Things That Matter

I Live In Mexico City And This Is How The City Is Fighting Back Against The Coronavirus

All around the world countries have struggled to address the immense threat of Covid-19. From unprecedented lockdowns across China and Italy to overcrowded hospitals in the United States and Spain, the crisis has continued to spiral out of control.

However, a day in the streets of Mexico City may have you wondering what all the fuss is about. As someone who has lived for three years in this city, it’s business as usual across most of the city.

Although much of the international media’s attention has focused on President López Obrador’s (AMLO) response – or lack thereof according to many – the 21 million chilangos who call the city home are reacting in their own way.

Mexico has come under fire for it’s handling of the crisis, but what is it like on the ground?

Credit: Secretariat Relaciones Exteriors / Gobierno de Mexico

Unlike other countries around the world and even across Latin America, AMLO has stopped short of issuing a broad lockdown due to concerns that it would batter an already vulnerable economy.

In fact, the president has said there will not be a big economic stimulus package related to the coronavirus pandemic, even though the country is facing a crisis unlike anything before.

To date, Mexico has recorded just over 2,100 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with most of those being in Mexico City. To many, that’s proof that Mexico is effectively controlling the spread. To others, it’s proof that the country is severely lacking in its testing capacity and the disease is likely spreading unnoticed.

And just an hour walking the city streets (in a mask, of course), you’ll still hear the high-pitched steam whistle of the camote vendor and the glaringly loud call of the elote truck. This has many residents concerned that people aren’t taking the threat seriously.

Despite AMLO’s hesitation, Mexico City’s mayor – Claudia Sheinbaum – has issued sweeping closures that have left much of the city eerily quiet.

The streets in Mexico City are usually choked with traffic and pedestrians – it’s the largest city in the Western Hemisphere after all. But the city’s mayor has ordered the closure of movie theatres, clubs, restaurants, gyms, and large events.

For example, every Sunday miles of city streets are shut down to traffic and attract more than 100,000 cyclists, runners, and skaters. This past Sunday the event was cancelled for the first time in years. And, last week, Mayor Sheinbaum also asked residents to work from home. But in a city where more than 60% are employed in the informal economy (taco stands, restaurants, technology shops, etc), it’s not an easy order to follow for millions of residents.

Drones have captured the quiet emptiness of the city’s streets, plaza, and monuments.

Credit: Gerardo Sandoval

The normally packed Paseo de Reforma – home to the city’s iconic Angel de la Indepencia – has come to a standstill.

The bustling historical core – home to thousands of local vendors and a myriad of major tourist attractions and museums – is essentially a ghost town.

But in the local neighborhoods, outside of the historic core of the city – life continues as normal despite a growing risk.

A large number of Mexicans earn a living as street vendors in Mexico City. The coronavirus outbreak has made their job even more precarious. Do they risk their lives to save their livelihood?

Credit: thatgaygringo/ Instagram

About 55% of Mexicans work in the informal economy. In Mexico City alone, nearly two million people — about 10% of the metropolitan area’s population — work as street vendors. As they continue to work in the face of coronavirus, they’re caught in a bind: their constant exposure to the elements and to passersby threatens their health. The shutdown threatens their livelihood.

The high levels of economic inequality would mean a complete lockdown would be devastating for many workers. And so far, the government has issued few measures meant to support locals during the pandemic. So far, only older adults will receive some welfare payments in advance. However, AMLO’s government has recently announced up to one million loans up to 25,000 pesos in value (about $1,000 USD) to small business owners. But these won’t be available to informal workers.

The city is taking limited to steps to help support some of the most vulnerable populations.

Credit: Open Society Foundation

However, the city is taking some steps to support some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. One such program is helping the city’s large sex industry as hotels and others businesses have closed up shop as a result of the city’s lockdown order.

The government-funded aid given out consists of a card that allows the recipients to purchase food and medicine. Some sex workers said they are concerned about the economic impact as many sex workers rely on their jobs to make ends meet and support their families.

Prostitution is legal in most of Mexico, but states have their own laws. Mexico City has decriminalized sex work since June of 2019.

