Why Mexico is Sick

Mexico City – As I reflect on my troubled country, the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song come to mind: “We are far, far away from home. Our home is far, far away from us.” That’s how it feels to live in Mexico nowadays: far from democratic normalcy; far from a health system that inspires confidence; far from a government that builds trust; far from home and close to everything that imperils it.

My homeland has become a place where too many people are victims, succumbing to a virus, or gunned down by a drug-trafficker; assaulted by a robber, shot by an ill-trained policeman, or kidnapped by a member of a criminal gang. The flu epidemic, which probably began in the southern state of Veracruz, is yet another sign that all is not well in Mexico.

The country seems to be caught in a permanent, uneasy tug-of-war between the past and the future, between change and the actors who seek to place obstacles in its path. For example, when initial reports surfaced about the first swine flu cases, it took three weeks for the information to reach federal health authorities, because state governments were reluctant to report cases quickly due to political and electoral considerations.

Mexico faces mid-term elections for Congress in the fall, and President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party is trailing slightly in the polls over its main rivals, who would like nothing better than to see a health emergency translate into a political defeat. In the face of a public health system that seemed incapable of diagnosing and treating the outbreak quickly, the government felt it had little choice but to shut down Mexico City, dealing a severe blow to an already crippled economy.