Three months later: still out on the streets

Three blocks of flats were destroyed and six are at risk of collapsing after the September 19th 2017 earthquake in the district of Tlalpan in Mexico City. The rescue teams moved the affected inhabitants to a park located few hundred meters away. Ordinary Mexicans started bringing tents, mattresses, sleeping bags and food. At that time, the victims thought that it was a temporary situation and that they would soon return to their homes. It’s been three months since then and they still camp out on the street.

Lights on the street and hot soup

30-year-old Patricia brought some thicker sweaters for the ones who are still in the park. She herself used to live with her mother and grandmother in a building which was on the verge of collapsing. After the earthquake she took both of them to a studio flat which she rents with her boyfriend. A few weeks later firefighters allowed Patricia to enter the flat of the 90-year-old grandma and take the most important belongings. She took jewelry, documents and photo albums as, according to her, memories are the only thing that counts.

“My mom and grandma were lucky because they can live with me but what is going to happen to those people who have nowhere to go?”, asks Patricia.
In the park, pinatas are hung on the ropes stretched between the tents. Colored lamps on the trees give the temporary residents the Christmas atmosphere they wanted. Social activists are distributing food in the field kitchen, built next to one of the fences.

“I’ve been coming here to help since September”, says Ivonne de la Longa, pouring hot soup for one of the victims. “This park is mostly inhabited by pensioners and young parents with small children. Giving them a warm meal and showing care will surely help and add some encouragement”, she adds.
Guadalupe, a petite dyed blonde, had lived in the building damaged by the earthquake for 40 years. Now she sleeps with her two daughters in a large tent put up in the middle of the park. A wire with a bulb hangs from the ceiling, the floor is covered with bedsteads on top of which are mattresses and sleeping bags. The family washes themselves at a local gym or in the bathroom of the church located on the same street. She is wearing a pair of jeans, sweater and down jacket, all of which come from the donors.

“After the earthquake, the government gave each family 3,000 pesos (166 USD) to rent a replacement dwellings but we were unable to find anything for that money. We don’t have any relatives in Mexico City and that apartment was our only property”, she complains. “Where are we supposed to go? I’m actually lucky that my neighbor took my two little granddaughters under her roof where it’s warm and they can take a shower every day”, says Guadalupe.

In November 2017 she and her tent neighbors who also lived in the buildings affected by the earthquake took part in a protest march that walked through the streets of Mexico City. Together they demanded that plans for reconstruction are made. In order to prove that they are unable to buy flats, the protesters were showing refusals on their home loan applications. They also asked other countries which provided financial aid after the earthquake to put pressure on the Mexican government to make sure that the money is distributed.

Miguel Angel Mancera, the mayor of the city, tried to appease the protesters, saying that the government had allocated money for the reconstruction of the buildings from the special fund for the victims of natural disasters. He did not, however, provide any further details.

“We do not want our building to be renovated but merely rebuilt because we are afraid to go back there”, explains Guadalupe and shows me the photos of the cracked walls in her house on her mobile. “What happened to the millions of dollars that Mexico got from abroad and which were supposed to help us?”, she asks.

Disappearing money

The Mexican government did not initially reveal the amount of aid money it received from abroad so the donor companies did it themselves. The press estimates the number to be around 56 million dollars. Subsequently, the authorities said that the funds were sent to organizations involved in distributing help directly and the government didn’t know whether the funds had been used properly.
“A lot of people ask, where is the money from the companies such as Coca Cola, Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber or Samsung. It all went to the Mexican Red Cross and they need to be asked for financial transparency. The Mexican government did not accept a single peso from the private sector”, explained the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit, Jose Antonio Meade.

The Mexican Red Cross in October 2017 wrote on its Twitter profile that it had received 144 million pesos (7 million dollars) from the government and by the end of December 2017 it provided more than 4,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to people in the following states: Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Morelos, Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Mexico and Mexico City. It is unclear, however, what was the amount spent on new aid and if the number includes the numerous donations that Mexicans gave to the organization after the earthquake.

A lot of Mexicans who believe that the politicians in their country are corrupt were hardly surprised by the shadiness of the financial details. Diego Luna, one of the most popular young generation Mexican actors, just after the earthquake said in a TV show Conan that he was sure the money would not be given to the ones in need.

Rats and thieves

Guadalupe sits down behind a plastic table with hot soup, next to her another neighbor. She says that she does not feel safe in the camp as rats are roaming around and thefts happen. The other night some thieves stole food and clothing, all intended to be given to the victims, from the church. Due to that, the temple is now closed early and the neighbors take 24/7 guard duties. They also distribute the donations between themselves but conflicts arise more and more often. To make matters worse, the weather in the city is also becoming difficult.

“For the first two months there was torrential rain and I had to take the water out of the tent with a spade. Now, in winter, the temperatures at night reach zero degrees”, she says.

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