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Mexicans hope for better urban planning. But decentralization of capital can't occur without debt restructuring

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Many Mexicans hope that after the destruction of last week's earthquakes, long-desired reforms such as decentralization of Mexico City might take place. But because of the cost of such reforms, analysts say that substantial reforms can take place only if Mexico's debt repayment terms are substantially altered in Mexico's favor. The debt stands at $96 billion.

``In order to begin to talk about serious decentralization, [Mexico] would have to be excused from paying, at least for one year after the earthquake, the interest on [its] debt, an interest that amounts to between $10 and $13 billion annually,'' says Efraim Caro Razo, an economist working at the Center of Border and Northern Mexican Studies, a Mexican think tank.

``The earthquake has focused public attention on some longstanding problems which have afflicted the country and Mexico City for years. But unless we get some relief from our debt payments I don't think we can expect anything more than minor, cosmetic changes,'' he adds

For the past 20 years, Mexican intellectuals have said that the overconcentration of population, industry, and government in the overcrowded capital has decreased the quality of living for its 18 million inhabitants. Housing, transportation, and general government services have deteriorated; pollution has increased; and price of food has increased. This has affected the development of the rest of the country, much of which remains impoverished. According to one source, Mexicans migrate to Mexico City at

a rate of approximately 1,000 a day.

One way to keep unemployed peasants from flocking to Mexico City is to provide employment in the countryside, say these Mexican intellectuals. This can be done in part by decentralizing government services and industry away from Mexico City. Successive Mexican administrations have attempted to do this since the late 1960s, without success.

Besides the financial costs involved, decentralization creates other difficulties.

There are political problems caused by moving government services away from Mexico City, because, as one Mexican academic put it, ``Everybody wants to be at the heart of things and Mexico City is the heart of things.'' High-ranking government officials moving their offices to the provinces would feel excluded from the center of power.

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