Protesters in Mexico blocked the southbound vehicle lanes leading away from the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Wednesday afternoon, demanding that their government take stronger measures at the border to protect the nation from the coronavirus.
The group of citizens, who called themselves the Sonorenses Por la Salud y la Vida (Sonorans for Health and Life), parked two cars across the lanes leading out of the port beginning at around 1 p.m.
Approximately six or seven protesters then stood in the blocked lanes, holding signs with the hashtag #QuedateEnCasa (#StayHome) and slogans such as “We demand control of the border.”
“We need to protect our population because if the problem were to worsen in our country, Mexico doesn’t have the economic, infrastructural or medical capacity to confront the situation,” protest leader Jose Luis Hernandez told the NI.
Still, he said, the protesters weren’t asking the government to close the border — just to take stronger measures to screen people entering Mexico from the United States for the virus.
The United States implemented restrictions on non-essential travelers at its ports of entry with Mexico starting last Saturday. But the only visible measure implemented on the south side of the Nogales ports has been the sporadic presence of Mexican Public Health Secretariat staff, who have set up tables to hand out coronavirus literature, provide hand sanitizer and offer – but not require – a temperature check for incoming travelers.
The table that had been set up in the pedestrian area on the south side of the DeConcini port was not there on Wednesday afternoon, however.
“What we want, both in the vehicle and pedestrian areas, is for there to be health authorities – but with better control of the people who cross,” said Hernandez, who noted that the United States has the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world. “Because now, many infected people don’t show symptoms. We need Mexico to impose better control in some manner to keep this thing from spreading."
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken flak at home and from abroad for downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus threat and moving slowly to implement preventative measures, even as governors of states including Sonora and the mayor of Mexico City imposed restrictions and urged people to stay home.
In recent days, as Mexico’s number of confirmed cases climbed past 400 and deaths started to add up, the administration began taking more decisive action, which included asking businesses to suspend operations that require employees to travel to and from work, and closing “non-essential” federal offices effective Thursday.
One protester at the port on Wednesday held up a sign directed at López Obrador. Referring to the president by his initials AMLO, it read: “We need you to look out for our health. Get moving, AMLO!”
Asked if he was confident that López Obrador would take sufficient action to protect Mexico’s citizens, Hernandez said: “The truth? No. But we as citizens must demand that he complies with his responsibility, and we hope that he does.”
During the action, municipal police and members of Mexico's newly created national guard stood around the perimeter of the protest, but did not make an effort to remove the protesters or their vehicles.
Authorities turned some northbound vehicles away from the port as well, though pedestrian traffic was not affected by the protest. The Mariposa and Morley Avenue crossings were not affected, either.
Meanwhile on the north side of the DeConcini port, Nogales Police Department officers detoured traffic away from the Mexico-bound vehicle lanes.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., Michael Humphries, Nogales port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, tweeted that the demonstration was no longer impeding southbound traffic at DeConcini.
Sonoran media reported that the protesters had agreed to stand down after receiving assurances from local, state and federal officials that more protective measures would be implemented at the border.