Accidents happen, and Latin America has suffered two major accidents this past week: the first, a night club fire in Brazil on Sunday morning, the second, an explosion at Pemex’s headquarters in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon.

Many innocent people died at both; those are the awful human consequences. But both accidents will have political consequences too. Although it may sound callous, these may help speed the reform programs of Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, and Enrique Peña Nieto, her Mexican counterpart.

Ms Rousseff, midway through her term, is seeking to root out corruption in Brazil and improve infrastructure before the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. To political opponents or vested interests, she can now say: just look at the 230 people who died in the Kiss Night Club in Santa Maria. Do you want a repeat? It’s time to call time on shoddy building regulations and civil service corruption that allows such infringements to go unheeded.

Mr Peña Nieto, who wants to reform Pemex and open it up to greater private sector involvement, may now be in a similar position. Pemex, the state oil company, has long been a byword in Mexico for inefficiency, corruption and union featherbedding. Between 2008 and 2009, for example, Pemex management gave its oilworkers union nearly 500m pesos ($40m) of “help” for travel expenses, celebrations, and May day parades. Vested interests, and the Mexican constitution, have long thwarted previous reform attempts. But now Mr Peña Nieto can point to Pemex’s declining oil output and the awful explosion as evidence that the world’s fourth largest oil company is falling behind the curve.

Whether Ms Rousseff or Mr Peña Nieto will now be successful is another matter. But fate has provided a timely if tragic reminder of the need for change. A similar process is happening north of the border, where President Barack Obama has taken the offensive on gun control following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

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