Natural disasters of the magnitude of the Mexico City earthquake inevitably generate changes far beyond their immediate zone of death and destruction. The 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that leveled Managua spotlighted the corruption of the Somoza dictatorship and contributed to its eventual downfall. In the aftermath of the 1976 earthquake that left 25,000 dead in Guatemala, people learned to organize themselves and in turn became able to confront military rule for the first time.
It is too early to identify long-term effects of the Sept. 19 earthquake. But as somber reality settles over Mexico, as heroes are lauded and questions about preparedness and response are raised, we who are fortunate to have not directly experienced this tragedy have a unique opportunity to contribute to lasting, positive change.
We can continue to target assistance that will be needed long after images of suffering fade from public consciousness and media focus--unglamorous things like construction equipment and tools. Even more significant, we can renew our commitment, as individuals and as a government, to strengthening relations with our southern neighbors.
Coming on the heels of a denial of International Monetary Fund loans and hours after the Senate approved sanctions against employers hiring undocumented workers (many of whom are Mexican), the earthquake tragically accented how such complex problems as immigration and the mounting debt owed the United States continue to be confronted without ongoing and comprehensive input from Mexico. What better goal to set for our countries than the development of an enduring binational understanding and respect, of the sort that would have enabled an immediate request for and mobilization of rescue specialists, when hours mattered in the saving of human lives.