Drugs withheld from poorest Mexicans

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The Independent US

Mexican technocrats unleashed a cruel social experiment on some of the country's poorest villages by deliberately withholding medicine and vitamins from 10,000 target families for up to two years, a newspaper alleged yesterday.

Mexican technocrats unleashed a cruel social experiment on some of the country's poorest villages by deliberately withholding medicine and vitamins from 10,000 target families for up to two years, a newspaper alleged yesterday.

The capital's leading newspaper, Reforma, detailed how - during the former President Ernesto Zedillo's six-year term - one department ran an internal efficiency study on its widely publicised aid scheme for Mexico's poorest, called Progresa. The autocratic PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party), which ruled Mexico for the past 71 years, prided itself on hand-outs for the hungry. Out of all its aid initiatives for loyal rural districts, the Progresa programme - which gave food and drug supplements and a cash bonus to parents who enrolled children in schools - was the most visible.

Yet shortsighted social development officers split communities and unwittingly provoked violence against women receiving aid, the paper alleged, when some needy individuals were tagged as a control group of have-nots and deliberately deprived of essential food supplements and drugs. The resentment and deprivation went on for two years until a department study concluded that the programme was a failure because most recipients squandered their cash payouts on junk food. Higher levels of assistance were instituted last January.

Carlos Rojas, the former Social Development minister, denounced the Progresa study as "deplorable" and "absolutely outside the ethics and morals that should prevail in a scientific analysis". He blamed mid-levelministry officials for creating the control group. More than 500 destitute communities in Guerrero, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Puebla, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, and Veracruz states took part in Progresa.

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