Mexico City Shaken Awake

By Lorenza Kuri Breña Rosillo
Contributing Writer
30 September 2017

On September 19th, 1985, an 8.1 earthquake rocked Mexico City. Exactly 32 years later, a 7.1 earthquake struck again. In both cases, hundreds of buildings crumbled, thousands of people were injured, and many others lost their lives. In both cases, civil society came together to rebuild the metropolis.

Despite the fear and frustration following the temblor, people stepped up to help. As a “chilanga”, a Mexico City native, their positive response fills me with pride. Mexicans organized to rescue survivors, provide medical help, feed volunteers, share their homes, manage donation centers, and map danger zones. They worked together to transport relief supplies, respond to emergency calls, clear rubble from the streets and—most  importantly—rebuild the city that we call home.

In contrast with all the help from everyday common people, the government’s response has been strikingly quiet. Mexican citizens are mobilizing on their own, not relying on government support. They do so partly from pure generosity and partly from lingering distrust of the government following its tepid response after the 1985 quake. Mexicans are meeting the test: They are strong, honest, hardworking and hopeful. However, the Mexican government is yet to match the people’s efforts.

Elections are coming up next year. With them come endless opportunities for political parties to score points with constituents in a way that risks relief efforts. For example, it is common practice for political parties to spend a large amount of their budget on everyday items that they then stamp with their logo and hand out, usually, to the poorest communities in Mexico. These items range from school bags and t-shirts to rice bags and medicines. Many worry that donated items will be taken by political operatives to use in later campaigns, even though they are desperately needed for relief efforts now. Mexicans know this and, in order to prevent theft, citizens have taken the task to write on every donated item, that it is, in fact, for donation. Doing so ensures that goods donated for relief actually are used properly, instead of being siphoned off for corrupt purposes.

To address the misallocation of resources, Alfredo Aguirre is working through Change.org. The Internet platform is a social enterprise where people can start campaigns, mobilize supporters, and work with decision-makers to find solutions to social problems. Aguirre’s initiative has broken the platform’s record for visits after an earthquake and has been signed by nearly two million people. The initiative wants Mexican political parties to donate the 12,000 million pesos of federal and state resources destined to the political campaigns of 2018 to the victims of the earthquakes and to the reconstruction efforts that are needed all around the country. Instead of using public money for logo stamps, Mexicans want to see their money benefit those who are most in need now.

Rarely do these campaigns translate into policy. However, it seems that in the Mexican case, at least on paper, the pressure has worked. In response to such strong pressure, the National Election Institute is now allowing the national parties to donate however much they want of their budget to earthquake victims. In response, every political party has agreed to do so. Some have even started “one-upping” the offers of their rivals.

It is yet to be seen if these are empty promises or if the parties will, in fact, deliver. Additionally, if the parties do as they say, it might be too late. The money would take months to reach the victims resulting in a loss of opportunity for emergency rescues and seizing the current moment of social cohesion in Mexico to implement different rescue and reconstruction plans.

In the meantime then, it is the people of Mexico City who are rescuing people from the rubble, and digging deep into their pockets to help a friend and a neighbor rebuild their homes and our city. Unfortunately, the best policy at the moment is generosity on the part of the global public.

Please consider donating to Gael García’s and Diego Luna’s Omaze campaign or to Arriba Mexico; these organizations are working in Mexico to deliver relief to earthquake victims. To give, visit: https://donate.omaze.com/mexico or https://arribamexico.org/en/

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Lorenza Kuri Breña Rosillo is an M.A. student of Global Communications at The George Washington University. She is originally from Mexico City.

Picture licensed under CC-BY-2.5.

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