“Sometimes it’s mandatory but they do pay you something.”
The words are those of José N., a doctor in southern México state’s Tierra Caliente, a region notorious for cartel violence and he’s talking about being kidnapped by criminal gangs that need a doctor to treat their wounded.
“We don’t have much choice,” José says. “In the end, they’re human lives and we have to do what we can.”
Scores of doctors have been abducted from México state municipalities such as Luvianos, Tlatlaya, Tejupilco and San Simón in recent years.
While most have returned unharmed after the ordeals, three have been murdered, leaving doctors in the region fearing for their lives.
Ongoing turf wars between cells of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), La Nueva Familia Michoacana, the Guerreros Unidos and Los Rojos mean that doctors’ skills and expertise could be needed at any time.
José, who has been a doctor in southern México state for 10 years and and has been kidnapped by criminal groups at least four times, told the newspaper Milenio that he left Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero – also in the Tierra Caliente region – precisely to escape the kind of violence he continues to see.
“There [in Ciudad Altamirano], kidnappings went hand in hand [with the job]. A lot of doctors closed their offices and I left to have a calmer life but [here] it’s the same,” he said.
But it’s not just abductions and forced labor that doctors have to contend with.
“Here, [criminal] groups ask me for money. I’ve paid as much as 100,000 pesos [US $5,250] because they think that I earn a lot and you end up giving in. It’s that or you leave,” he said.
Another doctor in southern México state, who asked not to be identified due to fear of repercussions, says that criminal groups not only kidnap doctors but seek to exert control over them at hospitals.
“Those of us in the emergency room are most at risk,” he said.
“Straight after a shootout, they call – here almost everyone in the town has our telephone number – to warn you that they’re coming to the clinic, not to ask questions and to attend to their people. We can’t ask their names nor where they’re from . . .” he explained.
The director of a hospital in the region, who also asked to remain anonymous, said that members of organized crime groups have even demanded they be employed as medical staff so it is “they who control everything.”
Carlos Aranza, head of the México state Institute of Health, said that while visiting health care facilities in the Tierra Caliente region a few months ago, he was caught up in an incident involving a criminal gang.
“. . . they showed up at a hospital . . . and demanded medical supplies and some medications,” he said.
Aranza said he told hospital managers to comply with the demands.
He explained that doctors and other medical personnel who have been threatened have decided not to file formal complaints out of fear.
“[The threats] remain on an anecdotal level and don’t progress to a formal investigation,” Aranza said.
The only investigations that have taken place followed the murder of the three doctors, including one whose dismembered body was found near Querétaro in February 2018. However, no arrests have been made.
Aranza said that 36 clinics in four southern México state municipalities have closed as a result of the presence of organized crime and the inability to attract new medical personnel.
He explained that residents of rural communities who were previously able to access health care services close to home are now forced to travel to the larger municipal seats for medical attention.
“There is resistance from doctors, interns and social services personnel to working in the area. They don’t want to go even though there are vacant positions and [patients] to take care of,” Aranza said.
Source: Milenio (sp)