Even Mexico’s drug cartels have had to adapt to less cover from a bustling city and few clients.

Credit: thatgaygringo/ Instagram

The global coronavirus lockdown is making it hard for Mexican drug cartels to operate. With borders shut and limited air traffic, cartels are turning on each other.

Even the famous (and dangerous) Mercado Tepito is suffering. Tepito is hugely popular with shoppers due to its rock-bottom prices. But these days, there are just a few bargain hunters about.

Business has taken a hit, with sales down 50%. But the Union Tepito gang (which controls the market through extortion) is still demanding vendors pay protection money, and has started abducting and even killing some of those refusing to comply. 

Although Mexico has so far escaped the worst of the crisis, it’s no time to come and visit.

Credit: Alejandro Tamayo / Getty

The US-Mexico border remains closed to “non-essential” travel, even though flights are still operating between the two countries. And although many have contemplated spending their days in la cuarentena on the beautiful beaches – don’t waste your time. All of Mexico’s more than 6,000 miles of beaches have been officially closed through the end of April. Some communities have gone even further and setup their own roadblocks to prevent visitors.

So do us all a favor, and #quedateencasa so we can all stay safe, sane, and healthy.

This Latino Comic Book, ‘El Peso Hero’ Is Paying Tribute To Essential Workers And It’s Exactly What We Need Right Now

Culture

This Latino Comic Book, ‘El Peso Hero’ Is Paying Tribute To Essential Workers And It’s Exactly What We Need Right Now

El Paso Hero / Rio Bravo Comics

If the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that real-life heroes can be found all over. During the global crisis, regular people have realized that everyone from a fast food restaurant worker to a farmworker is a hero in their own way. It’s these people, many of whom are minorities, who have helped keep the country going during these unprecedented times. To so many of us, these front-line ‘essential workers’ are indeed heroes.

One Mexican-American comic book creator, Hector Rodriguez (of El Peso Hero) decided to put these real-life superheroes on the pages of his popular comic book and we couldn’t be more excited.

The best-selling comic book now features America’s front-line workers as the real heroes who are keeping the country running.

Credit: El Peso Hero / Rio Bravo Comics

Comic books are known for telling larger than life stories and inspiring their audiences – and that’s exactly what El Peso Hero is doing with his latest edition. Rodriguez is using El Peso Hero to tell the story of thousands of invisible workers – many of whom are undocumented Latino workers holding America together.

“Comic books are a great way to help people connect,” Rodríguez told NBC News. “But very few stories focus on the people who are feeding us.”

In this special pandemic issue, which is available for free, “El Peso Hero” takes a supporting role to a nurse and other essential workers facing tough day-to-day challenges as the country struggles to combat Covid-19.

In his interview with NBC News, Rodriguez said he hopes his comic can inspire Americans to reimagine themselves in the stories of millions of invisible workers who serve their communities.

It’s more important than ever to shine a light on the often invisible workers who are so vital to this country.

Credit: Salud America / Twitter

For Rodriguez, he hopes this edition will help shed light on the hard work and dedication of millions of invisible workers. People from all backgrounds can find common ground with these front-line workers who like so many Americans are simply trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.

“This is definitely a contrast from “El Peso Hero” fighting corruption, drug cartels, and racism on the border,” Rodríguez said. “Fans will see him in a supporting role to real-life heroes, helping a nurse bring medical masks to agricultural workers, and deliver a much needed message of solidarity and positivity to a community that is often marginalized in the shadows.”

Rodríguez himself comes from a family of immigrants — his grandfather moved from Mexico to Montana in the 1940s as a part of the Bracero Program, which brought in millions of authorized workers from Mexico to the U.S. to work on farms.

What inspired the El Peso Hero comic book series to begin with?

Credit: Rio Bravo Comics

El Peso Hero is a rogue hero standing up to Mexico’s cartels, corrupt border officials, and human traffickers.

Rodriguez told NBC News, “I wanted to create someone like Luke Cage in Harlem, but living in between southwest Texas and north Mexico, who fights cartels, and defends unaccompanied minors and families crossing the perilous border.”

It was stories his grandfather told about drug traffickers attacking vulnerable immigrants on the border that inspired him to create “El Peso Hero.”

