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Mexico – A Democracy for the Brave Few

In Ciudad Juarez, Federal Police were deployed in attempts to stop the drug-related violence, courtesy of Jesus Villaseca Perez/flickr

Mexico is at a crossroads. As last week’s gubernatorial elections demonstrated, the Mexican state can no longer provide basic security and ensure the rule of law in many urban environments, signaling that Mexico might soon join the ranks of international failed states like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Haiti.

The New York Times adopted an optimistic perspective, noting the strength of the Mexican democracy amidst all the violence perpetrated by the drug cartels, as evidenced by the surprisingly positive voter turnout in many areas. These elections, however, also witnessed “the most blatant evidence of traffickers interfering in politics since Calderon came to power in late 2006,” with voter turnout at historic lows. Coming close to a stand-still in areas where drug violence has been prominent—in Ciudad Juarez, voter turnout was only 20 percent, and in the state of Chihuahua  as whole, only one-third of voters showed up—turnout can be explained by the violence surrounding electoral campaigns. Leading up to the elections, candidates had been killed and threatened, campaign offices had been bombed and general fear of the power of Mexico’s infamous drug cartels had uncomfortably set into everyday life in the country. » More

Hola Mexico: A Post-election Reflection

The Mexican tricolour of green, white, and red , photo:Tracy Lee Carroll/flickr.

The Mexican tricolour of green, white, and red , photo:Tracy Lee Carroll/flickr.

In five weeks from now I will be moving to Mexico.

They say there is no place like home – and indeed, the state of things will be very different from what I know in Switzerland.

People not finding themselves under extraordinary circumstances emigrate because they want a lifestyle that can be best accomplished in their country of destination.

But I guess thoughts about lifestyle and how to best accomplish it would require deeper consideration – especially when it comes to accomplishing it in a country we associate with drug violence, economic problems and …swine flu. I will avoid going deeper and offer simply a brief reflection about the recent Mexican elections.

Has the country reinstitutionalized the revolutionary myth? The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took power for the first time 80 years ago, enjoyed seven decades of domination, and has now accomplished a successful comeback. Therefore, I cannot help associating the PRI with the country’s authoritarian past.

When I go back and read James M Malloy words from 1977 about authoritarianism in Latin America, I can only hope that the described states of affairs would not still apply today:

“Mexico’s political system is characterized by patrimonially controlled participation exercised by the political elite based on the underlying assumption of privilege rather than right. (…) The decision-making process is legitimated by massive support from precisely those sectors of society that participate least in the distribu¬tion of benefits: labor, peasants, and Indians. For more than forty years the Party (PRI) has maintained this monopoly by preempt¬ing and institutionalizing the revolutionary myth and by creating for itself an image as the key component of an indissoluble trinity composed of Party, government, and political elite.”

However, things have changed during the past 30 years since Malloy’s writings.

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ISN Weekly Theme: US-Mexico Border

At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr

At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr

Almost 12 million people live in the US-Mexico border area: hundreds of thousands cross the 3000 km-long border every day – legally and illegally. It is the most protected US border, with no less than 90 percent of all US border patrol agents working there. In addition to immigration and associated human rights challenges, cross-border security issues include organized crime, drug trafficking and human smuggling.

Here’s an overview of some ISN website highlights:

  • The ISN Special Report Desperation Route, in which Sam Logan offers a first-hand account of the circumstances that keep the drugs, guns and desperate people pouring across the US-Mexico border
  • The CGD’s Don’t Close the Golden Door by Michael Clemens in our Policy Briefs section, outlining policies on immigration for the US administration
  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s speech on comprehensive immigration reform in our Primary Resources section

No Me Moleste Mosquito

World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008

World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008

A recent Miami Herald article sparked my interest for the small insect. Its name is Aedes Aegypti, one of the 3500 mosquito species identified so far, known for spreading dengue fever, but also the Chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.

The Miami Herald article describes how Mexico is currently struggling to counter a resurgence of dengue fever. It is not the only Latin American country dealing with the buzzing issue. Brazil and Argentina have apparently reported record numbers of cases this year.

At first, hearing about yet another disease striking Mexico alarmed me. It was only after reading more on the issue – as in the case of the H1N1 virus – that I was settled. Dengue fever has a relatively low death rate. Only 2.5 percent of hospitalized patients do not survive the disease. However, the tropical febrile disease is particularly costly, with patients requiring constant and long-term monitoring. Therefore, in the case of Mexico this we know for sure: The spreading disease will strike tourism and the economy as a whole yet another blow.

With the fever increasing rapidly in tropical and subtropical areas, we ask: What can be done against the dangerous disease and its carrier – the mosquito? Researchers all over the world are testing dengue fever vaccines and at the same time considerable efforts are being invested in mosquito eradication.

Of the existing population policies and programs the ones of Singapore appear to be the most developed ones. After the 2005 dengue outbreak the country launched enhanced measures, including the introduction of fines for those who allow mosquitoes to breed in their homes and also for those found with standing water at construction sites (standing water being the larval hatching grounds of the Aedes Aegypti).
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“…All I Got Was Swine Flu!”

Screenshot of online t-shirt vendor

The latest in swine flu fashion

“Somebody I know went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy swine flu!” So goes a crass joke gracing some new t-shirt designs.

But Mexicans aren’t laughing. As these tourist t-shirts illustrate, the country isn’t just battling the physical effects of swine flu but the psychological ones as well.

While the H1N1 virus appears to have originated in either the US or Mexico, most attention has focused south of the US border where more illnesses and deaths have been reported. Some in the US have even taken to calling the virus “the Mexican flu,” using it as an excuse to stoke anti-immigrant fervor.

And the humiliation hasn’t stopped there. Discrimination has spread across the globe as quickly as the virus itself. In Paris, airport employees have refused to touch luggage coming off Mexican planes, while in China, authorities have forced healthy Mexican travelers into quarantine, delivering food to their hotels like they were hostages under siege.

With such negative attention focused on his country, Mexican President Felipe Calderon lashed out on Sunday against those “acting out of ignorance and disinformation” and implementing “discriminatory measures.”

While abhorrent, the stigma stinging Mexicans is no surprise. This kind of scapegoating is an unfortunate – but not unexpected – element of infectious disease epidemics that is often used to stoke pre-existing prejudices, according to experts.

“It’s fear of people we do not know or who look different,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan and author of When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed. “You take the fear of the unknown that already exists and then combine that with a real or perceived threat that is contagious disease, and it’s explosive.”

While the swine flu threat is proving to be more perceived than real, how will fear-mongering manifest the inevitable next time around – especially when we’re facing down something more insidious than the flu?

Screenshot: Zazzle.com

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