The Mexican government's initial reaction to the outbreak of swine flu does not inspire confidence. Practically speaking, its slow response has allowed the disease to spin out of control, leading to up to 100 deaths in Mexico and 20 cases of infection in the United States. From a political standpoint, Mexican President Felipe Calderón appears to be using the outbreak to consolidate his power.
New influenza cases started appearing in Mexico City on March 18. The first death occurred April 12. But the government dragged its feet, hoping that this was an isolated case. As deaths mounted over the following days, the Calderón administration refused to take decisive action.
Indeed, it appears that Calderón is now seeking to consolidate his break with the fundamental principles of liberal constitutionalism and the separation of powers. This past Thursday, Calderón presented a bill to Congress that would allow him to declare a state of emergency at any time without its consent. If approved, the bill would allow the National Security Council, made up of presidential appointees, to grant broad powers to the military and to suspend basic civil liberties in all or parts of the country at the president's request. This council would have the power to continue the emergency for as long as it wants.
Such a law would deal a body blow to Mexican democracy. Calderón would have no trouble gaining the overwhelming support of Congress to his important emergency measures against the swine flu. But he should not be allowed to use this emergency as an excuse to undermine Mexico's democratic institutions or ignore the deeper causes of the present health crisis.
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