Mexican Politics in the Time of Swine Flu

TORREÓN, Mexico -- Just as love persisted in García Márquez's masterpiece set during the 19th century cholera outbreaks, politics has not gone on hiatus during the swine flu epidemic that continues to threaten Mexico. While the political consequences of the outbreak have yet to fully crystallize, it's clear that the episode has the potential to scramble the electoral calculus ahead of this summer's elections. The entire lower house of Congress as well as a handful of governorships and state legislatures will be chosen on July 5.

President Felipe Calderón's allies and adversaries are competing to define his government's reaction to the flu, with the former calling it measured and timely, and the latter dismissing it as overheated and late in coming. The narrative that wins out will determine pole position ahead of the elections.

Reports of the flu first hit the airwaves on April 23, and began dominating the news a few days later. Government offices and schools were subsequently shuttered around the nation until after the Cinco de Mayo holiday, and restaurants in Mexico City were forced to close their dining rooms as well. The 20 million people living in the region responded by mostly holing up at home. (Tellingly, one of the only companies in the city whose revenues went up was Blockbuster, which doubled its business.)

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