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Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell in the interview in which he linked medication shortage protests with international right-wing groups.

Health minister sees attempted coup by right-wing interests in cancer meds protests

After backlash, Lopez-Gatell backtracked on some of his claims

Protests against medication shortages led by parents of children with cancer are linked to international right-wing groups with a mentality that borders on coup plotting, according to Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell.

“I would like to issue a kind of alert,” the official said during a television interview broadcast on Sunday.

“This type of generation of coup narratives has sometimes been connected in Latin America, in the history of Latin America, with coups, coups d’état. And this idea of children with cancer who don’t have medications, we increasingly see it positioned as part of a campaign … of international right-wing groups that are seeking to create this wave of sympathy among Mexican citizens that has a vision that is almost one of coup plotting,” said López-Gatell, who rose to national prominence in 2020 as the government’s coronavirus point man.

The deputy minister said it was regrettable that cancer patients are being used as pawns in a protest movement against President López Obrador and his administration. He also denied that there is a lack of cancer drugs, even though parents have protested countless times against shortages since the current government took office in late 2018.

If there are widespread shortages, why “do we only see 20 people at protests … at [the Mexico City] airport,” López-Gatell asked.

Children at cancer meds shortages protest
The faces of right-wing extremism? Children at a medications shortage protest.

“They’re the same people [who have been protesting] since the start of the government’s six-year term. One realizes that they’re fabricated groups,” he said before raising the possibility that people are being paid to protest.

Facing widespread criticism for his remarks, López-Gatell on Tuesday backtracked on some of his claims, telling reporters that parents’ concerns about a lack of cancer medications for their children were “absolutely legitimate.”

“What I said and what I maintain is that the phenomenon of cancer in itself is regrettable, tragic and painful. That girls and boys suffer from it is doubly or many times more painful. That these same people lack medications is also painful,” he said.

“… We believe that fathers, mothers or family members of children with cancer have a legitimate reason to have concerns, it’s absolutely legitimate,” López-Gatell said.

“… What I said last Friday on the [television] program … that was broadcast Sunday and which I sadly maintain [is that] human pain is exploited by economic, business and political interest groups that want to profit from human pain. Let it be very clear, our sympathy, our solidarity goes to fathers and mothers or any family members of children with cancer or any other illness … and that’s why we’re working tirelessly to get the medications,” he said.

His coup plotting remarks were described as “regrettable” by Andrea Rocha, a lawyer who represents the parents of more than 200 children with cancer who have been affected by drug shortages. She claimed that the government is trying to discredit the protest movement to distract from its own failure to purchase sufficient medications to put an end to shortages.

Omar Hernández Ibarra, parent of child with cancer
Omar Hernández says López-Gatell has tried ‘to vilify our movement’ during two years of protests against shortages. File photo

Omar Hernández Ibarra, president of an association of parents of children with cancer, said that López-Gatell can say whatever he likes, but the group he heads will remain focused on pressuring the government to resolve the shortages.

“It doesn’t matter what the man has said. … In two years, he’s only been to one meeting with parents of children with cancer. … He’s tried to vilify our movement the whole time, but what matters today is that they didn’t keep [the promise] to get medicines to hospitals [last weekend],” he told the newspaper El Universal. “That’s what worries us and what we must occupy ourselves with.”

Hernández said that another protest would be held today at the Mexico City airport, stressing that only parents of children with cancer who are currently affected by drug shortages will participate.

“We don’t want this movement to be politicized because that only causes damage. It takes credibility away from our demands. For us, the only thing that is important is for the government to comply with the supply of medications. We don’t want anything else, and we don’t want the [political] parties to join and use us for political gain,” he said.

Parents of children with cancer and civil society organizations have also called for a national protest against drug shortages on Wednesday. It has been confirmed that protests will take place in Guadalajara, Veracruz city and Mexico City, the newspaper Reforma reported.

Another national protest to demand that the government resolve drug shortages is scheduled for July 24. Parents of children with cancer and people with HIV/AIDS who have been affected by shortages of antiviral drugs are among those set to take to the streets.

With reports from El Universal, Reuters and Reforma 

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