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Mexico Mourns Victims on Quake Anniversary

September 20, 1986|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Mexico on Friday mourned the thousands of victims of the earthquake of one year ago, while politicians and dissidents jockeyed to take credit for recovery work that has since been done or to place blame for the initial devastation.

Commemorative acts were held all over central Mexico City, where much of the destruction occurred. At sites of collapsed buildings where many died, mourners laid flowers and planted makeshift crosses fashioned from scrap steel reinforcing rods.

A Roman Catholic Mass was said at the Nuevo Leon apartment building where unofficial counts placed the dead at more than 1,000. Nurses from Juarez Hospital, where more than 800 health workers and patients perished, spread carnations over the now-cleared foundation of what was once a 13-story tower.

In the city's garment district, colleagues of seamstresses killed at their workplaces celebrated Mass and then marched on the residence of President Miguel de la Madrid to press for indemnities for families of the dead.

De la Madrid began a day of official activities by lowering the flag to half-staff in Mexico City's central Constitution Plaza as a symbol of national sorrow. The ceremony began at 7:19 a.m., the moment that the quake struck on Sept. 19, 1985.

"I hope that the country never suffers another tragedy of such magnitude," De la Madrid said.

His government mounted an intensive campaign to publicize its efforts to rebuild destroyed homes and restore ruined services. During the past year, the government has often been criticized for what was seen as a slow initial reaction to the calamity as well as the pace since then of its rebuilding program.

At the National Anthropology Museum, Planning Minister Carlos Salinas de Gotari delivered a reconstruction report to De la Madrid, detailing the full restoration of utilities and the partial reconstruction of housing in the city.

New Housing Due

In recent weeks, the government speeded up construction of about 6,000 apartments, and De la Madrid handed them over to earthquake homeless on Thursday. The government announced that residences for 40,000 other homeless families will be finished by February, 1987.

De la Madrid dedicated a park to volunteers who worked in relief and rescue efforts. Workers had labored day and night during the past week to finish building the park, which was named Solidarity in honor of volunteer rescuers. It is on the destroyed Regis Hotel.

To wind up the commemorations, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party organized a march and rally as a thank-you for government reconstruction progress.

Meanwhile, countermarches were held by two dissident organizations, one of them made up of disaffected residents of destroyed buildings and the other of critics of alleged government corruption.

"Work (of rebuilding) is moving too slowly, many promises are not being kept and the government is manipulating reconstruction for its own political ends," said Cuauhtemoc Abarca, leader of the Unified Coordinator of the Homeless, the dissaffected residents group.

A group calling itself the Mexican Anti-Corruption League issued a document listing scores of government officials, architects, contractors and building material suppliers that it charges were responsible for faulty construction that caused buildings to collapse during the quake.

The countermarches point up the lingering political aftershocks of the earthquake, which took an estimated 10,000 lives and heavily damaged central Mexico City.

Criticism has centered on three areas: the pace of clearing and rebuilding, which did not pick up speed until five months after the quake; accounting for foreign aid, and investigations into corruption linked to construction of buildings.

During past months, government officials have argued that the need to plan reconstruction and discuss relocation with displaced residents slowed down rebuilding.

Foreign aid is being openly accounted for, they said, and government officials have challenged detractors to produce specific cases of missing funds.

Investigations into building code violations are continuing, according to the attorney general's office.

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