Mexico: The Earthquakes and the Fissures in the Criminal System

September 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


The following was translated from the article, originally in Spanish, which appeared on September 26 on the blog of Aurora Roja, the voice of the Organización Comunista Revolucionaria, México.

The earthquakes of September 7 and 19, in addition to their devastating destruction, also revealed the fissures and potential structural weakness of a criminal system which greatly worsened the natural disaster. Two very different forces emerged in the wake of earthquakes. On the one hand, the solidarity and even heroic actions of many thousands of young people, the topos [movement of crack rescuers that arose during the 1985 earthquake], women, workers, vendors, professionals, peasants, and other people who took to the streets, almost immediately, for example, in Mexico City, motivated by the burning and selfless desire to rescue the trapped people, to locate the disappeared and to help the victims.

They came up against another, slower-acting force—indeed the official “aid” has not yet reached several places—with motives that are very different and, in fact, are opposed to the people’s interests. What stands out first and foremost are the politicians, military and government officials, monopolizing to an important degree the television coverage which in general repeated, like trained parrots, the official discourse. Then there were the big corporations, the big capitalists, calling for the “unity of all Mexicans”—even the transnational foreign companies that roam the world, exploiting and robbing people and destroying the environment. The interests of this force were very different: To control the people (preventing rescue efforts and aid in several cases), to put an end to rescue operations as soon as possible (even at the cost of raising the number of deaths) and to profit politically and economically with the disaster, trying, among other things, to repair the already very damaged legitimacy of the state and the system it represents.

The Capitalist Real Estate Boom that Set the Stage for the Disaster

But the crimes of these ruling classes and their largely capitalist system began long before this tragic September. In the case of Mexico City, with more than 200 deaths, despite the history of a devastating earthquake of another September 19, in 1985, the incessant need of the capitalists to seek greater profits, born of the same nature of this system, led the construction companies to compete to build ever taller buildings on the already proven quicksand-like lake bed of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. In obedience to the interests of the construction companies and other related companies, and with the usual justification of “attracting more investments,” Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as head of the supposedly “left” Mexico City government (2000-2006), gave the opening push to the current real estate boom by issuing Edict #2, which allowed the construction of buildings in “four districts with the idea of making the city grow vertically” (Proceso magazine, No. 2134, September 23, 2017). This was then extended to the whole city under other so-called “left” governments of Marcelo Ebrard and the current head of government, Miguel Mancera.

And mainly the tall buildings collapsed, several even recently built, in the recent earthquake of September 19, causing hundreds of deaths, in Mexico City and in other states of central Mexico. From the perspective of the interests of the people, it’s crazy to “make the city grow vertically” in a city which it has already been proven is very exposed to earthquake risks; but from the perspective of the ruling classes and the operation of the capitalist system, it is completely “rational.” The over-centralization of the productive apparatus and population in the Valley of Mexico, which is typical of imperialist-sponsored development in “third world” countries, has greatly increased the price of land, especially in areas that have become fashionable, and has created the opportunity for big profits with ever taller buildings. To make matters worse, several of these buildings have been built with low-quality materials, yielding higher profits for the construction companies but housing which is much more dangerous for the people.

If you think that these criminals might draw some lessons from the disaster, think again: For example, Aldesa, the construction company responsible for the Paso Exprés freeway with its recent death sinkhole near Cuernavaca, has already gone to Jojutla, in the state of Morelos, a hard-hit city by the September 19 earthquake, to begin demolition and “reconstruction” efforts with the same lack of concern for human life that characterizes the system as a whole.

Since the capitalist system is based on competition between capitalists to make the most profits from the exploitation of workers, it does not devote a lot of resources to disaster preparedness, although earthquakes and hurricanes are clearly going to come. Osorio Chong, the Secretary of the Interior, admitted that despite a lot of talk about prevention, about civil protection, nobody is prepared for an event like what happened. Why the hell not? Because of the unacceptable dynamics of the capitalist system. In turn, the Mexico City government, acting in the service of the big capitalists, has denied the request of at least 113 people to have access to the “Risk Atlas” which should identify the potential risks of earthquakes, floods, etc. for the various areas and soils of the city, effectively keeping in secret the risks to which the population is exposed. In a socialist system it would be possible and a high priority to plan and build appropriately for a seismic zone, in addition to having prepared the resources and means to face the disasters in order to be able to actually put the “priority on saving lives.”

