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Living

September 19: What Mexico Refuses to Learn

In the aftermath of an earthquake, politicians and companies will profit, and society will let them

Rescuers look for trapped people on a collapsed building in the neighborhood of Roma Norte in Mexico City, Mexico on September 20, 2017, photo: AP/Rebecca Blackwell
By The News Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
2 weeks ago

When I felt the building start to move, my first thought was “it’s just the safety drill,” but then I thought “wait, drills don’t come with an actual earthquake.”

It was too much of a coincidence for an earthquake to take place exactly on the 32nd anniversary of Mexico’s 1985 earthquake, and yet it was also strangely right; it was a reminder of what has always been in our destiny. Ever since that early morning, more than three decades ago, people have talked about and feared a similar earthquake, but even when smaller shakes came and went, none of them ever really compared to 1985, and so society carried on … until Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, when we all got a glimpse of what 1985 was like.

The year 2017 brought less damage than 1985, and still the result was tragic, not only because of the lives that were lost, but because of what we have uncovered so far, and will continue to uncover throughout the next days, weeks, months and years to come.

The cheap “new” buildings and houses, the landlords that left previous structural problems unattended, the landlords that will try to cover up structural damages in their properties in order to rent or sell them for a decent price, the politicians that will try to launder and hide dirty money through donations, the supermarket chains that have made millions with everybody else’s suffering, our own irresponsible lifestyle and many other uncomfortable truths will have their day in the sun.

On midnight of Sept. 7, everyone thought that the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico had proven, once and for all, that Mexico City was stronger, that our city planning (which is nonexistent) had worked and that we were above any type of major damage.

Even though the damage to Oaxaca and Chiapas from the Sept. 7 quake was catastrophic on its own, we have a centrist mentality in Mexico, which makes us disregard others’ suffering and tragedies as long as nothing happens in Mexico City. The coastal states have become a sort of buffer between us and reality, both literally and metaphorically.

Instead of spreading economic wealth across the country, we continue to over-develop and over-populate Mexico City, the city that we’ve been trying to “Americanize” by turning our boroughs and neighborhoods into trendy and modern areas.

This was our intention with neighborhoods like Roma and Condesa. We want Mexico City to become the New York of Latin America, which it probably already is, but this desire has made us forget key aspects, like the fact that earthquakes have always happened and will continue to happen, or that we live on top very unstable terrain.

If you could choose a place to build a city of such magnitude, the valley of Mexico definitely wouldn’t be it.

The aftermath of Sept. 19 proved once again that Mexicans are resilient, united, good-hearted and forever optimists. This, unfortunately, tends to come out only during events such as earthquakes, tragedies and soccer celebrations.

As Mexicans, we are an “in the moment” society; all of our anger, compassion, reasoning and actions always take place in the immediate aftermath of most political, social or environmental events. We are an emotional society and, therefore, our initial reaction comes from an emotional standpoint; but, even if there’s nothing wrong with this, leading by emotion has led us to become a nation that doesn’t consider things in the long term, a nation that is more about what we feel now, what we want to do now and who we are angry at now.

Mexico has a population of 127.5 million people, and we have 299 government entities. That equals to 2.3 government entities per person, which is a ridiculous number considering that there doesn’t seem to be any other country that boasts so many government entities in relation to its population. The United States Federal Register shows 440 government agencies for a population of 323.1 million people, which amounts to 1.3 agencies per person.

So, why do we have so many government agencies?

The first reason is that government is the greatest industry in Mexico. There’s a lot of money to be made from working for the government and, more importantly, these agencies are a great way to create obscene budgets to hide and launder money, as recently uncovered by the site Animal Político with an article aptly titled “La Estafa Maestra” (The Big Con) which details the way the federal government has been misusing, embezzling and redirecting government funds.

To the recent spew of governors that have been caught embezzling funds, we can also add a number of candidates who registered their names as trademarks. Government has become another business sector.

The second reason is because we Mexicans give our government way too many excuses to create these agencies. Many of them were born out of outrage, like our latest jewel: the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA).

Will it fix corruption? Of course not, but Mexicans push our government to keep creating entities and reforms that serve no purpose other than to become make-up on a pig.

People should be questioning the intention of political parties like the institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which seems rather eager to the stop public funding of all political parties. This easily, and most probably, could be the PRI trying to wash away its corrupt history over the last six years, a way to cripple other political parties financially for the upcoming presidential election, a way to launder money, or all of the above.

