Disasters as Critical Junctures? Managua, Nicaragua 1972 and Mexico City 1985

March 2003 (VOL. 21, NO. 1)

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Applying an adapted “critical juncture” framework to disasters, this paper compares two major urban earthquakes in Latin America: the December 23, 1972, event in Managua, Nicaragua, and the September 19 and 20, 1985, events in Mexico and particularly Mexico City: The purpose of using a critical juncture approach to the two disasters is to identify and assess event legacies, especially political legacies and how they contributed to regime change. This paper comes to the conclusion that while the Nicaragua disaster did indeed constitute a critical juncture for that nation, setting the political system off on an entirely new trajectory, somewhat unexpectedly the Mexico event did not. In retrospect, the Mexico earthquake of 1985 has to be seen as more of a marker event within a much longer and more complex national critical juncture that opened in 1968 and closed in 1988. Narrowing the focus to just Mexico City, however, the disaster was a critical juncture.