CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Hundreds of doctors in the violence-plagued border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital, held a three-hour work stoppage and a protest outside city hall to demand that the government ensure their safety while on the job.
The organizers of Friday’s protest said that although medical consultations were suspended during the job action, the emergency and intensive care areas of all health centers and hospitals remained open.
Leticia Chavarria Villa, a general physician and member of the Citizens’ Medical Committee, said that the crime epidemic in the city makes it nearly impossible to work.
“The conditions in the city are deteriorating and all of us as citizens have to unite to (gain power in numbers) because it’s not easy to (make one’s voice heard) with isolated efforts,” she said.
During a rally outside the mayor’s office, Chavarria delivered state officials a list of eight demands that the doctors say would ensure workplace safety.
“This is a battle for the safety of our families, the staff that works in the health sector and the entire community at large, because it’s in everybody’s interest that things start improving,” she added.
According to a newspaper tally, five doctors have been killed and 16 others have been abducted thus far this year, The victims include physician Guillermo Ortiz Collazo and his assistant, who were killed in a car-bomb blast on July 16 while treating victims of an earlier explosion.
Psychologist Carlos Perlasca said the situation in Ciudad Juarez has reached such extremes that nearly all residents are technically suffering from chronic anxiety.
Perlasca said he himself has been a victim of kidnapping and that that experience prompted him to relocate to El Paso, Texas, which lies just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez.
“For any person who’s been personally affected, whether by a kidnapping or extortion, the symptoms flare up to the degree that you need a great deal of help,” he said.
According to mental health specialists, the recent wave of extortions and kidnappings in Ciudad Juarez has forced hundreds of mental health physicians to cross the border to El Paso, Texas for psychological care.
Journalists, members of other unions and representatives of more than 30 civic organizations that have been affected by the violence also joined in the demonstration.
Human rights activist Gustavo De la Rosa Hickerson said at the rally that even amid the violence “dedication and an enormous capacity to work” are defining characteristics of Ciudad Juarez residents.
More than 2,300 people have been slain so far this year in Juarez.
Most of the killings are attributed to a battle between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels for control of prime smuggling routes into the United States.
The cartels also are involved in other types of criminal activity, with a recent report on crime in Ciudad Juarez revealing that more than 40 businesses have been burned for failing to pay protection money and at least 300 others have shut their doors since 2008 due to fear of kidnappings and extortion.