Doctors for Global Health: Promoting Health and Human Rights 'With Those Who Have No Voice'
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Dr. Juan Manuel Canales
Winner of the 2006 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights
Acceptance Speech, Awards Banquet during the Global Health Council's Annual Conference, June 1, 2006, Washington, DC


For Dr. Jonathan Mann, Of Whom Many Say: "He Changed My Life," A Thank You
It is of a man walking purposefully and very quickly toward the destinies of others, when I think of you, of a man who heals with his eyes and his gift to show that the listener, the watcher, the wordsmith in your presence is one-on-one, as essential and important to his own and the world’s plans as any being alive.

Rather than being "nice" to an oppressive person or idea, you spoke with truth, respect and love. Even your critics wisely praise you now. Dare they do other? Their destinies depend on you; not yours on theirs. Interested in and tolerant of others and their opinions, yes; yet, fighting injustice, you were merciless.

Tireless, yet essentially so very human; enough to fear and make mistakes; enough to overcome them.

Image: your last moments, probable that death was near, you drew your soul-mate close and with her strongly fought like hell to live. Prioritized. Having called your loved ones. Having shown enough to insure that we, the to-be-vaccinated, the masses, the friend-shared, the intimate, the family, we keep on.

"Sweet blood," they call it in Morazán, the from-within flow of goodness, caring and judgment without stigma which makes a leader of the spirit and the mind. You have it. Listen to what the "unknown" people say about your having come and gone. Listen to our loss, and yet our inspiration. Listen to the pain.

How many persons are loved both by their families and by the "unknown" persons of this world?

Crystal clear is the river you have led us to, the stream of Health and Human Rights, the revolution for human dignity and social justice, as individuals, as communities and as healers in and of this world. Difficult water, yet you did not work for thanks. We navigate and hold compass with your inspiration.

— By Lanny Smith

  • In Loving Memory of Dr. Jonathan Mann, by Lanny Smith
  • The Deafening Silence of AIDS, first Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture, by Edwin Cameron

  • Dr. Juan Manuel Canales
    Dr. Juan Manuel Canales has worked in conflict-affected zones of El Salvador and Mexico for the past 25 years, helping marginalized peasant and indigenous communities demand their human right to health care by establishing community medicine and public health programs. He has worked to train health-care promoters, to augment scarce medical supplies by promoting and using indigenous remedies, and to pioneer the use of community radio as a vehicle for public health education.

    Read the introduction speech by the presenter of the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights Dr. Larry Brilliant, Executive Director,

    For more background on Dr. Canales, read DGH Profile: Juan Manuel Canales, DGH Reporter, Summer/Winter 2003, to learn more about Dr. Canales. You can also read the Letter of Nomination (PDF) for Dr. Canales for the Jonathan Mann Award.

    The photos below show Dr. Canales, tireless in his work, accompanying the indigenous communities of Chiapas:

    Juan Manuel walking with indigenous women

    Juan Manuel training health promoters in the autonomous communities in Chiapas

    Juan Manuel traveling to  remote indigenous communities throughout Chiapas

    Juan Manuel Accepting Good evening.

    Thank you to all those who have made this recognition possible. I want to thank my family, for being so consistently supportive and for being patient with me. I also want to thank Charlie Clements (better known to me as Camilo in El Salvador) who is a tireless activist struggling against the violation of the right to health and other human rights. I also want to thank Linnea Capps and the organization Doctors for Global Health (DGH) for their support.

    I want to bring you a message, not political nor ideological, and to ask you to reflect on it and continue the struggle here or wherever you might be, against any government that violates the right to health, the right to education and human rights for all, that is the legacy of other social activists who have died defending life and protecting life.

    When I was in El Salvador, I heard the news that a war had begun in my country, that the indigenous people had taken up arms against the corrupt government (the fact that it was corrupt was not news to me), and I remembered the suffering of the Salvadoran people during the war in that country. I remembered the consequences of the war for the Salvadoran people. I could see and bear witness to violations of human rights and the lack of respect for medical neutrality set out in the Geneva conventions. In El Salvador not only did they murder nuns, priests, and many civilians, but also international medical volunteers who died trying to take health care to the poor and to be in solidarity with the struggle of the poor. There I learned about the Salvadoran campesinos, I helped teach young people to help their neighbors, and we solved problems together in the middle of a war zone.