Don’t let politicians fool you into thinking that they’ve turned into saints all of a sudden; they’re thinking strategically all of the time. Whether you choose to believe it or not, many politicians are grateful at the opportunity to distract the population away from their corruption, and therefore are more than willing to donate in order to rid themselves of “dirty” money.

While many people are making all sorts of donations, supermarket chains and other companies are making money hand over fist. There hasn’t been a single supermarket chain or product manufacturer that has lowered its prices in order to allow for people to donate more easily, because corporations are thinking about dollars and cents all the time.

Some supermarket chains even went as far as having relief centers outside their stores, and we are all so busy thinking that “everyone is doing their part” that we don’t realize that they are turning a profit from donations. Meaning, they opted not to donate themselves, but rather have us pay for those donations, and then they still manage to come out as the good guys. Genius.

Despite of all the politics and the profiteering going on, Mexicans must not fall prey to a very common symptom of modern society, willful ignorance, the phenomenon in which society chooses to ignore uncomfortable truths, in order to carry on with a social media approved lifestyle. It would be everybody’s hope to avoid this, but the truth is that it’s inevitable.

For example, those that have a vested economical interest in the parts of the city that were affected will try to cover up problems, and after some time without an earthquake, we’ll probably go back to thinking that we’re in the clear, because it’s more comfortable that way.

The ideal, it seems, would be that we could stop feeding on outrage, that we would demand and work for things every day, rather than wait until problems come up to the surface and only then try to address them.

Mexicans have this way of reacting to scandals, like they came out of nowhere. People were shocked every time news came out of a corrupt governor or politician in 2016- 2017, and we tend to talk about them like they all come out of the same remote political camp somewhere deep in Mexico that’s completely isolated from the rest of society.

The reality is that there’s no difference between a corrupt politician and a regular citizen, other than one got elected to office. The problems are engrained into our society, into our culture and our education system, but we refuse to overhaul any aspect of our society. Instead, we make reforms or create government entities and then we just walk away.

These days, some are saying that this last disaster is the Democratic Revolution Party’s (PRD) fault, because the last mayors of Mexico City have chosen to profit from construction contracts, and this is partly true, every square meter of the city is being considered for construction. It’s also, however, all of our faults.

We all wanted to experience the cosmopolitan lifestyle that exists in many of the major cities of the world, the lifestyle that we see in U.S. series and movies.

As Mexicans, we don’t like the old; to us, old is a synonym of economic disadvantage. We want to live in brand new, modern buildings, and we have made it easier for politicians and contractors to raise buildings in a very short amount of time and with very low quality materials, in order for us to have our “modern lifestyle” with nice gyms, pools and multipurpose areas.

There are new apartments and office buildings popping up everywhere because there’s a demand for them; we all want to live in this city, in the same areas, with the same space and lifestyle.

Mexicans have this idea that the population should act in whatever way it pleases, and that the government should regulate itself and all of us at the same time. This is a fantasy, which can be debunked by looking at any developed society on this planet.

Going forward, a problem that will have to be addressed in Mexico City is precisely its overpopulation, but the subject has become a taboo under our populist governments, because nobody wants to say “no” to anyone, and we don’t want to hear “no” from anyone either, or else we’ll protest and march. Populism comes from all political parties; it’s not a product created by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, he just made it more vulgar.

Population control doesn’t necessarily involve the act of rejecting people, but rather the redistribution of wealth and development across the entire country, which in consequence will lead to suburban developments in other parts of the nation, and this, in turn, will lead to a redistribution of people towards less populated areas.

Mexico originally kept the government in the center of the country, because the country was under threat of invasion. Today the time has come to spread wealth and job opportunities to the rest of the country.

The housing market in Mexico will be caught between those who want to keep Condesa and Roma’s previous image to protect their monetary interests, those that will have decent intentions to rebuild and modernize the area and those that will shy away from investing and/or living there.

Let’s be clear, we all wanted the new buildings, the urban development, the lifestyle, the government entities, and we were the ones that allowed government to get this far. Let’s not be shocked at the results.

Earthquakes do come out of nowhere; we have a right to be shocked at the magnitude, the timing, the irony and the deaths, but nobody should be surprised to see that our buildings weren’t prepared, that infrastructure is lacking, that we’ve crammed too many people and constructions into this city, and that, as some people are still lifting rocks, others are getting ready to construct, buy and inhabit new low quality housing.

We have to accept that some things are out of our control, but every other problem that is being raised today, was there before the earthquake, and will continue to be there afterwards.

The irony of September 19, doesn’t only lie in the fact that there was another earthquake on the same day 32 years later, but rather on the fact that we continue to ignore our past and that we refuse to learn form our mistakes. Even the earth seems to know this.

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