Published Apr 29, 2009 3:35 PM
Every disaster—whether earthquake, flood or epidemic—exposes the fault lines in society.
Such is the case with the possible pandemic—worldwide epidemic—of a virulent flu caused by a newly mutated virus. This human version of swine flu has hit Mexico most severely, with the United States a close second. It has rapidly spread to a dozen other countries.
Politically, the greatest threat is that right-wing demagogues will try to scapegoat Mexicans, especially Mexican immigrants, for the epidemic’s spread. This is a serious political challenge to progressive forces in the U.S. It will require a redoubling of the already necessary effort to build solidarity between immigrant and U.S.-born workers, a solidarity that will be emphasized at May Day events across the country.
The attempt to blame Mexicans is not only despicable, it is way off. Look at these facts.
ABC News reported on April 28 that “Mexico’s first suspected case of the swine flu was detected in the remote farming village of La Gloria” a month ago. Some 800 of the 2,000 people there got sick. “The most likely way that this young boy got the infection was from another person who had been in contact with the pigs,” said Dr. Kathryn Edwards of Vanderbilt Medical Center.
What ABC failed to report was that the pigs were on a nearby industrial farm run by a subsidiary of Smithfield Farms, the anti-union, polluting, factory-farm monopoly based in Virginia and North Carolina. For years, the communities around these farms have been complaining about the unhealthy conditions and stench from thousands of pigs and their waste crowded into small areas.
Historian Mike Davis, a professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu,” wrote in the Britain-based Guardian newspaper of April 27 that the “fecal mire of an industrial pigsty” was the likely environment in which a new flu virus could develop. Smithfield, wrote Davis, will ferociously resist any efforts to change its dangerous but highly profitable production processes.
An experienced writer on these issues, Davis also mentioned three obstacles to an efficient and effective defense against any pandemic: the weakness of the U.S. public health system, the negative attitude of the U.S. and other wealthy countries toward promoting cutting-edge public health facilities in the poorer countries, and Swiss-based Roche Pharmaceutical’s patent on the flu medicine Tamiflu, which prevents poor countries from developing generic anti-viral medicines.
The first lesson of this is that the U.S. has a disgraceful record regarding health care. The trillions spent on war should be used instead to set up a world-class national health system and bypass the overpriced, profit-guzzling health care industry.
Secondly, don’t blame Mexicans for this outbreak. Investigate Smithfield and take action against the polluters.
Next, pressure from imperialist banks over the last 30 years has forced poor countries to cut their public health outlays. This has not only debilitated health care, it has increased the danger of pandemics. Instead of criminalizing immigrant workers and militarizing the border with Mexico, the U.S. should be supporting Mexico’s efforts to improve its health system—especially since U.S. corporations like Smithfield are making huge profits there, by super-exploiting Mexican workers.
And lastly, the monopoly on new drugs held by a few privately owned pharmaceuticals impedes the development of a worldwide supply of generic medicines. For the health of humanity, medical knowledge must be shared and all countries be free to manufacture their own medicines.
This all points to one conclusion: that the capitalist system as a whole is an obstacle to protecting the life and health of humanity when faced with swine flu or any other possible pandemic.
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