El Niño, Earthquakes, Droughts, Floods, Hurricanes, Cholera, and Swine Flu—Latin America Occupies a Dangerous Neighborhood
Mexico’s tourist industry has already suffered from the increase in drug-related violence following the election of President Felipe Calderón in 2006. In March of this year, U.S. colleges began to advise their students not to visit the country, traditionally a popular destination for youthful spring break travelers. Tourist numbers also have declined in the face of spikes in common crime throughout the hemisphere and the economic downturn which is negatively affecting virtually the entire area. Consequently, this phenomenon is encouraging foreigners to vacation closer to home rather than travel to traditional Caribbean vacation spots. Those trends can be expected to accelerate if the volume of those affected by swine flu continues to climb. All told, the cost to the region’s tourist industry could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The flu virus, which to date has been treated exclusively as a medical issue, cannot be viewed solely from such a standpoint. Rather, any approach aimed at finding a solution must take into account the social implications of the crisis, and how it may adversely affect the all-important tourist industry throughout Latin America. Not only can the infection pose a serious medical emergency to the rest of the hemisphere, but a series of travel advisories issued against the rest of the Caribbean, together with Cuba, could cause irreparable damage to the enormous revenue generated by the tourist industry. But with the entire region already being battered by the current economic recession and a drastic loss of jobs, the prospect of tourists being frightened off from visiting Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, along with the English-speaking Caribbean, is a real threat to the region’s overall prosperity.
Some of the areas most affected have proven unable to readily diversify their economic strategies and reduce their dependence on tourism. The international community must plan for short-term and long-term strategies for the purpose of funding facilities to rush aid packages to stricken countries. These could be patterned after low interest loans and supplemented by outright grants to affected areas in the U.S. As for the immediate problem at hand, when it comes to Mexico, Washington must work with the Calderón administration to introduce a facility that will come up with microfinance loans, investment, and relief funds to help these disease-prone areas to weather the storm. If left alone without such intervention, the hemisphere’s social dislocation may develop such a head of team, that it could trigger fatal levels of popular unrest as well as societal disorder.