by Diego Cevallos
(IPS) MEXICO CITY --
government of the impoverished southern Mexican state of Guerrero indemnified 16 Native men
who were pressured and tricked into undergoing vasectomies. The compensation amounted to a grand total of $2,000 and a few bags of cement.
The physicians who carried out the procedures in 1998 were recognized as guilty by the Guerrero Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission, both of which are official bodies.
The doctors were part of a mobile team sent out by the health secretariat of the state of Guerrero. The 16 complainants were demanding $16,000 in compensation.
The men were sterilized by force and by means of deceit, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
The 16 men reported that the doctors promised them subsidies of $168 every two months, as well as clothing, shoes and food if they agreed to a vasectomy, and that they threatened to cut off their social welfare benefits if they refused to undergo the procedure.
The indemnification that was delivered this week included cash, several bags of cement, and scholarships for the men's children. But the complainants said that before the reparations were paid, they were threatened by Guerrero state government officials, in an attempt to keep the case from going public.
Forced sterilization, mainly of women, is a common practice in poor areas of Mexico with large Indian populations, says the local Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez human rights group.
In 1999, human rights groups presented a report documenting 15 forced sterilizations of Native women, carried out in several Mexican states, to United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson.
Human rights organizations report that at least 300 Native women have been sterilized without their consent -- a number that could be much larger, as many of the victims do not dare to speak out.
Some of the cases involve women who have been sterilized after giving birth through cesarean and women who have had IUDs inserted without their knowledge or consent. Other women merely report a "painful procedure" carried out by the mobile health teams, which they can neither describe nor understand.
Voluntary sterilization is one of the tasks carried out by medical brigades that periodically visit marginalized areas, said the Guerrero state secretariat of health. But it conceded that no one should be forced or tricked into accepting the procedure.
More than 90 percent of Mexico's 10 million Native people -- of a population of 100 million -- live in extreme poverty. The birth rate among Indians stands at 3.8 children per woman, compared to a national average of two, while infant mortality amounts to 48.3 per 1,000 live births, much higher than the national rate of 28.2 per 1,000.
More people in Native communities are sterilized than in the population at large, and most do not dare denounce that they were pressured or forced into doing so, out of fear, said Arturo Campos, president of the Independent Organization of Mixtec and Tlapaneco Peoples in the state of Guerrero.
The 16 Native men were forced to undergo vasectomies by means of "deceit and threats, and now they live in shame because of it," said Campos.
"Where we live, that is not our custom. Many people laugh at them, saying they can no longer have sex. Great psychological damage was inflicted on these men, and it was a violation of our customs," he added.
The Guerrero Human Rights Commission said "artifice and deceitful measures were used to obtain the consent of the complainants, who due to the situation of extreme poverty in which they live agreed to undergo vasectomies."
According to the testimony he gave, Vicente Catarino, a father of three who was only 23 years old at the time, said he agreed to the operation because "they were going to give me money and clothing too, and all the food I needed.
"But they didn't give me anything, they just fooled me...and they only gave me 50 pesos ($5.60), that's all. But I didn't want to have the operation because I'm young."
Martin Garcia, 34, a father of seven, said he was sorry he gave in to the doctors' pressure. Now "we feel ugly, because life has changed for us, we feel we are no longer normal people," he added.
April 17 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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