Clemente Ruiz Durán

Mexico City: Ghostly and Melancholic in the Era of Coronavirus

Mexico City is not only a crossroads within Mexico but is also the link between the US and Latin America. It has grown to become a huge metropolitan area (7.9 km2) with a population of at least 22 million, that each day take at least 34 million trips within the city. At rush hour, a cacophony of car horns resonates. The airport—the busiest in Latin America—delivers additional pressure to the city, while the Central de Abastos—the largest wholesale market in Latin America, bringing foodstuffs from the rest of the country—compresses this daily congestion even further. Daily life seems to be an Inferno of chaos amid wonderful historic places and gardens. 

All of this came to a sudden standstill when the government enacted a quarantine program following confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in the country, brought in by people who had gone to Vail, Colorado for winter skiing holidays and others returning from Northern Italy. The government was slow to respond to the pandemic; it was not until the end of March that the administration announced its nationwide “Healthy Distancing” campaign and halted all non-essential activities.

In Mexico City, the pandemic beset a deteriorated and fragmented health system where most hospitals did not have the necessary medical devices and pharmaceutical supplies to manage such a huge medical emergency. Quarantine brought the business sector to a standstill, causing massive unemployment in formal and informal sectors alike. The government’s response amid this chaos was to reduce the budget and introduce an austerity program, in stark contrast to the rest of the world, where national governments have responded with huge support for the business sector to avoid additional damage.

Mexico City has become the epicenter of the pandemic within the country, with 19,682 confirmed cases and 1,963 deaths (respectively 29% and 14% of total cases in Mexico). As I write this note, Mexico is still in the expansion phase of the pandemic and there is no clear picture of what is going to happen. Mexico will surely face its largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with a lack of government response that could hasten economic collapse.

The government has not been able to build a national consensus that would bring everybody into the same ship to navigate through this emergency—instead, it has divided Mexican society. I am concerned that this could lead to a resurgence of authoritarianism and that individual guarantees and rights may be lost. We have an opportunity to rethink the state of affairs and to find solutions that, I hope, could be positive; the world before this pandemic was not so good, but there are also threats that it could worsen in the future.

Clemente Ruiz Durán, Mexico City – May 25, 2020