Revolution #162, April 19, 2009

Earthquake in Italy and the Failure of Capitalism

I'm a regular reader of Revolution and I've been following the events in Abruzzo, Italy—site of a recent major earthquake centered near the city of L'Aquila that was recorded as 6.2 on the Richter scale, along with major aftershocks. Cities as far as an hour away felt strong shocks during the quake. This kind of devastation and destruction hasn't been seen in decades in Italy, although the peninsula is an important area of seismic activity.

As of today, there are over 235 people confirmed dead, with over a thousand wounded and at least 100,000 people left homeless according to L'Aquila mayor Massimo Cialente. In the surrounding area many thousands of people have been evacuated and many highways have been shut down by authorities. The downtown area of L'Aquila is utterly destroyed. Many historic buildings—in a city that dates back to the 13th century—have crumbled, and ancient Roman ruins were damaged as far away as the city of Rome, sixty miles away. While many evacuees sleep in their cars, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused all international relief aid to victims of the earthquake. [Berlusconi later said aid would be accepted.]

While clearly a natural disaster like this is not something humans are capable of preventing, there actually were signs before the earthquake that pointed to the coming disaster—and a cover-up by the government itself to prevent this evidence from becoming public.

Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in nearby Gran Sasso, saw that radon levels were rapidly increasing in the area in late March, over a week before the deadly quake—a warning sign that many scientists say is a way to predict major seismic activity. There also were some minor quakes in the area shortly beforehand, another clear warning that the "big one" was coming.

Not only did Giuliani predict that this would be a devastating quake—but he publicly announced this on a website, posting a YouTube video days beforehand, warning people in the L'Aquila area to evacuate as a major quake was coming. Vans with loudspeakers drove around the city before the quake hit warning people to evacuate. This was reported to the police and Giuliani was forced to take down the warnings he had posted.

Giuliani was accused of unnecessarily causing a panic, and the local authorities held a town hall meeting in L'Aquila on March 31 to try to calm people's fears. He has since been vindicated, and is being featured all over the Italian media and blogosphere.

After the last major Italian earthquake in 1980 and thousands died in southern Italy, a new law was passed requiring buildings to be built up to a certain code that would ensure they'd stand up to earthquakes. However, a lot of the buildings that collapsed were built after these new building codes went into effect—which many people blame on the construction companies which deliberately cut corners on safety to cut costs (the Italian government is notably corrupt, with a bribe or a connection to the right person one can get past most laws easily).

While it's sure that more information will come out as the dust settles in L'Aquila, I couldn't help but compare the situation here to what happened only a few years ago in New Orleans after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. In both cases you had capitalist profit-before-everything and direct state complicity in preventing evacuation of people contributing to a lot of unnecessary death, injury, and destruction that could have been prevented. The capitalist system's failure in protecting the people from the destruction caused by this earthquake is yet another reason that revolution and communism are so desperately needed by humanity.

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