When the Spanish conquistadores landed in the New World, they came into contact with not only indigenous people but also indigenous microorganisms, including those responsible for syphilis, malaria, warts and intestinal problems. Due to the wars the Spaniards had waged throughout Europe and Africa, the conquistadores were more resistant to new microorganisms and so only a few died from diseases caused by contact with these American strains. Being that Mexico had had no contact with Europe before the conquistadores arrived, the Old World microbes responsible for colds, flu, diphtheria, bubonic plague, leprosy, typhoid fever, scarlet fever and yellow fever decimated as much as 90% of the indigenous population according to some accounts. More than any weapon or technology, viruses paved the way for the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the mighty Aztec nation, and the establishment of what is today Mexico. While the full-scale extermination of the indigenous people by imported viruses has largely been forgotten, Moctezuma’s Revenge, a colloquial term for the stomach problems that tourists often experience when they come into contact with Mexican microorganisms, is something every foreigner knows and fears.
In the past couple of weeks, Mexico has been accused of being responsible for a new, particularly virulent virus that has spread to the US, and many people in the US media have clamored for the closing of the border. This is nothing new. Over the centuries, the USA has constantly accused Mexico of being the source of some of its greatest problems, including illegal immigration, drug trafficking and epidemics, all considered serious threats to the existence of the American way of life. But, really, who’s infecting who?
It is quite possible that this latest virus was born in Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest multinational porcine company. On a small strip of land in tropical Veracruz, one million pigs are packed tightly together, force-fed antibiotics, hormones (some of which are illegal in the USA) and genetically-modified corn. The toxic waste created by the massive quantity of pig shit and diseased carcasses, added to the chemical cocktails injected into the animals, provides just the right environment for viruses to mutate. Even if it turns out that the virus, originally dubbed swine flu and then changed to A H1N1, didn’t originate in this pig farm, this multinational company’s impact on the health of the local people, half of who now suffer from respiratory illnesses, and on the now-contaminated local environment, has been devastating.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into full effect, multinational companies based in the US have been transforming the Mexican economy to such an extent that Mexico is now a consumer of other countries’ culture. Half of all the food eaten in Mexico today comes from the US. The processed, sugar and fat-saturated, genetically-modified imported food being sold throughout the country has profoundly transformed the local diet and has turned Mexico into the fattest nation after the USA, which in turn has increased the rates of diabetes (also second only to the USA) and heart and circulatory diseases.
Not only are US and multinational corporations responsible for Mexico’s new diet, they are also responsible for treating the illnesses this diet helps create. Multinational pharmaceutical companies profit from the unchecked consumption of antibiotics and other potentially harmful drugs in Mexico, where doctors regularly prescribe antibiotics for cold symptoms and people tend to self-medicate (most prescription drugs are available in pharmacies without a prescription). Due in part to this indiscriminate use of antibiotics, as well as the consumption of foods that are genetically modified to contain antibiotics as part of their new gene structure, 16% of the Mexican population currently suffers from asthma and almost 20% from allergic rhinitis, thus creating additional profit potential for the drug companies. Many of the drugs designed to kill off bacteria, parasites and viruses tend to put increased pressure on these microorganisms to mutate while at the same time weakening an individual’s autoimmune system. Based on the scant information coming from the local authorities, it seems as if many of the people who died in Mexico after contact with the virus were already chronically ill (many with diabetes).
The dominance of US and multinational franchises in Mexico was well illustrated during the epidemic. The fear and hysteria generated by the Mexican government at the behest of world health organizations kept everyone shut inside their homes to protect against an invisible enemy, and only ‘essential’ businesses were allowed to open in Mexico City. The ‘essential’ businesses that most profited from this virus, besides the phamaceutical companies, were Walmart, Costco, 7/11, Domino’s Pizza and Blockbuster Video, all purveyors of the American Way of Life, that is, convenience consumerism.
Up until the epidemic, Mexico City was considered one of the ten wealthiest cities in the world in terms of production and level of consumption (the virus will have changed that soon enough). At the same time, out of over 200 cities, Mexico Ctiy was ranked amongst the bottom five in terms of quality of life based upon cost and availability of health care, infectious disease, environmental pollution, garbage removal, water quality and harmful parasites, all of which serve to help incubate deadly new viruses and deplete people’s immune system. The recent increase in government military spending to fight the ‘epidemic’ of narco-violence, dictated by the US in its Merida Plan as a way to monopolize arms sales, added to the recent financial crisis imported from the US, has meant an even greater decrease in social spending, especially in the public health sector. The sad state of Mexico’s public health sector, which services the lowest strata of society, contributes to the fact that people infected with this new virus have been dying in Mexico while surviving elsewhere.
Viruses are among the simplest organisms around, mere genetic material wrapped in a membrane, and yet they are among the most resilient and deadly. Viruses enter into foreign bodies, inject their own genetic material into their host and convert them into breeders that replicate and distribute the virus. By the same token, US and multinational franchises in Mexico, such as Starbucks, import identical chains to foreign countries, transforming the local culture in their own image and draining the country of resources. Pumping up humans with antibiotics and other medicines that substitute for the normal functioning of their immune system, while at the same time debilitating them with a poor, unhealthy diet, is an ideal way to make people prone to future illnesses and drug-dependency. Pumping up a developing economy with loans and supplanting local products with imported ones is a sure way to weaken an economy and its future autonomy. After the A H1N1 virus has come and gone, Mexico will have lost even more economic and cultural self-sufficiency, while the USA will have been troubled only by a slight case of Moctezuma’s Revenge, perhaps even of its own making.