‘Besame mucho’: Mexico reaches out after swine flu

May 21st, 2009 - 11:32 am ICT by IANS  

By Andrea Sosa Cabrios
Mexico City, May 21 (DPA) Now that Mexico seems to have weathered the worst of the public health storm from the new influenza virus A(H1N1), Mexican authorities have launched another urgent mobilisation - against the stigma spread by the epidemic.

Mexico’s tourism sector has been hit especially hard. Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon was among the first foreign dignitaries to show solidarity as he landed Saturday in Mexico. He met Mexican President Felipe Calderon Monday to express support.

With foreign tourism - a crucial sector for the Mexican economy - virtually at a halt, Mexico City launched a campaign Monday to send letters to celebrities in an effort to generate “an international solidarity movement” in the wake of a flu epidemic that has claimed 70 lives in the country.

“Mexico City has been and remains a city with a presence, with solidarity, with generosity in relation to the rest of the world,” said Marcelo Ebrard, mayor of the capital.

Now the city is seeking shows of solidarity from elsewhere in return.

Authorities have reached out to both mayors of major cities across the hemisphere and an A-list of international celebrities, hoping for positive publicity from statements and even visits.

Ebrard is determined to put Mexico City - the world’s second-largest metropolis - back in the headlines but without surgical face masks. A large dinosaur exhibition is planned in the central Zocalo square, amid an intense promotional effort with numerous events including a cultural meeting.

“We are already seeing a series of positive signs. Restrictions on Mexico are being lifted in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere in the world,” Ebrard said.

Mexico has served in the past as a haven for millions of exiles from numerous countries including Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. So Mexicans took it personally when restrictions were imposed on flights to and from the country by what they believed were friends, such as Argentina and Peru; a quarantine imposed on Mexican citizens in China provoked particular outrage.

“We as a society and as a city have never discriminated, excluded or showed xenophobia,” Mexico City Tourism Minister Alejandro Rojas Diaz Duran said.

For two weeks, a city whose tourist promotion slogan is “Besame mucho (kiss me a lot)” had to forego smooching and even businesslike handshakes, while people wore face masks to hinder the spread of the flu virus.

Although the epidemic is not yet over, the rate of new infections has slowed, and authorities have eased some of the public restrictions that sharply curtailed tourism, restaurants, theatres and cinemas.

The tourism industries in Cancun and the Riviera Maya were already being squeezed by the global economic crisis and the ongoing damage to Mexico’s image from drug-fuelled gang violence. Seeking a creative response to the flu crisis, businesses in those regions offered three years of free vacations to anyone who can prove to have been exposed to the virus on Mexico’s Caribbean beaches.

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