Mexico Red Cross Caught in Crossfire of Rival Criminal Groups

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Red Cross aid workers in Mexico have been forced to accept armed security details following a series of attacks from criminal groups in recent months, underscoring how rising insecurity is affecting the work of international aid organizations in the country.

Volunteers with the Red Cross in Mexico are now operating with state security escorts in the city of Salamanca in central Guanajuato state, El Universal reported, after suffering attacks from criminal groups. The announcement comes shortly after a man with gunshot injuries was dragged out of a Red Cross ambulance and abducted by an armed gang.

The non-governmental organization has called on such groups to respect their lives and work, following an almost identical incident earlier this month. An armed group intercepted a Red Cross ambulance close to Guerrero’s capital of Chilpancingo as it transported a woman with gunshot wounds to the hospital, executing her inside the vehicle and attacking two paramedics, Vanguardia reported.

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Following the attacks, the Red Cross temporarily shut down its efforts, apologizing to its patients but asserting that “all of us who are volunteers in this noble institution believe in our mission, full of the humanitarian spirit that guides us, but at this moment we must take care of our integrity,” according to El Universal.

The following day, however, the organization resumed operations after state authorities in Salamanca agreed to provide armed escorts to accompany paramedics on “high-risk or high-impact calls.” Security forces have so far been unable to identify or locate the perpetrators in either case.

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest attacks are further proof that volunteers with non-governmental organizations continue to be attacked across the country. These attacks are sometimes targeted at specific NGOs but are usually not coordinated acts against humanitarian organizations specifically, being instead crimes of opportunity.

Volunteers often find themselves in the way of a gang’s objectives, such as exerting control over local communities or completing unfinished executions of victims who paramedics were attempting to help.

Indeed, in February of this year, a Red Cross coordinator was murdered in Zihuatanejo on Guerrero’s Pacific coast when an armed man entered his office and shot him in the head. In November 2018, a Red Cross paramedic was killed and four others injured in Guerrero’s small city of Taxco in an incident the state’s governor described as verging on terrorism. A group of gunmen opened fire as volunteers were distributing humanitarian aid to local residents.

If the threats and attacks against Red Cross workers and those they tend to continue, the group may be forced to shut down operations in Mexico altogether. This would be a serious blow to some of the country’s poorest rural communities, where groups like the Red Cross have taken on the role of providing essential healthcare in the absence of government assistance and effective security strategies to protect them from the growing threat posed by organized crime groups.

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