Mexico: Deadly Earthquake—Magnified by the Murderous System

September 11, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Just before midnight on Thursday, September 7, a huge earthquake of 8.1 or 8.2 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of southwest Mexico and Guatemala. It was the strongest earthquake to be recorded in Mexico in a century. As of Sunday night, reports are that at least 90 people have died from the quake and its aftermath—with the figure certain to rise. Damage from the quake is affecting many, many people, mostly in the southwestern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. In and around Mexico City, fully 430 miles (700 kilometers) away from the quake’s epicenter, a freeway bridge fell and buildings were damaged. Classes were suspended in 11 states.

Hardest hit was the historic indigenous town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, where three dozen people died and at least a third of the buildings were destroyed or damaged, including the hospital and City Hall, in this county seat with a population of 75,000. (Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that in Oaxaca, communities are cooperating to protect the homeless by blockading the streets and standing guard. Most of the injured and dead were dug out hand-over-hand by families and neighbors before the official rescue teams arrived.)

In Chiapas, the State Civil Protection System reported on Saturday that more than one million people are affected, and the governor reported that 40,000 homes are damaged.

In Guatemala, close to 5,000 buildings were damaged.

Thousands of families throughout the region are spending their days and nights huddled in the streets, justifiably fearing that aftershocks will bring their damaged homes down on them. Of the more than 700 aftershocks so far, at least six have been above 5.0 on the Richter scale, including a 5.6 aftershock on September 9, with its epicenter in Oaxaca, which ratcheted up the level of anxiety.

Throw into this perilous situation the arrival on the east coast of Mexico of Hurricane Katia on September 8, killing two people in landslides and massive flooding. Although Katia slowed down to a tropical storm as it moved inland, it is still expected to bring rainstorms and flooding into southern Mexico and possibly slow the transport of goods for relief.

The Pacific coast of southwest Mexico and Guatemala runs along a colliding fault between the North American and Cocos tectonic plates, which frequently produces quakes, but this one was so large that it moved the fault up 32 feet (10 meters). The quake’s relatively shallow depth made it even more severe.

The movement of these massive plates that underlie the earth’s surface is not predictable with any exactitude, nor preventable. However, the extent of the suffering from such disasters, and the official response to them, are determined by the fact that under this system, society is not organized to meet the needs of people but on the basis of the drives and needs of capitalism-imperialism—and, in a country like Mexico, the needs of the big capitalists and landowners in the countryside beholden to them.


Mexican Government Response—and Their Drive to Enforce Blood-Soaked Control

The Mexican government’s response to the earthquake in this region in particular cannot be separated from its overriding concern to enforce blood-soaked social and political control. Oaxaca and Chiapas are among the poorest and most politically contentious states in Mexico, with the highest percentages of indigenous populations. The Mexican government has been promoting major new infrastructure development like mines, hydroelectric plants, airports, and freeways, many owned and/or run by imperialist conglomerates, especially from the U.S. and China, and this is giving rise to struggles throughout Mexico, many led by indigenous peoples whose land and historical roots are being expropriated and despoiled. Of a piece with these developments is the privatization of the oil industry and other previously state-run industries, and the corresponding slashing and restructuring of state sectors, such as the education system, especially in the rural south.

Just last year, armed police and soldiers shot and killed in cold blood six people in the Oaxacan town of Nochixtlán, and attacked and beat others throughout Oaxaca and the region, to repress the struggle of teachers in the CNTE teachers’ union caucus known for radical politics. Chiapas is internationally known for a mostly indigenous rural uprising (led by the EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) on January 1, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. In 2014, thousands of Zapatistas and supporters mobilized after paramilitaries attacked a Zapatista school and clinic, murdering a leading teacher, Galeano.

Immediately after the quake, President Enrique Peña Nieto dispatched 200 soldiers to Juchitán and 100 to the state capital, Oaxaca City. Marines have now been added. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 troops were mobilized in Chiapas.

Peña Nieto announced three days of national mourning while he perched atop a mound of rubble in Juchitán, even as people were still digging through rubble to rescue possible survivors. He could barely contain his smirk. Just one day before, his visit to Oaxaca City had been met with powerful protests by dissenting teachers that shut down the city center for five hours. Two trucks were burned, and a helicopter was damaged by fireworks and forced to land. It was reported that in the ensuing police repression, more than 40 people were injured and 20 arrested, with possible disappearances. Juchitán is also well known for its long history of very militant opposition to the federal government and as a stronghold of the teachers’ radical movement.

Peña Nieto’s visit to the town of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas last month was also met with very powerful protests by indigenous groups and teachers. Under the guise of celebrating “Indigenous People’s Day,” he came to promote Special Economic Zones intended to open up indigenous and communally owned lands to development. Before his visit, indigenous neighborhood leaders told him he was “persona non grata” and warned, “The heroic Chiapa de Corzo does not receive traitors.” One year before, this same community had driven out the whole federal and state police force en masse, shouting “Murderers!” in response to police attacks on teachers.

So, all the way up through the very day of the quake, the president of Mexico had a difficult time setting foot anywhere in either Oaxaca or Chiapas. Many on social media are lambasting him for his hypocrisy for taking advantage of the suffering from the quake to pose as a savior and get a “pass.” True enough, he’s a fucking hypocrite with a heart of stone and a wood block for brains—but that’s not the worst of it. What happens, historically, when military troops are unleashed onto indigenous zones known for militant or even armed resistance? People need to beware of treating the military as some kind of “above the fray” force for the good of the “nation” (as if the nation itself were a monolithic unit without classes).

Massive resources do need to be delivered immediately into the areas suffering enormous destruction, before a horrific public health crisis results from many thousands of people left without access to shelter, food and water. But these resources, including international aid, should be handed over directly to local communities without strings, questions of party and cartel affiliation, or any of the usual cut off the top. Use of the military or police to repress the people must be denounced and resisted—and not only by those in the regions who are most under the gun.


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