Red Cross volunteers in Mexico given armed escorts after thugs seize patient – The Guardian

Organization boosts security as drug cartels show disregard for the work of physicians and first responders in conflicts with rivals

Red Cross volunteers in Arriaga, Mexico on 26 October 2018.




Red Cross volunteers in Arriaga, Mexico on 26 October 2018.
Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Police in an especially violent Mexican city have started providing armed escorts for Red Cross ambulances after gunmen pulled a wounded man from an emergency vehicle over the weekend.

The Red Cross suspended emergency services on Saturday in the city of Salamanca in Guanajuato state after a group of armed men threatened paramedics who were responding to a shootout. Service has since resumed, but police will escort paramedics in certain situations.

“We’re all volunteers in this noble institution. We believe in its mission … but at this time we must care for our physical integrity. We, too, are parents, children and brothers,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “Red Cross volunteers are not part of any conflict.”

Drug cartel thugs have long showed disregard for the work of physicians and first responders – going so far as to burst into operating rooms to rescue colleagues or finish off rivals. In the heroin-producing heartland of Guerrero state, thugs recently stopped an ambulance transporting an injured woman to the hospital and shot her dead.

The state of Guanajuato, the centre of Mexico’s automobile manufacturing industry, has become one of the most violent regions in the country thanks to violence between criminal gangs specializing in siphoning petrol from pipelines. On a single day in June 2018, six traffic officers were murdered in Salamanca, 300km northwest of Mexico City.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president commonly known as Amlo, announced a crackdown on fuel theft earlier this year, provoking shortages at petrol stations in some states.

The president recently called his crackdown on fuel theft a success, but violence has surged since he took office 1 December 2018.

Government statistics show 8,524 homicide victims over the first three months of López Obrador’s administration, an average of 94.7 per day – numbers Amlo disputed when pressed on the topic by journalist Jorge Ramos at a 12 April press conference.

Public security secretary Alfonso Durazo later confirmed the grim figures. But he said homicide figures in March had dropped by 21% – a figure some security analysts dispute.

“There is no sign that violent homicides have been contained over the first three months of the present federal administration,” security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in El Universal. “That’s not necessarily López Obrador’s fault: he inherited a powerful, upward inertia” and not been able to deploy a militarised police he has proposed to calm the country.