Reyes Yucuná – Photo: Edwin Hernández/EL UNIVERSAL

Life in the poorest municipality in Mexico

Christian Jiménez
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The inhabitants of Santos Reyes Yucuná, in Oaxaca, work as street merchants and masonry workers in other states to make money to survive

Santos Reyes Yucuná

It's Sunday in this Mixtec community, located more than 217 kilometers from the capital of the state of Oaxaca. Life passes between need and bitter cold. This is the poorest municipality in Mexico, where 99% of its inhabitants live under conditions of extreme poverty, according to the 2015 Poverty Measurement by Municipality Report performed by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL).

(Santos Reyes Yucuná – Photo: Edwin Hernández/EL UNIVERSAL)

When we arrive at the seat of the municipal government, surrounded by red hills, a few touches of modernity try to hide the misery within. The main squares have recently paved roads and cinder-block roofs have cable TV antennas perched on them. At first glance, poverty isn't noticeable.

No medical attention

Despite low temperatures, Lalo, 8, claims he isn't cold, clad in only a sweater, an old t-shirt, and a ragged trouser. He smiles and we can see the cold air has burned some areas of his neck and face.

On the fringes of the town, Lalo plays with his two younger cousins, who race him to the end of the street and win.

He does his best supported by two “crutches” made of dried reed grass. He was born with a dystrophy in both legs but his condition isn't an obstacle for the kid to play. He's never been treated by a doctor.

The community has only one health clinic; however, lack of medical staff has made it hard to provide constant medical attention to the population.

In February, the only doctor – a resident – concluded his residency program and the clinic was left unattended until September, when a new resident arrived. The people here travel to Tonalá, Chiapas, when they get sick.

Unemployment and lack of opportunities

Lalo's parents work as merchants in Mexico City, selling snacks on the streets like many of their fellow Oaxacans. Lalo is looked after by an aunt who gave birth to a baby with cerebral palsy.

The total population of Santos Reyes Yucuná is of 1,600, and Lalo is part of the 1,000 who don't speak Spanish. He speaks Mixtec. With a smile, the kid confesses he's not interested in learning Spanish and that he cares not for school, and he isn't worried about not knowing how to read or write.

Through his aunt, Anatalia Regino, Lalo tells us he doesn't want to go to Mexico City because he is afraid the change in weather can make him sick, or of getting lost as he has been told Mexico City is very big.

Lalo's parents are part of the 95% of the town's population who has left the town for lack of job opportunities.

According to the town councilor, economically active people travel to Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Chiapas as seasonal workers to work as street merchants or bricklayers.

A few houses next to Lalo's, Maria Juana, age unknown, lives on a house built by the National Crusade against Hunger which took place between 2013 and 2015. She is being looked after by her godsons who will have to leave her soon to earn some money.

María Juana is one of the 77 elderly people who benefit from a social welfare program of the Ministry of Social Development to receive MXN$950 (USD$48) every other month, nevertheless, this year they didn't receive the economic aid.

Bureaucracy, an obstacle

Alberto Martínez, the municipal president, says he was unaware of the figures of the CONEVAL until a few days ago, and claims that while he ignores the exact moment when poverty increased in his town, lack of resources and the inattention of the government have contributed to the problem.

He claims he has requested assistance and resources to launch community programs and improve education and health services, yet he hasn't gotten a response.

Yucuná only has a kindergarten, a primary school, and a distance education program for middle school. Those who want to continue studying move to Chiapas, those who stay work the land.

The annual budget the town receives is MXN$3,000,000 (roughly USD$151,860) and the money is spent between the seat of the municipal government, the five farming lands, street lightning works, and road paving.

(Santos Reyes Yucuná – Photo: Edwin Hernández/EL UNIVERSAL)

Yuncá was one of the municipalities which were set to benefit from the Natual Disaster Fund; yet, since their visit a couple of days after the September 7 earthquake, government representatives haven't returned to the place nor has the town received the money.


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