Albion Monitor /News

Have a Mexican Condom, Go To Jail

by Diego Cevallos

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- While the Mexican government is promoting the use of condoms as the best AIDS prevention measure, police continue to crack down on people distributing -- or even carrying -- them.

"There is a total contradiction among authorities. I wish they would please reach an agreement for the sake of the health of all Mexicans," David Murillo, of the non-governmental organization Friends Against AIDS, told IPS last week.

Publicity campaign designed to encourage the use of condoms and warn of the dangers of AIDS opposed by Catholic Church, religious right
Mexico has the third highest number of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) sufferers in the Americas, after the United States and Brazil, with close to 36,500 people with full-blown AIDS, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

Murillo said members of "Friends Against AIDS" who distribute condoms in Mexico City streets and plazas are frequently harassed or arrested by police, who accuse them of encouraging prostitution and disturbing public order.

But not only people distributing condoms are harassed. "I was coming out of a bar when two police officers asked for my documents. When I took out my wallet they saw I had a condom, and arrested me on prostitution charges," says Carlos Arteaga, a 21-year-old Mexico City resident.

The irony is that Murillo and Arteaga's complaints came a week after health authorities launched a publicity campaign designed to encourage the use of condoms and warn of the dangers of AIDS.

The campaign, which has the support of groups of homosexuals and other anti-AIDS activists, has drawn fire from the conservative Pro-Life organization, which argues that the condom does not provide effective protection, and that the campaign promotes promiscuity.

Catholic Church spokespersons have voiced similar concerns, insisting that the best AIDS prevention is fidelity and stable relationships.

But the National Council for the Prevention of AIDS (CONASIDA) denies that its campaign promotes irresponsible sexual behavior, and points out that many international studies have proven that the use of condoms is the most efficient AIDS prevention method. "We are only sounding the alert and publicizing a form of prevention," says CONASIDA director Carlos del Rio.

Authorities say the attitude of some police officers with respect to condom use is based on ignorance or the outlook for a pay-off. They say the reports of extortion attempts and harassment will be investigated, and the corresponding sanctions taken.

According to government statistics, 36,370 individuals in Mexico had AIDS as of late January, and 194,000 people had tested positive for HIV. Eighty-six percent of the total number were men. The disease is spreading fastest in the capital, where there are close to 4,000 AIDS-sufferers today.

AIDS-related illnesses are the third cause of death among men aged 25 to 34, the hardest-hit group, and an estimated 18,600 people have died of AIDS in Mexico in the past 14 years.

The statistics indicate that from 3,000 to 4,000 new cases of AIDS show up every year. In 87 percent of the cases, the victims are infected through sexual contact.

CONASIDA highlights the "high negative economic impact" of the illness, because the majority of HIV-carriers belong to the economically active population. "The damage to HIV-carriers and their productive life does not start with the development of full-blown AIDS or at the time of death, but begins with the social death that having AIDS signifies.

"Many years before the death of an HIV-carrier, discrimination and the loss of employment and health services isolate the sick individuals and leave them out of the labor process," CONASIDA points out.

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Albion Monitor August 13, 1997 (

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