Did the Mexican state prove itself in the swine flu response?

Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu:

Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better.

Am I wrong?  Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations?  Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?

Most Mexicans seem to agree. Over 70 percent give Felipe Calderon's government high marks for its handling of the crisis. 

Thanks to Mexico's raging drug violence, there's been a growing meme in the U.S. media -- including this magazine -- that the country was teetering on the brink of anarchy. The Obama administration even chose an expert on state failure as its ambassador to the country. The Calderon administration's decisive response to swine flu at least complicates this notion.

Compare, for instance, Mexico's fast and seemingly effective handling of swine flu to China's disastrous initial denial of the 2003 SARS outbreak and ask which one looks more like a failed state.  

Mexico's problems haven't gone away. This is still a country where 11,000 public servants have been sanctioned for corruption in the last three years and more people have been killed in drug violence than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq. There are also new fears that Calderon will use the flu crisis to consolidate power. 

However, I think it's safe to say that more than a few governments around the world would have collapsed or reverted to dictatorship given the horrendous few months that Mexico has had on the economic, crime, and public health fronts. Mexico, on the other hand, is gearing up for what promises to be a lively and close-fought midterm election.

It shouldn't be shocking that stable and functioning states can sometimes respond to crises in ways that seem hopelessly inept (Just ask anyone in New Orleans) or that weak and corrupt ones can provide some public services quite well. Where Mexico falls on this spectrum is certainly open for debate, but the fundamental strength of the country's political institutions are stronger than they're often given credit for.



Morning Brief: Nepal's peace process collapsing

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Nepal's fragile peace process seems to be in peril today with Maoist Prime Minister Prachandra resigning amid a constitutional scandal. Prachandra's government, in power since a peace deal in 2006, had been trying to integrate former Maoist fighters into Nepal's army and attempted to fire army chief Rookmangud Katawal who Prachandra accused of hampering the effort. 

The Maoists lost the support of the Communist party over the firing, which was blocked by President Ram Baran Yadav. Prachandra resigned over the conflict with Yadav.

The controversy has the potential to reignite Nepal's decade-long civil war. The Maoists are describing the peace process as "in peril" as their supporters took to the streets. Much will depend on the words of Prachandra, who is expected to address the nation shortly.


  • Sri Lankan forces continue to fight the Tamil Tigers in a 3-mile long strip of coast where the rebels are holding thousands of civilians as human shields. The government is reported to still be using air strikes despite agreeing to stop them last week.
  • Pakistan's peace pact with the Taliban is all-but-over as government forces continue to fight militants in the Buner district.
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai registered for reelection, selecting a powerful Tajik warlord as his new running mate.

Middle East

  • U.S. reporter Roxana Saberi, imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges, was taken to the hospital after she intensified her hunger strike by refusing to drink water.
  • Robert Gates is headed to the Middle East where he will try to reassure the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia about U.S. outreach to Iran.
  • Iraqi authorities arrested a senior member of the U.S.-backed Awakening movement.


  • Swine flu cases around the world are up to nearly 1,000, though Mexican authorities report that new cases are leveling off at the disease's epicenter.
  • Campaigning for Mexico's midterm elections has begun amid the swine flu epidemic.
  • Conservative businessman Ricardo Martinelli was elected president in Panama.


  • The Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone rejected former Liberian leader Charles Taylor's motion of acquittal on war crimes charges.
  • An influential Islamist leader in Somalia ruled out cooperation with the country's president and urged militants to continue fighting the government.
  • Niger's president is holding peace talks with the country's Tuareg rebels for the first time.


  • The European Commission cautiously declared the end of Europe's recession in sight.
  • Despite an invitation, Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko will not attend the EU summit in Prague this week.
  • Controversial Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is heading to Europe in his official trip abroad.