Thursday, May 28, 2009

Feeling for Mexico



After a week in Mexico I'm heading up to Canada for a few days of work. During the time I have been here the recurring theme has been of how the economy is hurting for the lack of tourists. Pilar mentioned hotels in Cancun closed down, and the ramifications all the way down the line to the shoe shiners and souvenir sellers. At another level, getting seats on buses has never been easier. Neither have I ever had such fast taxi rides through the city during working hours. It's almost like the town has put half or more of its cars off the road.

Now, I have to say that i have been the world's most cynical person about swine flu since day #1. It smelled bad to me from the very beginning -- like a media circus, like an over-hyped fear, like a very convenient set of circumstances that would encourage people in other economies to stay at home as summer comes on and spend their dollars there rather than in Cancun or Mexico City. At one point the "epicentre" of the aspiring "pandemic" was traced to a pig farm in the town of Perote. When we are in Coatepec we look out at the peak of Perote's mountain. I'd say that a crow could fly there in about half an hour. It'd be maybe 40 kilometres as the crow flies, maybe a little more, but not much. Yet all our friends were saying from the outset "not a single case in Coatepec", or even in Xalapa, with a metro area chasing a million souls.

It's the same today. I asked at the pharmacy where I went to pay the phone bill yesterday (as one does at the pharamacy) whether there'd been a case in Coatepec yet. "No", was the reply.

More than this, in a week here I have found practically no one wearing masks anywhere, including Mexico City. The occasional security person or check out operator in a supermarket. I haven't heard a cough or a sneeze. Hang on, I have heard one sneeze.

Meanwhile, the economy is shaken to its core. At the same time, yahoo has run a story in the cartels being unaffected because the North American demand for their product is "recession proof". It helps to have a sense of irony, for sure. If only the formal Mexican economy could secure markets on similar terms to those enjoyed by its darker underside.

Sorry for the rave, but I love this country and it hurts to see it hurting so bad. It will take a very long time to recover from the damage done by the real and hyped outfall from pig flu. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting back in a few days. It looks like a lovely warm summer ahead. If there is any significant health risk to coming down here, let's just say I'm not seeing it.

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