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Survivor of the Tasajera Tragedy Graduates as a Professional Technician


Tasajera survivor graduates
Mauricio Martínez, survivor of Tasajera, graduates as a professional technician – Credit: Instagram/Gobernación Magdalena

Mauricio Martinez, a survivor of the Tasajera tragedy, has graduated as a professional technician. Martínez, 29 years old, was seriously injured with burns on 64% of his body on the fateful day of July 6, 2020, when, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was one of the residents of the Magdalena town who tried to obtain gasoline from an overturned truck that eventually exploded, claiming the lives of 45 people and leaving 19 others, including Mauricio, seriously injured.

The images of Tasajera have become an icon of the poverty in many towns along the Colombian Caribbean coast. This is a community located on the road that connects Santa Marta with Barranquilla. Its residents make a living from fishing and selling whatever they can to those passing by on the road. On that fateful morning in July, an overturned gasoline-laden truck was looted by locals carrying containers to collect the fuel and resell it.

One of the residents attempted to remove the vehicle’s battery, and in the process, the tragedy occurred. A powerful explosion claimed the lives of 45 residents and left nearly two dozen others with severe burns.

Tasajera survivor graduates
Casas de Tasajera, en el Magdalena – Crédito: Adam Cohn / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mauricio Martinez, one of the burn victims

Mauricio Jose Martinez was a 26-year-old from Tasajera. That morning, alerted by the accident, he, like many other young people, went out to collect whatever he could when he was caught by the explosion. What followed was a nightmare of three months in hospitals and therapy to heal the burns that had ravaged his body.

Up to that point, Martinez worked as a motorcycle taxi driver and as a DJ on weekends in a local venue in his hometown of Tasajera. The young man remembers the hardship of those weeks in a hospital in Bogotá, where he was transferred due to the severity of his burns. He underwent various surgeries, including a corneal transplant that saved his eye’s vision. Through therapy, he managed to regain his voice, as his vocal cords were also affected by the burns.

Seizing an Opportunity

The young man, still in recovery, obtained a scholarship to study his first professional degree in Colombia and graduated two years later as a professional technician. Today, Mauricio Martinez is one of the 124 professional technicians in Safety and Occupational Health who received their diplomas at IES Infotep in Ciénaga.

Now, Mauricio works at the tourist stop in Puebloviejo, the municipality to which Tasajera belongs. “This has been the best thing because I didn’t have resources before. Now that Governor Carlos Caicedo opened the doors for me, I am here, and I want to move forward and keep fighting with more strength,” said the young man after receiving his diploma.

Scholarships for Change

The Scholarships for Change have made it possible to finance the education of 8,500 Magdalena residents with limited resources. These are public funds that the Magdalena Governor’s Office has allocated to improve the quality of life for those who cannot afford their education. However, the region still needs a significant boost that goes beyond the possibilities of the regional government.

The poverty and historical neglect by the state in this area are evident everywhere. Houses made of rubble, stagnant water that promotes the spread of diseases, and garbage everywhere. That is the sadly bleak panorama that the territory offers to its population. The elderly survive, resigned to a reality from which they cannot escape, while for the younger generation, the only path is to leave their town and seek a future elsewhere.

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