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article imageWill a new Mexico arise from earthquake's rubble?

By Sylvain ESTIBAL (AFP)     Sep 26, 2017 in World

An earthquake releases energy that has accumulated for years between the Earth's tectonic plates.

The one that struck Mexico last week could also release energy of a different kind: a transformative new grassroots political and social movement.

No sooner had the ground stopped shaking last Tuesday than Mexicans from all walks of life sprang into action.

Human chains formed to excavate the rubble of buildings that collapsed with people inside. Volunteers flooded the disaster zone to bring food, water and every imaginable supply.

Impromptu clinics sprouted on the streets offering free medical care, legal advice, psychological counseling and more.

Faced with a tragedy that battered the city and claimed more than 300 lives, Mexico put its best foot forward, responding with an explosion of civic action.

The nation's new heroes are the ordinary citizens who helped save lives in the aftermath, such as the man in a wheelchair photographed helping remove rubble from a collapsed building with his bare hands -- a picture that went viral.

"If only our politicians could be more like you," a radio host told him during an interview Tuesday.

The quake showed the latent power of ordinary citizens in a country at a loss to deal with its chronic problems of violent crime and political corruption.

"The earthquake woke us up from our lethargy and showed us that in just 50 seconds we can become another country," said actor Eugenio Derbez in a message to the country.

"Not the Mexico of corrupt politicians, not the Mexico of people who kill, steal, rob, lie. The Mexico of people who take to the street and risk their lives to save others."

- National pride -

A woman holding a statuette of the Virgin of Fatima comforts a relative of people who are presumed s...
A woman holding a statuette of the Virgin of Fatima comforts a relative of people who are presumed still buried under the rubble from a building toppled by the 7.1-magnitude quake that struck central Mexico one week ago

Newfound national pride has been visible in the Mexican flags on cars, balconies and rescuers' helmets.

"You can do it -- you're Mexican!" said a poster rooting on rescuers at one collapse site.

Mexicans have a history of rising up stronger from the rubble of earthquakes.

After a 1985 quake that ironically struck on the same day, September 19, ordinary Mexicans rallied to rescue survivors from the ruins and fill the void left by an overwhelmed government.

Many political analysts say that moment was the beginning of Mexican civil society.

Newly organized and empowered, Mexicans began demanding more democracy from their single-party state, eventually ousting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 after 71 years in power.

The latest disaster could herald a new metaphorical earthquake in Mexican politics and society.

"The 7.1-magnitude earthquake reminded a large and marvelous majority that the future of our country is in its hands," wrote columnist Yuriria Sierra in the newspaper Excelsior.

- Election year -

A rescuer with a helmet reading "Surviving 2017" takes part in the search for survivors in...
A rescuer with a helmet reading "Surviving 2017" takes part in the search for survivors in a building toppled by the quake

That newfound power could reshape the country with less than a year to go to general elections.

Hinting at the potential for civic action to transform into political power, noted historian Enrique Krauze called Saturday for the creation of a National Reconstruction Commission that would include young people who took to the streets this past week.

In almost the same breath, he urged political parties to hold at least 10 public debates before July's elections, saying Mexico is "a democracy without debate."

Wary of the potential threat, traditional political parties have sought to seize back the initiative.

The head of the PRI, Enrique Ochoa, announced the party would donate its $14.4 million in state campaign financing to the rebuilding effort.

The party -- which returned to power in 2012 with the election of President Enrique Pena Nieto -- will back a plan to strip parties of all public funding in 2018, he said.

The idea was condemned as "demagogic and irresponsible" by the former head of the National Electoral Institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde.

Krauze said that if the 1985 earthquake marked the birth of Mexican civil society, 2017's should launch "a new era of solidarity."

"We have to save Mexico's future from this rubble, with our efforts and resources. Not tomorrow. Today."

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