Gravediggers in protective suits bury a coronavirus disease victim
Gravediggers in protective suits bury a coronavirus disease victim at Tijuana Municipal Cemetery No. 13 on Thursday. REUTERS/Ariana Drehsler

Mexico is under siege by the same coronavirus that killed more people in the United States in six weeks than were killed over 10 years during the Vietnam War.

Hospitals are jammed, there aren’t enough qualified people to treat the sick, not enough health equipment, and little help from a government that is slashing its budget while getting clobbered by the oil market crash that is depriving Mexico of billions in revenue.

Like President Donald J. Trump, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — popularly known as AMLO — initially pooh-poohed the onset of a national epidemic. Like Trump, he ignored extensive warnings that the coronavirus could incapacitate the country. Like Trump, he came to the battle with the virus late.

AMLO ordered business shutdowns. His government classified 18% of the nation’s businesses to be essential and they stayed open. Of those declared non-essential, 87% closed, including the massive auto-manufacturing industry that rolls out cars from 18 factories, including the largest Volkswagen plant in North America in Puebla.

Restaurants, bars, beaches, convention centers and schools were shut down. Mexican airlines are carrying only 5% of the passengers they flew last year.

In the Baja California community I live in, there are three restaurants located at the gate into the community. Only one is still open, an Italian restaurant that is preparing food for takeout or delivery. Its food is terrific but we can’t eat there now with its 180-degree ocean view.

I can’t walk my dogs on our beach. In fact, the 1,500 miles of beach in Baja are shut down.

The shutdown affects everyone. President Trump limited border crossings to cut the number of Mexicans entering the United States. Few Mexican license plates can now be seen in the traffic lanes at San Ysidro. Most crossing now are U.S. citizens like me, yet two-hour waits are common.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

It’s not only individual Mexicans or Americans like me who are inconvenienced; apparently the United States government is also.

Ellen Lord, U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, raised concerns about the Mexican shutdown. She launched an official campaign to get Mexico to reopen plants, suggesting supply chains could be permanently damaged if production wasn’t resumed immediately.

Lord posits that Mexico’s border assembly plants are fundamentally important because they are a key to U.S. supply chains for autos and defense contractors. The key phrase is “defense contractors.” In other words, the national defense of the United States of America is endangered by the shutdown of Mexican plants.

That revelation by the Trump Administration is fascinating. Think of all the negative views of Mexico that Trump has expressed since the day he announced his campaign for President. He berated Mexicans, Mexican business, the North American Free Trade Agreement and, specifically, the Mexican car industry that manufactures, among other things, a myriad of parts for the American defense industry.

Does the plea to reopen plants reflect a 180-degree new paradigm of what the Trump Administration thinks of Mexico and its industry?

In Mexico, a similar situation arose when the Inter-American Development Bank and the Mexican Business Council, which is made up of 60 of the country’s largest businesses, negotiated loans and revolving credit up to $12 billion that is available for 30,000 businesses.

ALMO, who doesn’t like private business, wanted government involvement in the program, but the Mexican government is taking a big hit.

As with Trump, the pandemic forces a rethinking of long-held views.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.