MEXICO CITY – Unprotected reporters, children sick with cancer who fight to get their medications, women who are struggling to ensure their own safety. These are the forgotten groups amid the COVID-19 crisis in Mexico, groups that say they have been abandoned by a Mexican government that has focused its attention and resources on combatting the pandemic.
After passing one million confirmed cases and on the verge of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, which hit Mexico on Feb. 28, the disease is not the main concern of Omar Bello, a journalist who has been told he must leave the capital and now fears that they will drag him from his home.
“They want to get me out of here where I am, because this is a (place) that is allegedly very expensive,” he said, given that Congress abolished the funding that protected him and allowed him to live in Mexico City.
Bello is one of the 418 journalists in Mexico who are sheltered by the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.
His situation, after suffering threats and even being beaten up in his native state of Guerrero, forced him to move to the capital and enroll in the Mechanism to safeguard his life.
However, the elimination of 109 funded positions by the government during the pandemic to save more than 68 billion pesos ($3.33 billion) put Bello and others on the ropes.
“There will be a tremendous impact because if they were killing us even with the (protection), without it they’re going to keep killing us but now there won’t be anywhere we can go,” he said.
Mexico was the country that had the highest number of journalists murdered in 2019 – 10 – followed distantly by Pakistan, which had four, according to the tally kept by Reporters Without Borders. In 2020, eight journalists have already been murdered in Mexico.
Bello is convinced that the government took advantage of the pandemic “in a very partisan and deceitful way” to eliminate the 109 grants to science, culture, sports and human rights.
“Lawmaker Mario Delgado told us that we should understand that the situation … was necessary to alleviate COVID-19,” he said.
Israel Rivas doesn’t have COVID-19, but he met EFE at the doors of a hospital where his six-year-old daughter Dana was having a medical appointment for her leukemia.
The lack of medications for children with cancer is a problem that has been plaguing Mexico for more than two years, but the pandemic “has affected it a lot.”
“They skip the medications, they alter the protocols and this directly affects the kids’ recovery and health. The pandemic has delayed the treatments and has had very big repercussions on the 20,000 kids with cancer in the country,” Rivas said.
This father and breadwinner, who had to move from the southern state of Chiapas to the capital so that his daughter could get treatment, said that the waiting times since December 2018, when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office, “have doubled” for cancer patients.
“At times (Dana) waited an hour for the appointment, but now she waits three or even four hours. It’s gotten longer with the pandemic. She comes in at 9 am and leaves at 2 pm,” he said.
Besides eliminating the 109 grants, Mexican lawmakers modified the Health Fund – known earlier as the Catastrophic Expenses fund – to allow the federal government to access up to 33 billion pesos ($1.6 billion) initially allocated for treating diseases like cancer, something that is “very serious,” Rivas said.
“Who’s going to revive the dead if this doesn’t work, if the expense insurance disappears?” he asked, adding that 1,600 children with cancer had died during this COVID-19 crisis because of a lack of medicine.
The ghosts that were revived last Monday were those from the past regarding police abuse and especially violence against women, when police used gunfire to disperse a demonstration against a femicide in the tourist resort of Cancun.
The march had been organized as a protest over the murder of Alexis, one of 724 women killed since January around Mexico, according to official figures.
During the pandemic, as the government itself acknowledged through Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero, violent deaths of women because of their gender “did not stop or diminish.”
The ongoing situation of violence against women spurred certain feminist groups to take over the capital headquarters of the National Commission for Human Rights on Sept. 3.
More than two months after the takeover, the women who occupied the site are still there, and Erika Martinez, the mother of a girl who was raped and one of the activists in charge of the occupation, said that “We’re going to keep fighting until this stops.”