In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party The swine flu outbreak has put a damper on the marking of Cinco de Mayo, a day that commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Every year, the battle is re-created in the town of Puebla.
NPR logo

In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103825795/103825778" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103825795/103825778" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Usually on Cinco de Mayo, a huge parade involving some 40,000 people flows through the streets of the city of Puebla, where the holiday was born after a 19th century Mexican military victory. There are dancers, musicians, street performers.

But not this year. In Puebla and throughout Mexico on Tuesday celebrations were subdued, if they existed at all, as the nation remained largely closed for business, and pleasure, under the threat of the swine flu outbreak.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon was in Puebla to attend a small ceremony at a monument to the Mexican general who defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

While activities were minimal in Puebla, there was more life in the streets here than in the capital, Mexico City. Throughout the flu outbreak, restaurants in Puebla have been allowed to stay open. And unlike in the capital, only a few people in the streets were wearing surgical masks on Tuesday.

But in this city of 1.5 million, the sidewalks aren't crowded and metal doors are rolled down in front of many shops.

'There's Nothing For People To Do Or See'

Puebla is famous for its traditional sweets and candies. At La Central, a candy shop on Calle 6, Leticia Sanchez says business has been terrible.

"Until now we haven't sold anything," Sanchez says. "We opened at 9 a.m., now it's the middle of the day and we haven't sold anything."

She says there are few tourists and locals haven't wanted to go out of their houses for fear of the virus. Since officials cancelled the parade, "there's nothing for people to do or see," Sanchez says.

In Puebla's central square, where a massive 16th century cathedral built by the Spanish looms, people say it is sad that the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the country was canceled. But there is also recognition of the seriousness of the swine flu threat.

A Healthy Respect For The Flu Threat

Darwin Perea, 29, a musician, brought his two young daughters to play in the plaza. Perea has plenty of time on his hands. He says he has had six gigs canceled in the last week.

"Yeah, it's affected us a bit," he says. "But these are security measures that we have to take and respect."

Juan Jose Breton Avalos, the secretary of tourism for Puebla, says the outbreak has been devastating to the industry. During what is normally one of the busiest times of year, businesses have been shut and local hotels saw a 50 percent drop in occupancy.

Breton predicts the effects of swine flu — particularly in the minds of international travelers — will be difficult to overcome. Tourists who want to relax may very well chose to just spend their vacations someplace else, he says.

"This problem of the influenza is very different, than say the problem of narcotics trafficking," he says, referring to Mexico's other chronic problem in the headlines.

When it came to fears about the drug war, Breton says, he could show potential visitors that most of the killing was going on among the drug cartels and most of it was happening hundreds of miles away from Puebla.

But swine flu is something else, he says, because you can't see it and the government has struggled to contain it. Breton fears that the impact on Puebla will be far greater than just the shutting down of their annual parade today and could be felt for months to come.