Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Mexico’s Earthquakes, Past and Present

by Shannon K. O'Neil
March 20, 2012

Residents are evacuated from a building following an earthquake, in Mexico City March 20, 2012. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was 7.6 on the Richter scale and located the epicenter of the quake at Oaxaca State (Stringer/ Courtesy Reuters). Residents are evacuated from a building following an earthquake, in Mexico City March 20, 2012. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was 7.6 on the Richter scale and located the epicenter of the quake at Oaxaca State (Stringer/ Courtesy Reuters).

A 7.4 earthquake hit central and south Mexico today around noon, with its epicenter near Ometepec, Guerrero, but felt strongly in the capital and as far away as Guatemala. There are no reported deaths so far, and only limited damage has been described, although the tremor is said to have caused power-outages for some 1.5 million Mexicans.

The earthquake today was reminiscent in size of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico city, that topped in at 8.1 on the Richter scale, but not in aftermath. For one thing the infrastructure today is much better than in 1985, when 400 buildings were leveled, including hospitals, hotels, offices, apartment buildings, and schools. Due to this mass destruction and tragic loss of life (10,000 people were killed), officials began demanding and enforcing stricter building codes for Mexico City, presumably resulting in the more limited damage this time around.

But more than physical infrastructure, the 1985 earthquake highlighted the worst of the non-democratic political regime. President Miguel de la Madrid was virtually absent in the initial days, and when he did engage the media, he spent more time downplaying the damage than addressing the situation. Perhaps worse, few police, army, or governmental officials came to help dig out survivors, hand out supplies, or shepherd the nearly 200,000 homeless to shelter. In fact, the ineffectual response of the federal and capital governments to the 1985 earthquake helped spur Mexico’s long transition to democracy.

Already today, the government’s response has also been one of immediate communication and action. Felipe Calderón began live tweeting updates on the damage and the status of Mexico’s social services within hours of the quake, and the governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cué Monteagudo, told media that he had called the mayors of the most affected towns.

While the earthquake today may have brought back memories from 1985, Mexico has reaffirmed through its response that it is a not the same country it was before. The response today across all levels of government (and regardless of party) shows how much Mexico has changed.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Mario - Costa Rica

    Why so little news coverage? Learned of this by accident…yahoo has nothing on its home page. Don’t south of the border events count anymore?

  • Posted by Michael Skol

    A useful reminder of where Mexico is today. Media and policy-maker focus has been on drug-related violence, a serious issue, but one which has masked considerable forward movement over the years. NAFTA has transformed the country, the economy today is doing very well, and the the current presidential election is an exercise in genuine democracy.

  • Posted by mercedes

    Quiero hacer una observacion al comentario publicado por Michael Skol. Es muy cierto lo que dices sobre que Mexico, podriamos decir que mexico era un muchacho que tuvo que madurar rapido a base de dolor y golpes, el pueblo de Mexico es fuerte, sin embargo, su economia aun no se encuentra totalmente solida, si nos referimos al TLCAN, este ha beneficiado mas que todo a las grandes empresas, que son pocas, y que debido a la situacion de violencia del pais impide que se invierta mas y se genere mas empleo, por lo que el porcentaje de pobreza se ha incrementado, el pueblo en si no siente que la economia mejore, sin entrada de divisas al pais, no hay dinero circulante, y sin este, no hay economia que funcione bien. Y en cuanto a las elecciones presidenciales, estoy segura que el pueblo mexicano ha entendido el valor que tiene el voto, y seguro saldra a votar, el problema sera elegir cual de los candidatos es el menos peor.

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