Mexico's recovery from 1985 quake could be model for rebuilding Haiti

The devastating 1985 earthquakes delivered Felipe Lembrino a mixed blessing: one year living in a squalid makeshift camp for the displaced, but also a new home built on government-granted land, financed by the Red Cross, constructed with his own calloused hands.

But it was not until Mexicans like Lembrino launched large protests against ineffective government — barrio por barrio, neighborhood by neighborhood — that they were assured permanent housing.

"The people of Haiti, they need to get together — not everyone for himself, like we're seeing on television," Lembrino, 64, said of early images of Haitians fighting each other at aid distribution centers following last month's quake.

Spurred by the social unrest following the quakes, the Mexican government, aid groups and activists built or rehabilitated nearly 100,000 housing units in the capital in less than two years — an achievement widely considered a success that could serve as a model for quake-torn Haiti.

Keys to the effort: Reconstruction was coordinated by a single government agency created just for that task. Thousands of temporary tin shacks were erected on side streets, allowing residents to stay close to home and help rebuild their residences. And the federal government doled out contracts to a wide array of Mexican architects and builders who concentrated on particular neighborhoods, not the entire quake zone.

Residents like Lembrino even got to help choose the colors of their new apartment buildings. He picked mango and scarlet, with powder blue interior walls.

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