The weekend of March 21st, 2020 will not be remembered fondly by folks who reside on either side of our southern border with Mexico. It will bring memories of economic hardship and uncertainty, courtesy of an invisible enemy known as the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. And nobody has a clue when the misery will end.
Whether through illness, death or a financial free fall, the Coronavirus has changed lives unlike most of us have ever experienced on an international scale. By now we all know the drill. Do not engage in conversation or any social interaction less than six feet away. Do not assemble in groups of more than 10 people, preferably less. Throughout the day, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Above all, do not leave your home unless absolutely necessary.
To help enforce these practices and keep the virus from spreading, the Trump administration and the DHS has prohibited inbound visitors from most of Africa, Asia and Europe from entering the country. Such decisions are not unusual considering the circumstances. This pandemic that originated in China has caused a staggering number of deaths in Iran, Italy and Spain, with hot spots now in New York, south Florida, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. The number of deaths globally stands at about 2.300 and in this country has surpassed 1000 and climbing. As a result, Trump took the extra step of closing our borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travel. The ban will not effect commerce or the new trade agreement between the United States and its neighbors. That would be devastating. The bridge that connects Pharr, Texas and Reynosa, Tamaulipas handles 50,000 commercial trucks each month worth millions of dollars in agricultural products alone. But there’s a negative side to this story that’s rather tragic.
While manufacturing plants in Mexico have tripled in numbers over the last decade, the republic’s economy is still very much dependent on tourist dollars. Cartel violence has not been helpful, but Mexico still grossed over $23 billion from the tourism industry in 2018, the latest figures that are available. A lot of that money is generated by travelers who frequent lavish resorts like Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. Now that the State Department has warned against international travel however, domestic flights into Mexico have basically been grounded. It’s possible to cross the border south bound and catch a flight from Tijuana on AeroMexico or Volaris, but good luck going back home and trying to cross the border northbound.
The fancy resorts are operating at about 10% of normal capacity and many will be forced to temporarily close, its employees laid off just like in our country. People hurting the most however, are the residents of large and small cities that dot the landscape along some 2,000 miles of our border region. They are the folks who operate small businesses that depend on foreign tourists for their livelihood. The curio shops, restaurants and taco stands, local tour guides and casas de cambio will all be affected. So will the street vendors who hawk everything from Mexican arts and crafts to water, cheap packs of cigarettes and freshly made burritos. The visitors who once patiently waited in their vehicles to cross into the U.S. are gone. Now it is eerily quiet, and no lines mean no business. Vendors claim that their sales are down 90%.
None of these people will receive a stimulus check, even though the socialist government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledges to help the poor. They will just have to wait until COVID-19 runs its course and try to stay healthy. That could be a difficult task because due to a lack of testing, the virus in Mexico is still in its early stages. Current cases are at about 100, with less than 10 deaths. In Baja California, the numbers are even smaller. That will increase rapidly due to the filthy camps of Central Americans waiting for asylum hearings in Tijuana, Juarez and other Mexican cities, their hearings in the States all being rescheduled due to the virus. The ACLU has won some recent court battles, but the bottom line here is that people on our borders are suffering. Their families are suffering. And the governments on both sides of the border don’t seem to give a damn.
Many times I have called for a personal meeting between Trump and AMLO, and nobody’s listening. If both the United States and Mexico are to emerge from this pandemic victorious, these men need to work together and rescue our border region from total disaster.