Red Cross clinics in some parts of Mexico are refusing to treat people wounded by gunshots after finding themselves caught in the drug war, with cartel hit men intercepting ambulances to seize patients and even killing a Red Cross worker this week.
Miguel Angel Valdez, director of operations for the Red Cross in the Gulf coast city of Tampico, said he implemented the policy after gunmen this week forced an ambulance over at gunpoint just two blocks from a Red Cross clinic and dragged off a man wounded in a gun battle.
"We have made the decision at the (local) Red Cross not to accept patients from prisons or wounded in armed clashes, because that puts the safety of our personnel at risk," he said.
In drug-plagued Sinaloa state on the Pacific coast, police started escorting ambulances and guarding Red Cross clinics after a Red Cross dispatcher was killed Sunday in crossfire by assailants who followed a wounded man to a clinic to finish him off.
Maria Genoveva Rogers is believed to be the first Red Cross worker killed since President Felipe Calderon launched his drug war in 2006.
Hundreds of emergency personnel, medical technicians and ambulance crews took to the streets in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan, some holding a banner that read "Service Suspended ... We Demand Safety" as ambulances accompanying the march blared their sirens.
"We are just calling on everyone to respect the symbol of the Red Cross, but there has been a loss of values," said the state's Red Cross director, Arnoldo Montano. "It is like people have forgotten what the Red Cross is."
Culiacan's Red Cross clinics closed for two days following Rogers' death. And in the violent city of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, doctors and other personnel at two government-run clinics stayed off the job Tuesday to protest gunmen barging into emergency rooms to either rescue wounded comrades or execute rivals.
Gangs have also targeted doctors for extortion.
"We are one of the sectors that has been most affected by the situation of violence," said Dr. Leticia Chavarria Villa, president of the Medical-Civic Committee, a nonprofit group founded in the wake of the wave of violence that has swept the city.
Some doctors now refuse to admit patients at private clinics after 6 p.m., or they see only people who have been referred to them by their other patients, she said.
Amid the drug violence that has killed more than 17,900 people in Mexico in a little more than three years, even the criminals seemed to respect the Red Cross, an organization known for treating everyone — regardless of gang allegiance, criminal or social status, said Valdez, the Red Cross director in Tampico.
"But suddenly, these rules are being broken," he added.