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.

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There’s A ‘Haunted Drive-Thru’ Experience Coming To Save Halloween And It Looks Terrifying

Entertainment

There’s A ‘Haunted Drive-Thru’ Experience Coming To Save Halloween And It Looks Terrifying

Miodrag Ignjatovic / Getty Images

I don’t care if it’s barely August. It’s never too soon to start talking about Halloween.

The year 2020 has already taken so much from us, I won’t let it take Halloween too. And thanks to come very creative, socially-distanced supporting Halloween fans, it looks like we won’t have to say goodbye to the best holiday of the year after all.

Orlando is getting a drive-thru haunted experience and I really want to go.

If you were worried that COVID-19 would spell the end of haunted attractions in 2020, you’d best buckle up. The brave and the squeamish alike are invited to travel The Haunted Road this fall, a drive-thru Halloween experience in Central Florida that offers a socially distant alternative to the traditional haunted house.

The Haunted Road promises a fully immersive horror experience replete with monsters and gore galore — which should ring like music to your ears if going to haunts is your Halloween tradition of choice. The difference here is that you’ll experience the world of nightmarish scenery and gruesome creatures entirely from the comfort of your vehicle. So, kind of like a haunted hayride, but Coronavirus safe.

At the heart of the experience is an original take on the story of Rapunzel. On The Haunted Road, Rapunzel “journeys into a world of disarray, faces bloodcurdling creatures — and hundreds of shocking scares.” There will also be a more family-friendly daytime version of the event on weekdays.

OK, a huge thank you to whomever thought up this genius idea.

The idea for The Haunted Road was borne from the idea of creating an original haunted attraction that adheres to safe social distancing measures.

Most haunted attractions place visitors into smaller spaces and encourage performers to get up close and personal to secure the scare. But with the coronavirus pandemic raging on, that in-your-face approach is largely unfeasible and could lead most haunts to remain closed for the 2020 season. And that’s where The Haunted Road comes riding in like a headless horseman poised to save Halloween.

“With the arts and entertainment industry at a standstill, and an increasing need to find new, safe outdoor entertainment, we knew it was the perfect time to develop a unique Halloween experience so everyone can enjoy a dose of horror this upcoming Halloween season, from the comfort of their car,” said Jessica Mariko, executive producer and creative principal, The Haunted Road.

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A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Things That Matter

A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Sharon Shischilly / Getty Images

Indigenous communities in the Unites States have often been forgotten or deliberately excluded from federal policy. Many nations have been forced to go it alone and, as Covid-19 ravages Native lands, many tribe members have died.

After more than two centuries of exclusion, amid a global epidemic, Indigenous communities are once again being excluded from the decision-making process in Washington even as Covid-19 devastates their communities.

But while Indigenous peoples haven’t always had success before the courts, there has been real momentum of late. In July, the Supreme Court recognized roughly half of Oklahoma as Indigenous land, in a ruling that will have far-reaching consequences in the state justice system and beyond.

Now, Native Americans are having to fight once again for what they’re owed as the federal government distributes the more than $150 billion in stimulus money. More than a dozen Indigenous organizations warned, starting in early April, that if the Trump administration did not listen to tribal governments, they ran the risk of turning the relief package into a “grave injustice.”

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to give Native tribes their withheld stimulus money.

Credit: Sam Wasson / Getty Images

Frustrated and disgusted that it has taken so long for the Treasury Department to distribute federal stimulus funds to Native American tribes, a federal judge ordered Secretary Steve Mnuchin to distribute the money immediately, according to HuffPost. The judge said that tribes should have received their portion of the CARES Act months ago when other Americans received theirs.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin’s decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding, as The Hill reported.

In his ruling, Mehta said “Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable.”

Over the past three months, the Treasury Department has managed to send out billions of dollars in loans to small businesses, checks to families and aid to corporations. But distributing the $8 billion pot set aside for tribal governments has proved more difficult. As a result, tribes, already critically underfunded and among the nation’s most vulnerable communities, have not received all the money they need to weather the pandemic and begin recovering from the economic toll.

“Congress made a policy judgment that tribal governments are in dire need of emergency relief to aid in their public health efforts and imposed an incredibly short time limit to distribute those dollars,” he wrote in an order released late Monday night. “The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough.”

Some tribes were owed $12 million in federal funding and yet got nothing from the government.

Credit: Mark Ralson / Getty Images

Much of the fault is with the Treasury Department which counted the populations of Native tribes differently that Congress had intended. This meant that some tribes would end up with zero funding while some for-profit tribal companies could end up with millions.

Since some tribes do not have a designated reservation or service area, their population counts were listed as zero and they received only the minimum $100,000 allocation.

“We are not races — we are sovereign nations,” said Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. He added “How can a tribe have zero people?” noting that more than 3,000 people belong to his tribe. “It was a simple clerical error, but no one at Treasury tried to fix it.”

The oversight was even more egregious, Barnes said, because there is also a census count that, while not completely accurate, would have ensured the tribe got closer to the $12 million it believes it is entitled to based on enrollment numbers.

As the legal wrangling continues, the picture on the ground is disastrous.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) reports there have been nearly 33,000 COVID-19 cases reported to IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health organizations. In May, the outbreak in the Navajo Nation surpassed New York as the highest infection rate in the country—today, its infection rate is double any state. Today, the nation has more cases, in terms of raw numbers, than several states.

And while the funding threats and lack of resources threaten everyone, Indigenous elders—sometimes the only remaining speakers of nearly lost languages—face particular danger.

In recent years, there have been furious efforts to collect Indigenous histories and preserve nearly lost Indigenous languages. COVID-19 threatens to undo much of that work as it cuts through the elderly population.

“COVID-19, like many diseases, renders Indigenous elders—our knowledge-keepers and language holders—particularly susceptible to illness and death,” wrote Gina Starblanket and Dallas Hunt, two Indigenous professors and writers in the Globe and Mail in late March. “This virus not only places us at risk, but the future well-being of coming generations as well

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