The Criminal Actions of the State

The capitalist economic development itself set the stage to magnify this natural disaster, and the actions of the system's political representatives in the wake of the earthquake further increased its deadly effects. Faced with its legitimacy crisis because of Ayotzinapa, Nochixtlán and other crimes, they mounted a massive mass media operation for “(political) damage control,” trying to deal with the growing repudiation from important sectors of the population. In addition to empty promises and hypocritical expressions of compassion and concern for the people, they took some temporary measures to serve as an “escape valve,” such as free subway travel, supposed free medical care (although they denied attention to some people), shelters, etc.

However, they could not mask their true nature. In a situation where minutes and hours can mean the difference between life and death for many people trapped in the rubble, the military and police arrived in several cases to cordon off the collapsed buildings, run out the volunteers and even the topos and professional rescuers. In other cases they stopped the work for up to an entire day or they prohibited work at night, with multiples excuses. In several cases, the government has taken over the aid donated by the people, either to promote itself or to save it in order to buy votes in the 2018 elections. The most notorious case known to date was in Morelos, where the government prevented delivery of the aid collected by the people to the victims, in order to package it in official boxes of the government agency DIF (Comprehensive Development of the Family) and to store it in government warehouses where everything was put and nothing came out for the victims. The drivers who were forced to deliver the aid to the government exposed this on social media, and many angry people showed up to free up the aid and deliver it to those who needed it urgently. To makes things worse, in the collapsed apartment buildings on Prolongación Petén, in a clothing factory, in a collapsed building on Alvaro Obregón and elsewhere, the government attempted to bring in heavy machinery even before the official three-day period had passed, although protests by victims’ relatives and volunteers in general stopped these deadly attempts in some cases. Bringing in heavy machinery more or less guarantees the crushing and killing of any survivors.

Why do they act like this? These crimes against the people have a logic: The logic of social control, of subjecting the big spontaneous outbreak of solidarity by the people to the straitjacket of government control and of the ruling classes and to cover up the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis. This was accompanied by the most crude and disgusting media presence by government officials, with the justly hated Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto kissing grannies, promising help and reconstruction of their homes, and at the same time making racist comments in front of the victims in the state of Chiapas [of majority indigenous peoples], telling the media to take photos so that it can be seen that “there are white girls here.” In the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, severely affected by the September 7 earthquake, people are still waiting for the help they were promised after the earthquake in 2014, and now the authorities are coming with new promises.

In San Juan Pilcaya, in the Mixteca region of the state of Puebla, near the epicenter of the September 19 earthquake, there are almost no houses left. Two days later, a large rollout of military, armored vehicles, luxury cars and seven helicopters for a promotional event by Peña Nieto arrived surprisingly at this marginalized town, thus preventing dozens of university students from delivering the help that they had brought. When Peña Nieto started taking a photo with an old woman, saying, “Just a few houses fell down, but everything is OK, right?,” a university student snapped: “Instead of taking photos, why don’t you bring food?” Things went worse for Osorio Chong, when he appeared to try to supervise the efforts to rescue the clothing workers from a factory in the Obrera neighborhood in Mexico City: The volunteers ran him out with insults and shouts of “Get your ass to work!” Not long after, the government ordered the military to take control and raise metal fences guarded by the police to prevent people from entering the area.

Science has not yet been able to predict earthquakes. But even though earthquakes are currently a devastating force beyond human control, the operation of the current capitalist system, as well as the criminal state that protects this system and serves to reproduce it, increases far more than necessary the number of deaths and the misery of the affected population. What is needed is a great popular “earthquake” to bring down the rotten building of this criminal system once and for all, and to build a new system, in the service of the people and not profits: Communist revolution is needed.

Aurora Roja, Voice of the Organización Comunista Revolucionaria, México




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