    In those moments when I heard the news about Mexico, I wanted to have a magical power to stop the war in my country. I wanted to be with my countrymen and women to treat their wounds, to give comfort to the mothers, brothers and sisters who had lost family members. I felt so small that I could not imagine being able to do anything. I was frustrated, but I always kept alive the hope that some day I would be with them and be able to help. Finally one day I decided to write to Camilo (Charlie Clements) and he told me I should write to Linnea, a member of Doctors for Global Health and that is how I was given the opportunity to be with my people again.

    And so it was that I returned 19 years after having done my year of social service in Chiapas, and I found that the illnesses related to poverty were the same ones that were there when I left Mexico. I found that people still die of preventable illnesses including tuberculosis and whooping cough, that they are sick with diarrhea, parasites, scabies, pneumonia, malaria, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and others. There are still frequent maternal and perinatal deaths, there are children who were born and they died and they never existed because their births weren't registered. Many still live in poor health, they drink polluted water. People with cancer, AIDS, Chagas disease, and tuberculosis still die without dignity, because they don't have money to pay for medications, for medical attention. Many of the doctors are interested only in money.

    The situation for poor people in Mexico, the people in rural areas, is more difficult by the day. Indigenous people and other Mexicans living in poverty find it more and more difficult to get basic health care and education for their children. The Mexican government continues to pursue "low-intensity warfare" instead of fulfilling the accords of San Andrés Larrainzar signed by the same government (under president Ernesto Zedillo). From those of you here listening to me, I ask for solidarity with the indigenous communities and all the other communities of southern Mexico as they demand that their government carry out these agreements.

    In the year 2000, as we entered the 21st century, I began to work in the Community Medicine project of Hospital San Carlos (directed by Sisters of Charity) in Altamirano Chiapas, in a hospital for the poor, in a project supported by DGH. This allowed me to be integrated again in the autonomous indigenous communities, there I began to understand again the aspirations of the communities to improve their conditions of life; there I learned the meaning of autonomous health care and autonomous education. There I learned what they are fighting for. And I learned with them that we can support their struggle, not just by helping provide health care, but also by working in other ways that help improve their lives and their health. For example, we work with women making and selling embroidery, learning to make bread to sell, learning to plant vegetable gardens. That is how we put into practice our philosophy of Liberation Medicine, being in solidarity, accompanying their efforts, strengthening their community and organizational work and training promoters. We work with indigenous women to help them increase their self-esteem. And, little by little, I have been learning the Tzeltal language, their customs, and the respect that they have for their elders and for life. There I learned with them what the textbooks of medicine don't teach us. I also learned with them how to teach them and find solutions together. We are learning from each other.

    War is one of the most serious problems of our world; it can end life and end the development of individuals and communities leaving serious consequences—death, permanent injuries, orphans and widows. But the psychological consequences can be equally serious both for individuals and communities, and can affect entire generations with resentment, hate, and bitterness against the aggressors. This can be inherited by succeeding generations, because the damages are never forgotten. Many of those affected may require medical and psychiatric attention. This may be possible in wealthy countries but in poor countries? How? And with what resources? In the countries that have suffered the effects of the war directly, who pays the damages caused by the war? Who pays for the emotional damage? Who helps those who have suffered the psychological damage? Who pays for the moral damage to the society? How can a family that has been destroyed be revived? If these attacks destroy life, they destroy health. It is the mission of doctors, nurses, and health promoters to defend the right to health and health as a human right; our duty is to teach, to defend, to promote and protect human rights and to denounce the violation of these rights. We hope that as a result of this fight we will help to prolong life and assure that our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our relatives, and future generations will be able to live in dignity. We will be leaving a fertile field where life can grow.

