Thursday, May 14, 2009

MEXICO CITY | The fallout from swine flu is not only affecting life in Mexico, it is souring the nation’s relations with other countries even though the disease is far less dangerous than initially thought.

One exception is Mexico’s ties with the United States, which kept its border open and has continued working with Mexican authorities to ease a global panic.

Otherwise, Mexicans have been left with frayed feelings and lodged protests of international discrimination against countries such as China and Argentina, which have banned airline flights from Mexico.

Haiti went further, rejecting Mexican humanitarian aid for fear aid workers would spread the disease.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon calls such steps “useless,” “irrational” and based on “ignorance.”

In a recent speech, he cited cases of bird flu and the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemics that he claimed had killed 1 million people.

Of about 8,000 cases reported during the outbreak of SARS in southern China in 2003, nearly 800 people have died. The combined SARS and bird flu death toll is slightly more than 1,000.

Of more than 3,000 swine flu case reported in more than 30 countries outside of Mexico, five people have died, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization. The death toll in Mexico is 56 of slightly more than 1,500 cases.

Mr. Calderon’s remarks are neither diplomatic nor strategic, said Denisse Merker, a well-known political commentator. “They are expressions of anger, like those proffered often by [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez that make us smile for their silliness.”

The same threat of swine flu led to the breakup, at least temporarily, of relations between the Mexican soccer federation and its counterparts in South America.

Two international games have been canceled due to health concerns.

There is no doubt that the flu has affected the entire country, national security expert Jorge Chabat wrote in the El Universal newspaper.

“The health and life of the Mexicans, their daily lives and the economy. It has blown up, too, one of the myths of our traditional foreign policy: that everybody loves us.”

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