I have always believed that it is never a good idea to write an op-ed about something of a personal nature, but I’ll make an exception. My mother just passed away of Covid-19 in Mexico City and such an event (more painful than I could ever describe) has made me experience firsthand the ordeal of so many other families in Mexico.
In spite of every precaution, my mother caught the virus from her caregiver, an exceptionally loving woman who was devoted to her for decades. It was inevitable. When living with virus transmission rates like those prevailing in Mexico, it was only a matter of time. How high are those rates? Who knows. When hiding the magnitude of the catastrophe takes priority over protecting lives, we are left high and dry. It is impossible to face and contain a pandemic without knowing where it is and simply trying to stab it in the dark. We don’t even know if the United Kingdom strain (50 percent more contagious) is widely present in Mexico. After roughly a quarter of a million deaths, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) still laughs and jokes during his daily morning press conferences. Does he find funny that thousands of Mexicans are suffocating to death? The president has not even brought himself to routinely wear a face mask and set an example to millions who would follow suit.
Serious voids show up in the Mexican government since AMLO’s other priority has been to surround himself with incompetent yes-men. In public health issues, those voids cost lives. But it is not just that. My mother’s final days in Mexico City were filled with unwarranted anguish: I was never able to secure a hospital bed for her caregiver, and our need for oxygen tanks grew as my mother’s breathing ability dropped. We were hours away from running out, if not for a generous man who came to our rescue.
Making sure that the woman who bore me could die with dignity involved an immeasurable effort. I cannot even fathom the suffering of thousands of Mexican families when seeing their loved ones suffocate before their eyes.
The pandemic itself is not the Mexican government’s fault. But the government’s politicization of the response to Covid-19 has caused untold damage. Instead of closing ranks and joining forces in a common front, the response to the crisis has been one blunder after another. López Obrador’s followers believe that his inept response must be defended at all costs, perhaps trusting that the evidence of his incompetence can be, literally, buried.
This is a terrible time for leaders to polarize, to divide, to lie. According to expert estimates, Mexico would be number two in the world in Covid-19 deaths when taking excess deaths into account, surpassing 350,000. Mexico is also the country where the largest number of healthcare workers have died from Covid-19.
Since testing is intentionally scarce, Mexico has the highest positivity rate in the world among the most affected countries. Moreover, only Uganda has committed less economic resources to soften the economic blow caused by lockdowns. The country does not have enough hospital beds. There is no oxygen. No death certificates. Funeral homes and crematories in Mexico are overrun. That is the evidence. There are no alternative facts, or “other data” as president López Obrador likes to say. There is only one truth. Distorting it or lying about it is an insult to families who, like mine, mourn the death of a loved one.
Andrés Manuel: put politics aside for a moment. Call on the Mexican private sector to help you to secure vaccines, to distribute them efficiently, and to administer them with intelligent criteria. Increase the number of beds by replicating successful efforts as that of the Citibanamex Covid-19 Center, which is bankrolled by 10 private companies. Take emergency action to solve the hellish oxygen tanks shortage. Delay public investment in the Dos Bocas oil refinery in Tabasco, the Mayan Train in Yucatán and other non-priority projects in favor of dramatically increasing fiscal relief to businesses and individuals hurt by the lockdowns. This is the only way for many Mexicans to remain at home and curb transmissions while we invest in widespread access to free testing and contact tracing systems. Mandate the use of face masks at a national level. Implement control measures so that all international visitors to Mexico are tested before arrival and follow a quarantine.
My mother, Tere, was not another number. She leaves a huge void in our lives. Seeing her die of Covid-19 was an agony I wish on no one. If we do not dramatically change course, hundreds of thousands more Mexicans will die. If we do not develop an ambitious and intelligent vaccination program, Mexico will not reopen its economy this year and millions of families will suffer.
This is not the time to garner votes, this is the time to save lives.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv