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.
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In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

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In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

In Mexico, Flu Spoils The Party

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon was in the City of Puebla today to mark the Cinco de Mayo holiday. President Calderon attended a small closed ceremony. It was at a monument to the Mexican general who defeated the French in the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Normally the city throws a big party to celebrate the battle, but the festivities have been called off this year because of swine flu.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Puebla.

JASON BEAUBIEN: There's more life in the streets of Puebla than in Mexico City. Throughout the flu outbreak, restaurants here have been allowed to stay open. Unlike in the capital, only a few people in the streets are wearing surgical masks, but the sidewalks aren't crowded and metal doors are rolled down in front of many shops. Puebla is famous for its traditional sweets and candies.

Ms. LETICIA SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: At La Central, a candy shop on Calle 6, Leticia Sanchez points out some of their most popular sweets, but she says business recently has been terrible.

Ms. SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: 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. Usually on Cinco de Mayo, a huge parade involving 40,000 people flows through the streets of Puebla. There are dancers, musicians, street performers.

Ms. SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: And they suspended the parade, Sanchez adds. People also don't want to go out this year because there's nothing to do or to see.

Twenty-nine-year-old musician, Darwin Perea, has brought his two young daughters to play in the central square in Puebla. A huge cathedral built by the Spanish in the 16th century rises behind them. Perea says he's had six gigs canceled in the last week.

Mr. DARWIN PEREA (Musician): (Spanish spoken)

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

Some other people in the plaza say it's sad that the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in Mexico has been canceled, but there's also a recognition of the seriousness of swine flu.

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.

Mr. JUAN JOSE BRETON AVALOS (Secretary of Tourism, Puebla, Mexico): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This problem of the influenza is very different, he says, than, say, the problem of narcotics trafficking. 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 cartels, and most of it was happening hundreds of miles away from Puebla.

But swine flu is something else. You can't see it, the government had trouble tracking it, and tourists who want to relax may very well choose to spend their vacations someplace else. Breton says the impact on Puebla will be far greater than just shutting down their annual parade today. He expects the Mexican tourism industry will feel the pain of swine flu for months to come.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Puebla.

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