Earlier this week, John Ackerman penned a piece for Slate that, shockingly, slams Calderón for his response, both immediate and long-term, to the swine flu epidemic. Highlights:
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.[Break]In addition, Calderón has used the health crisis to concentrate political power in his hands. On Saturday, he issued a decree that places the entire country under a state of emergency. He has authorized his health secretary to inspect and seize any person or possessions, set up check points, enter any building or house, ignore procurement rules, break up public gatherings, and close down entertainment venues. The decree states that this situation will continue "for as long as the emergency lasts."
This action violates the Mexican Constitution, which normally requires the government to obtain a formal judicial order before violating citizens' civil liberties. Even when combating a "grave threat" to society, the president is constitutionally required to get congressional approval for any suspension of basic rights. There are no exceptions to this requirement.
The New York Times also devoted significant space in a recent article to this measure. I agree that it's a bit worrying, but I think it's important to remember that, unlike the other federal power grabs that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, this is a sudden emergency, not a half-baked response to a longstanding problem, and certainly not some long-considered, coldly calculating move to squeeze the nation under Calderón's thumb. The new powers also seem to have been quite useful; the Times implies Calderón would not have had the authority to order the cancelation of public events without the new powers. Furthermore, according to Excélsior, Calderón's new powers were in fact endorsed by the Mexican Congress (including the PRD), and the Senate will play executive watchdog on this issue. Lastly, it also seems a bit inconsistent to ding Calderón for not responding decisively (although Ackerman grudgingly acknowledges his decision to close schools), and then cry bloody murder when he takes an action to make decisive response easier, although maybe I'm simplifying his response a bit too much.
Additionally, it's way too early to conclude that Calderón's team dropped the ball in late March and early April. A trustworthy and revealing postmortem will have to wait until after the episode passes. And it should be conducted by epidemiologists and public health experts, not constitutional experts. Beyond that, as a resident of Mexico, I found the federal government's response (as well as that of the DF government) to be very reassuring. Officials from both governments have been omnipresent since late last week, offering suggestions and updates on what seems like an hourly basis. As I said at some point this week, I've no basis for comparison, but from the standpoint of transmitting instructions and soothing an anxious populace, Calderón and Ebrard seem to have performed splendidly.