Humour, conspiracy theories spice up flu epidemic in Mexico

May 3rd, 2009 - 9:03 am ICT by IANS  

By Andrea Sosa Cabrios
Mexico City, May 3 (DPA) Getting arrested is often a last hurrah for a drug lord, a time when a notorious desperado gets to sneer once more for the cameras.

Everything was set for Gregorio Saucedo, alias El Caramuelas, one of the most dreaded leaders of Mexico’s ruthless Gulf Cartel and fugitive from the long arm of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, to have his blaze of glory.

He was captured in the north-eastern Mexican city of Matamoros on the US border with two alleged accomplices, armed to the teeth: military rifles, 4,500 rounds of ammunition and an anti-tank rocket launcher.

But his arrest was dwarfed in the news by the global story of a Mexico-centred outbreak of potentially pandemic swine flu, or influenza A (H1N1).

When armoured paramilitary police paraded their prized quarry past news cameras, Saucedo’s face - like the officers and most everyone else these days in Mexico - was obscured by a baby-blue surgical mask, undermining his image from desperado to just another Mexican worried about germs.

The disease is no laughing matter, though, with a dozen confirmed deaths in Mexico and another 150 fatalities being studied.

But the damage to Saucedo’s image was but one oddity arising from the Mexico outbreak.

The Internet is brimming with conspiracy theories circulating among Mexicans. One story has it that Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his family are not wearing face masks because they have already received a magical vaccine from Canada.

The epidemic does not exist at all, one blogger claims, portraying it as a creation of the US as a drill for a bacteriological attack. Another version has the outbreak as an invention of the country’s ill-trusted politicians, because the bodies of the dead have not actually been seen.

Still another Internet tale describes the flu as a mutant strain “created in a laboratory at Ohio University by a group of US and German students devoted to the creation of genetically modified viruses”.

Others rumours make connections between the flu and older fables. Some sceptics think the outbreak is a new urban myth to distract people’s attention, like the legendary Chupacabras - a mysterious fanged creature that in the 1990s was said to kill animals across Latin America, with especially plentiful sightings in Mexico.

Gallows humour in the face of a potentially fearful pandemic arose quickly.

One Internet propagation has been La Cumbia de la Influenza, a sarcastic novelty song with a catchy tune and tasteless lyrics about the flu in “Chilangolandia”, a nickname for Mexico City. The song is already a hit on YouTube.

“They say it’s the perfect flu, and they don’t know that chilangos live underneath the smog,” the chorus says. “It’s better to get AIDS, cancer or an itch.”

The song continues: “Leave the capital, everything is going to blow up soon. Who’s going to help us now? Don’t call Superman, we’ll all be dead by the time Indiana Jones arrives.”

While scientists lose sleep trying to find out where the epidemic started, one photograph that is circulating via e-mail claims to solve the mystery of the outbreak’s origin.

“It’s all this damn boy’s fault,” it says, alongside a photograph of a boy snogging a pig on a farm, in a reference to the possible swine flu origin of the disease.

Fear of exposure has not even spared Mexico’s soap operas, the famously hot-blooded telenovelas, where actors are reportedly reconsidering whether to kiss colleagues on camera.

“They are all entitled to say no. There are some actresses that do not want to go to the vecindad (a set of homes with a common courtyard) where scenes are shot, because it is a focal point of infection,” said Angelli Nesma, telenovela producer of Un gancho al corazon.

Caricaturists are showing off their creativity, including the artist Magu in the daily La Jornada. “So many years of eating them Michoacan-style … now pigs are back to claim vengeance on us,” Magu says.

A flu mascot, a small, stuffed toy called Achufy!, has appeared for sale in the internet for $24.50 each.

“Grab this original blue stuffed toy as a souvenir of the epidemic of 2009,” the web advert urges, encouraging buyers to “show it off among your friends and tell your grandchildren of this experience that is unique in history.”

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