Judge Orders FGR to Investigate López-Gatell’s Negligence in Covid Response
By MARK LORENZANA
A Mexican federal judge has ordered Mexico’s Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) to resume an investigation into Undersecretary of Health Hugo López-Gatell’s responsibility for the deaths caused by the covid-19 pandemic in the country, according to a Tuesday, May 9, statement from law firm Coello Trejo & Abogados, which is in charge of bringing the complaint against López-Gatell.
The law firm represents the relatives of Felipe del Carmen Jiménez Pérez, one of the more than 330,000 people who died in Mexico due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The original complaint against López-Gatell was filed in November 2020 with the FGR, explained Javier Coello, the firm’s managing attorney, but has since been dismissed — that is, until its recent reopening. Incidentally, the reopening of the investigation comes one day after the undersecretary declared, after three years, the end of the health emergency in Mexico.
Coello Trejo & Abogados filed the case in November 2020 on behalf of the family of Jiménez Pérez after he succumbed to the virus. The family’s lawyers then accused López-Gatell and the Health Secretariat for “failing to fulfill their obligations” and causing “the death of thousands of Mexicans” and, specifically, of Jiménez Pérez. The FGR, at that time, analyzed the case and determined, in December of that year, that it would not continue with the investigation, considering that “the facts did not constitute a crime.” Arturo Medel, federal control judge of the South Prison, has revoked that decision, essentially ordering the FGR to investigate López-Gatell again for his actions — or alleged inaction — during the height of the pandemic.
“We reiterate that we will continue through legal channels, demanding justice for the thousands of covid victims in Mexico who — due to the negligence of duty on the part of the government, false reports given to the population, and the fact that this current administration has hidden from the nation the reality of the pandemic’s effects — suffered their unfortunate fate,” said the law firm in its official statement. “Responsibility falls to those who, by law, had the obligation to foresee it and the duty to care for the health of Mexicans.”
When the covid-19 pandemic officially hit Mexico, the health undersecretary has been the visible face of the federal government in the fight against the virus. As a result, López-Gatell has — fairly or unfairly — become the target of both praise and criticism, even more than the secretary of health himself, Jorge Alcocer, who barely appeared during the regular press conferences that were given every afternoon at the height of the pandemic to update citizens of critical figures and new regulations in dealing with the virus.
Indeed, it was López-Gatell who received criticism for his inflexible attitude in some aspects of the country’s health protocols, such as minimizing the importance of the use of face masks and regular testing for the virus, or the persistence with which he asked citizens to stay home if their symptoms were not serious — instead of encouraging them to go to hospitals or health centers, which were severely understaffed at that time.
Medel, in his decision to revoke the March 2023 resolution not to exercise criminal action on López-Gatell, ordered the FGR to continue its investigation on the health undersecretary, specifically citing the fact that early in the pandemic “at no time were foreigners prevented from entering Mexico regardless of their vaccination status” and that “certain activities considered essential for the country’s economy, such as public transportation, an activity that the victim’s father was engaged in, were not suspended.” The judge likewise admitted that the case “is quite complex.”
Although the official death toll from the pandemic reported by the Health Secretariat is at 330,000, it admits that there may be more casualties that have not been accounted for, specifically those who have died in their homes.