Posted November 27, 2017 by admin in Politics
 
 

Mexico’s earthquake aftermath threatens political tremors


Bureaucracy and financial concerns lead to fears of shoddy reconstruction

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Rescue teams at work in Mexico city. Residents whose homes are beyond repair are expected to pay for their demolition, but more than 90 per cent of buildings in Mexico lack insurance against natural disasters © Reuters Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Save to myFT OCTOBER 16, 2017 Jude Webber 0 comments “You go — leave me,” Flor Carillo’s bedridden 78-year-old mother implored when the most devastating earthquake in three decades struck Mexico City last month. Reluctantly, Ms Carillo did — only to watch her parents’ fifth-floor apartment crushed from above. One of hundreds of buildings in Mexico City now cordoned off, the wrecked block looks almost normal from the front, until you spot that one floor appears to be missing and the one below it looks as if it has shrunk. The back of the building tells a starker story: the concrete is buckled and extruded “like a cake whose filling has oozed out”, says Ms Carillo. Her mother died. Now the building — erected in the early 1970s on a plot bought by Ms Carillo’s grandfather and still owned by the family — has to be torn down. “Mexico is still standing” goes the current catchphrase, commending the solidarity shown by civilians rushing to join rescue efforts after the September 19 quake. But as the demolition work began this week, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of buildings like Ms Carillo’s are going. Some residents fear the change in the city may only prove skin-deep. Mexicans pride themselves on their ability to beat a sometimes insanely bureaucratic system. But flouting the rules, corruption and negligence in the form of unauthorised extensions, shoddy standards or incomplete inspections may be to blame for turning some buildings into death traps in the disaster, which claimed 369 lives, including 228 in Mexico City. Frustration with the authorities or financial concerns — residents whose homes are beyond repair are still expected to pay for their demolition, but more than 90 per cent of buildings in Mexico lack insurance against natural disasters — may be pushing some to turn a blind eye. Mexicans pride themselves on their ability to beat a sometimes insanely bureaucratic system. But flouting the rules, corruption and negligence may be to blame for turning some buildings into death traps Mehdi Mehdaoui, a French sports coach, had no alternative but to leave his rented flat because its safety has been compromised by structural damage in adjoining buildings; the owners are resisting demolition. Indeed, one neighbour is “doing work in secret to make it habitable because he doesn’t want to go on losing rent,” he says. Viridiana Ríos, a political analyst, also had to move. Although the authorities had found serious damage next door, she says her neighbours brought in private engineers “who told them what they wanted to hear”. But, she adds: “their house could fall on us.” A Facebook page set up by university students for workers to report damaged buildings recorded more than 2,266 anonymous reports about 1,261 earthquake-hit places of employment, where more than 92 per cent of workers were expected to turn up despite nearly nine in 10 feeling unsafe to work. Social media initiatives like this could play a crucial role as Mexicans increasingly demand accountability from the authorities. The quake — which struck on the anniversary of “the Big One” in 1985 in which thousands died in Mexico City, and two weeks after the most powerful quake in Mexican history flattened parts of the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas — has sparked serious soul-searching. Although the city’s building code was greatly improved after 1985, flaws remained: engineers from Stanford University concluded that “perhaps some of the collapses and loss of life . . . could have been prevented”. Some obliterated buildings have already been tidied away and diggers are at work in others. Some streets in Mexico begin to resemble a mouth with missing teeth. But the rubble from Ms Carillo’s building still covers the pavement. She has asked the city government to finance her demolition, saying she cannot pay. “We’re waiting to hear, but the wait’s becoming desperate,” she says. Residents of another collapsed building have exhorted the authorities to save them from having to take on loans to rebuild. “It’s not possible that before the September 19 earthquake we had a roof over our heads,” they said, “and now we have a debt to pay.” Authorities in Mexico City, which has been ruled by leftist mayors since 1997, are already unpopular because of a perceived upsurge in crime. With city and presidential elections next year, they will need to take heed as far as funds allow to avoid any political seismic shifts. jude.webber@ft.com


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