May 23, 2008

Doctors on strike and expect more

By Mariana Martínez

Men and women with blindfolds, bound hands and feet , a store-owner crying in rage, after numerous robberies, family members asking for the safe return of their brother, their sister, their son who is only 21.

Those where the people that early Wednesday morning, joined the cry for justice and safety, brought on by the Tijuana doctors who want good people to claim Tijuana as their own.

“We are honest, hard working citizens that fight for survival, but with assailants robbing my store so often and the police never there when I need it, how am I going to work?” said the store owner, who lives in an impoverished part of town.

This is the second strike made by Tijuana doctors, who galvanized around the kidnapping of a notorious doctor who is the director of a public clinic.

The strike started at 8 a.m. and ended at 2 in the afternoon on Wednsday, with members of public health systems, ISSTE, ISSTECALI, IMSS, and even some private practice offices closing.


Diana Sanchez Lavenant, 21, wipes away tears during a demonstration to pressure authorities about the wave of crime and kidnapping. Sanchez' brother, Guillermo Sanchez Lavenant, 18, was kidnapped next to the federal attorney general office on April 20, 2008 and the family has had no word of his condition. Photo - David Maung.

According to Medical Association vice-president, German Díaz, the strikes will continue until the kidnappings and general insecurity comes to a hault, even after State Health System authorities have announced possible sanctions against doctors who refuse to work.

“Authorities have every right to do that. We take responsibility for our actions, if we don’t work, they don’t pay, it’s a calculated risk shared by all of us”, said Díaz, “every social movement has a cost, and this is part of that cost and we take it as such”.

According to organizers, around 6 thousand doctors and medical personnel from both public and private clinics have joined the protest against insecurity. Some have joined with symbolic strikes from their workplace; around 500 manifested in the busy Cuauhtémoc intersection, in Zona Río.

The Tijuana medical associations have information of at least 50 doctors who have been kidnapped over the last few years, but hundreds of others have been victims of extortion, threats, muggings and other crimes.

“I decided to push the movement forward because we are sick of this” said doctor José Manuel Ortiz, “I have not been a direct victim, but I see my colleagues, my patients, my city - they are all suffering.

We have stopped seeing patients because they look suspicious, we finish early for fear of robberies, kidnappings or even murders. There´s a case of a doctor who was murdered”, Ortiz explained.

Even the volunteer doctor team, “Flying Sams” have joined the Tijuana doctor strike because they themselves have been victims of crime and corruption.

The doctors, who visit rural communities to offer care, plan a trip every three months, but in their last trip they say municipal police from Rosarito stole cash and valuables after doing a search in their car.

So they decided not to come down and join the cry for justice.

Aside from doctors, members from the Hope Association Against Disappearances, the teachers guild, truckers, and hundreds of drivers joined by honking their horns to show support.

“They took my brother in brought daylight” said a young woman named Cassandra, “security cameras never capture a thing, the authorities never see a thing. The last few months have been torture for us. Time has not healed, but hurt us more because we always ask ourselves, if he eats, if he is cold, if they beat him.”

She tells about the phone calls.

First they asked for 200 grand, then 2 million, then a million, asking for different amounts every time and reminding the family, “this is not a game.”

“But seeing so many people here makes me realize we are not the only ones, this is not only happening to my family, this is happening to Tijuana,” added Cassandra.

Doctors read a list of demands where they stress the need for collaboration, a fight against corruption and the guarantee of safety for all residents.

Because of what they see as a slow response from authorities, doctors are planning even more strikes for next month and they might be adding public transport and schools to their cause.

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