By RICARDO CASTILLO
The good news is that thus far in these coronavirus adventurous times, Mexico has registered only about 120 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 syndrome, and only one death.
But in the eyes of Mexican Public Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell, now the official government spokesman on the pandemic, the ordeal is just getting started and the projected worse is yet to come.
For many observers, the ordeal is already here and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is doing nothing to stop it. On the contrary, they claim, AMLO has been taking the threat lightly, even making jokes about the pandemic, like on Wednesday, March 18, when he showed his good luck amulets to protect himself against the deadly virus, a four-leaf clover and a two-dollar bill.
But yes, on Monday, March 16, AMLO summoned his entire cabinet to the National Palace to set a course of action and about the only news that came out of the meeting was, as Economy Secretary Graciela Márquez said in an exit interview, was that they were ordered to form “analysis teams.”
“But since we didn´t agree on anything,” Márquez said, “I have nothing to comment.”
Out in the financial market, the U.S. dollar has already devalued to over 24 pesos per greenback and the price of Mexican crude plummeted to $18.78 per barrel. Furthermore, economy analysts are already predicting – because of the still-not-existent national pandemic – a minus 4 gross domestic product growth for 2020.
The anti-AMLO vociferous noise is getting louder. This week, his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Muller, had to close her Twitter and Facebook accounts because she said that there were about “20 troll farms” producing offensive bots filling her accounts with aggressive insults.
On the political front, the minority National Action Party (PAN) and the Citizens’ Movement (MC) political party are using the moment of viral crisis to undermine AMLO’s mandate. They are complaining that Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer, who should be the public face of the crisis, is not showing his face and instead he is being upstaged by Covid-19 crisis spokesman López Gatell. AMLO is paying no heed to their complains because he believes that both the PAN and the MC are trying to attract attention to their causes instead of helping the administration to try to pullout of the current quagmire. On the contrary, he has said, they’d love to see him sink.
AMLO, however, is going ahead with presidential business as usual, that is, commemorating official holidays but yes, beginning to avoid rubbing elbows with the crowds and avoid kissing children, for which his detractors immediately accused of being a sex pervert and irresponsible in trying to contain the contagious virus.
On Wednesday, March 18, AMLO celebrated Oil Expropriation Day, and on Saturday, March 21, he will be travelling to the township of Guelatao, up in the Oaxaca Mountains, to celebrate the birth of modern Mexico’s first Indian president, Benito Juárez. The first event was held at the Pemex Tower in Mexico City for a few Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) executives while the Guelatao Juárez celebration will apparently be an “invitation only” affair with local residents.
Nevertheless, there are clear actions being taken to curb the spread of the virus, on the suggestion of the administration, by municipal authorities all around the nation.
A prominent move has been the cancellation of the staging of the weeklong monumental Vía Crucis passion play, which narrates the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ as it happens day-by-day, starting on Palm Sunday and ending Good Friday at the Iztapalapa Borough in eastern Mexico City. Iztapalapa Mayor Clara Brugada talked to the organizers about preventing mass gatherings and producers – the Iztapalapa townspeople – opted for staging just a regular theater play with no audience. The play will be recorded and possibly aired live on Mexican tv. Normally, the staging attracts about a million and a half faithful Catholic onlookers. The response of the producers was touching when considering their sacrifice of the hefty income the tourist staging attracts. “It’s an act of faith, not a business,” they replied.
Likewise, the Easter holiday celebrations and masses, which are key to the Catholic Church’s “Christian tourism,” are being postponed for future years. In short, Mexico’s usually massive Easter celebrations will be cancelled. No doubt about it, the Mexican Catholic Church is going to get hit where it hurts, the wallet as thousands of mass attendees will not be placing alms on the passing trays. In fact, masses altogether are suspended. Ouch!
According to Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo, throngs of medical assistants are visiting the nation’s overcrowded jails to instruct prisoners about possible contagion and identify and report to prison authorities any suspicions of a potential coronavirus infection.
A new threat will be coming to the Mexico-U.S. border since President Donald Trump has ordered the immediate deportation to Mexico of all illegal entries, whether they are infected or not, as a safeguard to the already-infected United States.
Many people predict that the outbreak in Mexico, when it comes, will be a brutal one. I usually respond with the opening line that there are currently some cases, but nothing like in Italy or Spain, from which most of the original contagion in Mexico come from.
“You’re blind,” a prophet of doom told me on Wednesday, March 18. “Mexicans are a bunch of I-don’t-give-a damn people,” my friend said, using the world “valemadristas,”
“just look at Acapulco, 90 percent occupancy, and the same in Cancun.”
Perhaps he is right, but in Aca, only two cases of coronavirus infections have been reported, and only one in Cancun, and both are under control. My friend went on to say that this “valemadrismo” would be Mexico’s Achilles’ heel.
At this point and stage of the development of the pandemic in Mexico, those who are hitting the panic button in desperation because “nothing is being done” are wrong: The Mexican government is taking many preventive steps, but then, yes, given what is happening in other nations such as France, with a total curfew in place, the situation does look scary.
And, yes, most Mexicans would rather party than worry about the still-in-the-making potential pandemic which everyone hopes will never happen.