'Planes spray the city at night': Covid-19 conspiracy theories in Mexico's motor town
In San Luis Potosí, a city in central Mexico, some people believe the coronavirus is an invention by the government. They are sharing memes, videos and recordings with misinformation, in which people tell you that in the hospitals they drain the fluid from your knees and planes spray the city with the virus at night.
At the same time, it is very hard for people to stop working and self-isolate as they are being asked to do. In the brick-making factories in the working-class areas on the periphery of the city, workers don’t have the money to protect themselves.
There is no antibacterial gel, there are no face masks and there is no safe distancing. The prevailing attitude is: “The virus will strike who it strikes.”
Those who do believe in the existence of the virus, and how lethal it is, have responded by attacking healthcare workers instead of staying at home and protecting themselves.
This is what happened to Sandra Alemán Arellano, a nurse who was attacked physically and verbally as she went to a convenience store wearing her uniform on the night of 3 April.
Within two weeks, San Luis Potosí went from being one of the states with the lowest rates of infection, with 74 confirmed cases and eight deaths, to one with the fastest growing number of cases in Mexico, with 364 confirmed and 19 deaths, as of 13 May.
This may not seem high compared to other regions passing through the peak of the pandemic, but here there is a sense that things are spiralling out of control.
San Luis Potosí has been mentioned in reports as being one of the few states not to abide by the order to stay at home. Compared with other big cities in Mexico, the state is two weeks behind in the transmission phase of Covid-19. It is thought that the state will reach the peak of the virus at the end of May and that the curve of infections will start to go down at the end of June.
The city is almost entirely reliant on industry. San Luis Potosí is a key link in the supply chains for companies such as General Motors and BMW. It has been part of the T-Mec free-trade agreement with the US and Canada since it originated in 1994
– because of its strategic connectivity between the Texas border and the centre of Mexico. Each car assembly line has brought hundreds of companies to the area.
As elsewhere in the world, because of the pandemic, most of the industries have closed.
The automotive sector is Mexico’s main manufacturing industry. In 2018, it contributed 3.6% of national GDP and 20.7% of manufacturing income. The newly negotiated T-Mec comes into effect on 1 July.
The Mexican government’s recent announcement, after discussions with countries including the US, that production lines would reopen has brought optimism to the car industry – as well as to mining and construction. They have been declared essential industries and it is hoped that people will gradually return to work this week.
However, the continued rise in Covid-19 cases could have a negative impact on the health of millions of workers and their families.
These photographs are my way of understanding how the virus is changing our lives – how the light and shade of what we are facing in this pandemic define the identity of a city – and at the same of time making a record of the reality on a local level.
The global declaration of the pandemic occurred when I was in the Colombian Amazon at the start of March.
To get back home, I had to pass through four airports. As I travelled I felt totally alienated by the paranoia caused by the virus.
When I got back, I was confronted with the inability of the majority of people in San Luis Potosí to stop their activities and stay at home, the lack of information and the disbelief of the population. They were waiting for the virus to disappear.
M I Ro