Sep 18, 2017
The 8.1-magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico killed at least 96 people, with many more injured and thousands left homeless.
This is not the first deadly earthquake to hit Mexico. In 1985, a massive quake killed about 10,000 in Mexico City as high rises pancaked. In response, the Mexican government took serious measures to protect the capital. Mexico City has stringent building codes and it was the first city in the world to install a public earthquake warning system. In fact, this system worked well in the most recent earthquake – it gave residents of the capital about a full minute’s warning before the quake hit, time to run outside or hide under tables.
But the main seismic faults that cause earthquakes do not run through Mexico City – they are further south, along the Pacific coast. While Mexico City has millions of workers and poor people, it is also the center of the Mexican bourgeoisie and the center of its state apparatus. Not so the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca where the most recent quake hit. In these states, more than two thirds of the people live in poverty. Large areas are rural and isolated. Some people have to walk two hours a day just to get water.
Some wealthier and touristic cities on the Pacific Coast, like Acapulco, have early warning systems for earthquakes. But the regions that were hit the hardest do not. Nor do they have sufficient hospitals, emergency crews, transportation infrastructure, or disaster plans.
The earthquake killed at least 36 people and destroyed the town hall and the only hospital in Juchitán de Zaragoza, a town of 100,000 in the southern state of Oaxaca. This town lacks any kind of earthquake warning system or the most basic infrastructure to deal with a disaster of this type. Ordinary people worked day and night themselves, pulling apart the rubble, looking for survivors.
After going for days without help, people began to get angry. “They are withholding the food and donations and hoarding them, so they can get a picture of themselves giving out food,” a taxi driver in Juchitán said. A youth activist saw a truck full of donations parked at a municipal official’s house: “I saw it and got infuriated and confronted her, telling her if she didn’t give us the supplies we would take it by force.” He reported that the official then called the police.
No one expects the Mexican state to provide serious help. As a Chiapas state senator observed, “When disaster strikes where poverty is prevalent, the impact is exponential. It makes reconstruction and seeking aid less possible.” The reality is that the Mexican state responds to the needs of the wealthy – but not to those of the poor.
As with other so-called natural disasters under capitalism, this one has revealed the social fault lines dividing the rich and the poor. Ordinary people in Mexico, as in every other country, cannot rely on the government that serves the wealthy – only on themselves.