“El Peso Hero” started off as a web comic in 2011, and is now scheduled to make its movie screen debut in 2021. The comic gained cross-border fame in 2015 after the Mexican superhero took on then presidential candidate Donald Trump — who started his campaign by saying Mexicans coming to the U.S. were rapists and criminals

This edition of El Peso Hero is so important and special given the bravery and selflessness of front-line workers.

Credit: Tom Barton / Getty

Across the country, millions of Latino workers, many of whom are undocumented, are working on farms, in meat packing plants and govern stores as “essential workers,” while much of the country is shut down for quarantine. Unlike many workers, they don’t have the privilege to work from home and instead are putting themselves and their families at risk to keep the country going.

Historically they are marginalized as outsiders and live in constant fear of deportation. But now the pandemic is showing how vital they really are to society.

The U.S. government calculates that roughly half of all crop farmworkers—1.18 million in 2019—are undocumented. A recent article from The New York Times reports that growers and labor contractors think it could be closer to 75 percent.

Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

Things That Matter

Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

Sergio Maldonado / Getty

On paper, Mexico has seemed to largely escape the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although its leaders came under fire from many at the beginning of the outbreak, the healthcare system hasn’t collapsed and in many parts of the country, it’s largely been business as usual.

However, officials are warning that as the economic impacts of the pandemic begin to take hold, the country could be in store for a very violent 2020. And this dire warning comes as Mexico is already experiencing it’s deadliest year in modern history, unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Even with Coronavirus restrictions, deadly violence continues to rise in Mexico.

Officials had thought that with Coronavirus-related restrictions in place, much of the widespread violence that plagues the country would gradually be reduced as more people stayed at home. But with the 6,000 homicides between March and April, 2020 is shaping up to be the deadliest year in modern Mexican history – just after 2019 claimed the top spot last year.

So far in 2020, homicides have climbed by 2.4% in the first four months of the year, compared to 2019. In the first four months of this year, 11,535 murders were registered, up from 11,266 homicide in same period last year, preliminary data from the security ministry showed. Just over 34,600 murders were logged in Mexico in all of last year.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to bring down gang-fueled violence afflicting Mexico when he took office in December 2018, but homicides hit a record level in 2019 and have continued to climb even during the Coronavirus lockdown.

And now as the country begins to find a ‘new normal’ and slowly reopen, officials are warning that the situation will only get worse.

Credit: Henry Romero / Getty

Speaking at a “justice, transparency and Covid-19” conference, Santiago Nieto, the head of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit, bluntly declared that an economic and security “crisis is obviously coming.”

He predicted that burglaries, financial fraud, human trafficking and child pornography offenses will be among the crimes that will increase. Mexico’s court system will consequently come under significant pressure, Nieto said.

For his part, the head of the Federal Protection Service, a division of the Security Ministry, told the newspaper El Universal that Mexico is likely to go through a “very rough” period of insecurity in the next three to six months.

Although the economic losses haven’t been as severe as in the U.S., Mexico was already in a precarious economic situation before the pandemic.

So far, the pandemic has left more than 750,000 Mexicans without work in the formal sector – this isn’t including the roughly 60% of Mexican society that works in the informal economy. And analysts and financial institutions are forecasting that the economy will suffer a deep recession in 2020.

Commissioner Manuel Espino Barrientos said the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn caused by the mitigation measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus will leave Mexico in a “very complicated” security situation.

Violence and crime will increase because a lot of people “will not find work but they will be hungry,” Espino said.

Despite the economic downturn, a new poll shows that a majority of Mexicans support further extending strict stay-at-home orders.

Although Mexico’s President AMLO has repeatedly stated that the country’s Coronavirus pandemic is under control, that’s not what most Mexicans feel, according to a new poll.

Conducted by the newspaper El Financiero on May 22 and 23, the poll found that 52% of those polled believe that the Coronavirus situation has not been controlled.

Participants were then asked to offer an opinion on the government’s coronavirus mitigation measures, and 64% of poll respondents said that more restrictions should be enforced and stay-at-home orders/recommendations should be extended.