AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Swine Flu Disinformation Show

In the world, flu paranoia reigns, the WHO raising its alert level for the imminent swine flu pandemic to 5, one below its maximum alert level of 6. In Mexico, what reigns is the typical circus of government obfuscation, incompetence and contradiction: what a day before was 159 swine flu deaths has magically dropped, in Benjamin Button-like fashion, to 7 (one can imagine Calderón and Dr. Miguel Angel Lazana, the head of epidimiological vigilance for the Health Secretariat - where incidentally, according to a reporter for El País, nobody is bothering to wear face masks - running the car backward like Ferris Bueller to get the flu odometer back where it started. Okay, two movie references in one sentence: enough). The other 150 now only "huelen" (smell) of influenza. Keep in mind that, for lack of viral assay technology, Mexico has had to send its swabs to a laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, in order to identify the strain's genome, as Mike Davis reports, wasting a week in the process. Maybe the non-swine cases picked up some other kind of smell on the way there or back.

The question has then been clearly begged: if Ferris Calderón and Co. (same movie reference again, so it doesn't count) have managed to push the number of definitive swine-flu deaths back to 7, or 10, or even 20 (and without even the participation of the Federal Electoral Institute in such magic numbers, as Julio Hernandez pointed out), and if in the United States there has been 1 death of a Mexican infant in Houston, why the world pandemic level of five? Seasonal influenzas kill thousands of people every year. Well, apparently, this is a new virus, a mixture of swine and avian and who knows what else, which there is no history of human immunity to, so contagion could be quick and the consequences severe. So where, then, would such a new virus come from? In Mexico (and with belated interest by the international press), speculation is swirling around the American company Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork packer and hog producer, which is part-owner of a subisidary known as Granjas Carroll (along with Agroindustrias de México) in the Perote Valley in the State of Veracruz, in operation since 1994. Smithfield, which was hit by a enormous civil suit ($1.285 million dollars) in 1985 for violating the US Clean Water Act and $12.6 million dollar judgment in 1996 for falsifying documents and polluting the.Pagan River, through its Granjas Carroll subsidiary, has long been the target of local protests in Veracruz due to the horrible conditions of its 800,000 pig-a-year operations. Residents in surrounding areas, who have been subject to lawsuits for their activism, have complained about the clouds of flies surrounding the manure lagoons formed by such enormous mega-farms, or as they are called in the industry, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). (see:

Without going into the entire timeline, in the nearby town of La Gloria, people started getting sick back in February. As the Times reports (see above link): "Health workers soon intervened, sealing off the town and spraying chemicals to kill the flies that were reportedly swarming through people’s homes." It was here where the first case of swine flu was definitively registered, of a 4 year old named Edgar Hernández (who fortunately has since recovered). As the Times also reports, this is the area famous for the 400 Pueblos, the 400 towns who allege the government stole their land back in 1992. A full 60% of La Gloria's population of 3,000 had sought medical assistance for flu symptoms and respiratory illness.

So if people are wearing masks that the Health Secretariat itself admits doesn't stop contagion, if the number of confirmed swine flu deaths is now apparently falling instead of rising, if flu vaccine shots that used to cost $400 pesos are now being sold in Oaxaca for $1,000 pesos (as a doctor confirmed to me yesterday) and can't even stop such a "new virus" at that, if attention is conveniently being diverted away from the 10,000 deaths from the drug war and the fat new $47 billion loan Mexico has just taken out from the IMF, if the military now has another reason to be out patrolling the streets, what are we to believe? I suppose all we can do is emulate the Mexican Government, which must be obsessively washing its hands at this very moment. Certain stains, however, do not come off.