JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Juarez doctors are refusing assignments in rural communities in northern Mexico where criminals have murdered two of their peers in the past two weeks.

“The situation is worrisome,” said Dr. Daniel Garcia, an internist who took part in a protest last week in front of the Social Security Hospital in Juarez. “We cannot wait for another martyr before action is taken. […] We don’t want what happened to (Massiel) or our colleague from the University of Durango to happen to us.”

The doctors and medical school students carried signs saying “The dead cannot hold consultation,” and “How much blood is needed to bring change.” It was the third protest in the last two weeks. The last one took place on Monday in front of the Human Rights Commission office.

Juan Alberto L.G. (State of Chihuahua)

On July 11, a man wielding an AK-47 rifle allegedly went on a violent pre-dawn spree in San Juanito, Chihuahua, firing shots in the air and breaking into at least two homes to sexually assault women, Mexican news media reported. One of his victims put up a fight and he allegedly shot her dead. The victim was Dr. Massiel Mexia Medina, a single mom and anesthesiologist at the local hospital.

Police arrested the suspect, 19-year-old Juan Alberto L.G., after receiving an anonymous tip later that day. They found the man tied to a utility pole, badly beaten and with a sign next to him saying, “This happened to you for killing the doctor and raping a woman.” An AK-47 was left next to him.

The Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office said a judge has ordered the suspect to stand trial for Mexia’s murder. Authorities did not say who captured and tied up the man.

On July 15 in the neighboring state of Durango, three vehicles carrying armed men who reportedly were under the influence of drugs and alcohol parked in front of the hospital in El Salto. Dr. Eric Andrade, an intern, went outside to escort some patients and was caught in the crossfire when the men in the cars began fighting, Mexican media reported. He was shot in the head.

Peers said Andrade was two weeks short of finishing his internship and Mexia was getting ready to travel to her native Sinaloa to attend her daughter’s kindergarten graduation.

“This is not new. This did not start when Massiel died,” said Dr. Pamela Morales, an Autonomous University of Juarez graduate who participated in protests last week. The newly minted professionals are demanding the Health Department stop sending them for mandatory one-year internships to communities where drug traffickers seemingly run rampant.

Women hold a portrait of Jesuit priest Javier Campos Morales as the funeral procession of Morales and fellow priest Joaquin Cesar Mora Salazar arrives to Cerocahui, Mexico, Sunday, June 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

Mexican authorities and U.S. security experts say a battle has been raging for at least the past three years between cells of the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels for control of marijuana-growing areas and transportation corridors to the United States in the western mountains of Chihuahua.

Each cell is almost autonomous, so when one of its members “goes off the rails,” there’s little accountability, drug experts like Scott Stewart of TorchStone Global say. Just last month, a drug trafficker in Cerocahui, Chihuahua, allegedly killed a pair of locals and two Jesuit priests following an argument over a baseball game. The man, Jose “El Chueco” Portillo remains at large.

Juarez protests organizer Dr. Jose Antonio Garcia said medical interns have been threatened, assaulted and sometimes abducted by members of organized criminal gangs in the Chihuahua countryside since at least 2015.

Dr. Jose Antonio Garcia

“Madera, Bocoyna, Guadalupe y Calvo, Guachochi, Batopilas … they’re all high-crime towns where we know our fellow interns have been placed in dangerous situations,” Garcia said. “We relayed this to (health authorities) and they gave us a lecture on the importance of community service. They told us it’s normal to experience danger, but we don’t want to be placed in danger.”

He added that some of his peers that have been threatened by drug traffickers or even abducted have reported such incidents to health officials. But instead of contacting authorities, the officials “tell you you’re lying, that you probably missed work because you got drunk. This is a complete lack of respect.”

Garcia said the latest list of internship destinations that came out this week doesn’t include “dangerous towns.” However, he said health officials made similar adjustments for the class of 2017 after students staged a hunger strike, only to restore the destinations in 2018.

Guillermo Asain, leader of the Juarez public safety watchdog group Mesa de Seguridad, said he supports establishing a security protocol to safeguard medical personnel in isolated communities.

“We know that rural communities are extremely (dangerous),” he said. “We cannot tell the medical authorities, ‘you should not send them there,’ but we believe that having this dialogue will benefit our communities.”