Alcocer Plays the Ostrich Game
By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
Mexican Public Health (SSA) Secretary Jorge Alcocer Varela could be the first high-level employee in the current leftist administration to be given a judicial order of dismissal, not just for ignoring a federal judicial order, but also for signing into law an official strategy that does not even come under his jurisdiction, that is the de facto suspension of the right of all Mexicans to viable health care.
Last week, news began to circulate about a coronavirus outbreak in Alcocer’s offices and other areas of the SSA. For many Mexicans, who have largely condemned Alcocer for his wretched mishandling of the covid-19 pandemic, which so far has led to the death of nearly 283,000 Mexicans, that outbreak was seen as a sort of cosmic karma.
But as it turned out, the SSA covid outbreak had very little to do with cosmic laws or divine justice.
Even though President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his so-called health experts keep telling the Mexican public that the covid-19 numbers are on a decline, Alcocer had to respond to the outbreak on his very doorstep.
And that response consisted in a closure of the affected offices from Oct. 11 through Oct. 18, particularly for the purposes of receiving any legal injunctions or notifications from jurisdictional authorities.
Clearly, the only thing that the SSA authorities were really trying to contain is the mounting anger over its competency.
Meanwhile, all injunctions and appeals by desperate patients and their families seeking life-saving medications are simply being rejected out of hand.
The official stance of the SSA in response to these desperate appeals is to tell the victims to wait and refrain from purchasing drugs on their own, since, according to Alcocer and company, drug distribution companies are all pharmaceutical mercenaries who are just out to make money.
Alcocer, who is known for passing the buck of responsibility onto others and who is much better at hemming and hawing than actually presenting tangible solutions to Mexico’s increasing health crisis, probably did not come up with this plan on his own, but with the help of his chief deputy and covid czar Hugo López-Gatell (although, admittedly, this is just speculation).
But regardless of whoever had the idea, the ruling, which was published in Mexico’s Official Gazette published on Monday, Oct. 11, bears the signature of Alcocer, and that makes him responsible for all the absurdities and legal omissions that it entails.
Alcocer seems to have thought that by closing the doors of his office, he could avoid having to respond to the flood of lawsuits and appeals from Mexican citizens seeking medical justice.
But that simply was not the case.
On the very same day that the SSA closed its doors for all legal matters, Mexico’s federal judiciary notified Alcocer that whether or not his office doors remain shut, he is still responsible for responding to all legal summons, suits and appeals in a timely manner.
And, the judiciary said, to try to hide behind the shuttered doors and play ignorant to legal actions and summons in fact constitutes an act of contempt, only making matters worse for Alcocer and the SSA.
On Tuesday, Oct. 12, another federal court, this time based out of the State of Mexico, issued a resolution ordering the federal government — and specifically the Public Health Secretariat — to vaccinate all children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, not just those that it deemed high-risk.
Still trying to play possum, the SSA said that it was not going to recognize that legal order because it hadn’t received the formal notification to vaccinate children between 12 and 17 years old.
Of course, the reason it had not received that notification — which was published in major newspapers nationwide — was because the SSA had closed its doors to avoid being notified.
The folly of not admitting its mistakes in the face of a still-raging pandemic has led Mexican health authorities to seemingly ignore an evident and irrefutable fact: Vaccination is an inalienable right of all Mexicans, be they children, youth, adults or the elderly.
Faced with the SSA’s ostrich mentality, citizens have resorted to, and will continue to resort to, the defense mechanism that Mexican law provides for to combat arbitrariness and abuse of authority: the amparo (habeas corpus) trial, created and adopted to protect every Mexican against any violation of their rights perpetrated by a public official.
Now, in view of the force of the law that has demanded that they vaccinate minors and deliver cancer-treating drugs to those who need it, the good gentlemen of the Public Health Secretariat, Alcocer and López-Gatell, are going to have to dig their heads out of the sand and get a bitter taste of judicial medicine.
ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”