Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Disaster Tourism

We don't really know what to say about this idea from the governor of Veracruz, except that it's so wrong-headed, it's practically awe-inspiring:

Édgar Hernández, the Mexican kindergartner who is the first person known to have contracted the swine flu now circling the globe, may soon have a statue erected in his honor in the mountain village where he lives.

Gov. Fidel Herrera of the coastal state of Veracruz said the statue of Édgar, 5, could help attract tourists to La Gloria, a poor village where hundreds of residents came down with mysterious flulike symptoms beginning in late winter, in what experts say may have been the beginning of the spread of the new influenza strain.

Oh, lawdy...where to even begin? Young Édgar is, as the article notes, "the first person known to have contracted the swine flu now circling the globe." We're sure Édgar is a very nice boy, and he certainly didn't mean to do anything bad, but the kid did help spread a potentially deadly virus around the world, which is the sort of behavior we're not sure should be rewarded by building a statue in his honor. (If it is, we think this guy should get one first.)

Setting that aside for a moment, though, Gov. Herrera believes that tourists - who are staying away from the country's beautiful white-sand beach resorts in droves - will flock to "a poor village where hundreds of residents came down with mysterious flulike symptoms" in order to gaze at a statue of a highly-contagious, diseased little boy - a boy who, in real life, lives just down the street! You'd have to look pretty hard, dear reader, to find a greater champion of Mexican tourism and anti-swine-flu hysteria than this blog, but we can assure you we have no plans to visit any tiny village containing "hundreds" of swine flu sufferers any time in the next 20 years.

Even ignoring the "hot zone" aspect, though - would anyone voluntarily vacation in La Gloria? Even the town's tourism website features a photograph taken from space, which would indicated that this is the most flattering view of the place. That might be because La Gloria is just a few miles downwind of a enormous Smithfield Farms industrial hog lot.

Downwind of Xaltepec – where 15,000 squealing hogs are squeezed into 18 warehouses – residents of La Gloria blame Smithfield, Luter's firm, for an outbreak of respiratory problems that swept the town last month, killing two children....

Starting in February, one in six of the 3,000 residents reported health problems. The government initially dismissed the spike as a late-season rise in ordinary flu, but by April, health officials sealed off the town and sprayed chemicals to kill the flies that residents said were swarming about their homes.

The reports of swarming flies, terrible smells and pictures of rotting pigs left scattered around the perimeter of its industrialised pig farms in Mexico are echoes of the concerns that have long been troubling environmental activisits, campaigning against Smithfield in all the countries in which it operates, not least in the US. Critics say that – even on top of any questions about the humane treatment of the pigs – the sheer quantities of manure that have to be disposed of when thousands, or tens of thousands, of animals are housed together make it impossible to run this business in a safe way.

The manure is collected in a lake underneath the pig pens and then washed into giant pools or lagoons. It is eventually sprayed on nearby fields, but the lagoons have a habit of leaking or flooding.

Okay, sure, but did we mention there's a creepy-looking statue of a sick kid? What more enticement do you need?

    Special Bonus Weirdness: The sculptor, Bernardo Luis Artasánchez (above, in Superman t-shirt), is the same artist who did this statue of Vicente Fox.


summer said...

Finally a reason to visit Mexico.

Lazlo Lozla said...

Not that I like to defend a huge corporation and incur in the wrath of your animal rights activist readers, but if La Goria is like any other mexican village, I wonder how many of the inhabitants raise pigs in their own backyards, probably with even lower standards than Smithfield?

Burro Hall said...

Probably a lot of them. But how many raise 15,000 of them in a tightly confined space next to a million gallon lake of hog shit? The backyards look pretty small there.

Ellen Kimball said...

I swear by all that is holy -- I will never eat another pork chop as long as I live.

My kids grew up in Vermont with their father, who was a farmer/psychologist. They raised two pigs, and the only names they were allowed to give the animals were HAM and BACON.

Well, in time, the pigs were humanely butchered (via some other local person, not my ex-husband).

Neither child could ever eat the pork that came from their pets.

My daughter is now a practicing Jew and doesn't eat anything that isn't Kosher (including pork).

My son has been baptized a Mormon, but now that he and his wife have divorced, he's probably eating mostly at Chili's, where he works.

Really creepy story, but the child was featured on CNN with his family and he's really cute. I doubt that many tourists will make it to his hometown, despite the statue.

Peace, love and happiness,