    So much public money is spent by governments (including those of the Unites States, Mexico and many others) in maintaining the politics of "National Security," "the defense of sovereignty" which they tell us is to defend the interests of all citizens. They should be reducing military expenses, expenses for public security, and the high salaries of some public officials. This would make possible free health care and education (paid for with our taxes and our natural resources as is the case in Mexico). We are not asking for political power, not from those who hold the power (and those who have concentrated the wealth of the world into a few hands), something that is impossible to do. We only ask that they listen to the needs of all the sectors of society, to create mutual respect among all the people of good will of any religion, all good citizens of the world. But the reality is that society is polarized, caused by those with the economic power and those who maintain political power at whatever cost, who can impose their will using conventional arms or weapons of mass destruction, and they continue spending and inventing ways to kill us and to exterminate the poor.

    There is no reason that my country has to be this way; a country rich in resources, we are not a poor country as they make us believe. We are not a country without culture. The wealth in Mexico is concentrated in the hands of a few. The rich have stolen from us, they have deceived us. The politicians who have governed us for more than 70 years are to blame for the fact that most Mexicans don't have access to quality public services such as health care and education. The current government is violating our rights day after day; there is persecution, torture, repression, political murder. For this reason I ask you to denounce this and demand that the government of Mexico respect the rights to health and education, and human rights in general, and that you pressure your U,S. government not sell arms nor give military assistance to our government of Mexico.

    But I have faith and I maintain my faith in our struggle, and also faith that some day the people will be more organized and force changes, for their own well-being and that of future generations. Our moral obligation and our work is to continue fighting so that future generations will inhabit a livable world, and to teach them that they should continue fighting to protect and to defend life without regard to religion or political affiliation. And we will be honoring those who have died in this struggle. For this reason, this recognition is not only for me, but rather it is for all those who struggle to change the world.

    Thank you.

    Dr. Juan Manuel Canales
    Recipiente del Premio Jonathan Mann por la Salud Global y los Derechos Humanos del 2006
    El Discurso de su Aceptación, Banquete de Premios durante la Conferencia Anual del Concilio por la Salud Global, 1 de junio del 2006, Washington, DC

    Buenas noches a todos y todas.

    Muchas gracias a todos y todas los que hicieron posible esto, a mi familia, por ser consecuente y saber tener paciencia, para conmigo, a Charles Clements (mas conocido por mi como Camilo y en El Salvador), que es un luchador social incansable en contra de la violación del derecho a la salud y los derechos humanos, a Linnea Capps y el grupo de Doctores por la Salud Global (DGH—siglas en ingles) por su apoyo... Muchas gracias.

    Quiero dejarles un mensaje, no político ni ideólogizado, para que lo reflexionen y sigan luchando aquí y donde sea, en contra de cualquier gobierno que viole el derecho a la salud, el derecho a la educación y los derechos de todos, que fueron y son herencia de otros luchadores sociales que murieron, por defender la vida y proteger la vida.

    Cuando me encontraba en El Salvador, allá recibí la noticia de que mi país (Mexico) se encontraba en guerra, que los indígenas se habían levantado en armas contra el mal gobierno corrupto (no era nuevo para mi), y me recordé del sufrimiento del pueblo salvadoreño durante la guerra, recordé las consecuencias y efectos de la guerra en el pueblo salvadoreño. Pude ver y comprobar la violación de los derechos humanos y que no respetaron la neutralidad medica según la convención de Ginebra, porque ahí en EL Salvador no solo asesinaron a monjas, sacerdotes, población civil, sino que también murieron médicos internacionalistas en el cumplimiento de la practica medica con los pobres por estar al lado de los pobres, ahí aprendí de los campesinos salvadoreños, ahí enseñe a jóvenes para atender a su gente, ahí resolvimos problemas en medio de la guerra.

    En esos momentos que recibí la noticia, quería tener poder mágico para evitar la guerra en mi país, y también quería estar con mis paisanos para curarles sus heridas, para dar consuelo a las madres, hermanos y hermanas que habían perdido sus familiares; me sentí tan pequeño que no podía hacer nada, me sentí frustrado, pero siempre mantuve la llama viva de la fe que algún día estaría con ellos y les ayudaría. Hasta que un día le escribí a Camilo (Charles Clements) y el me dijo que me comunicara con Línnea miembro de DGH y se me dio la oportunidad de estar con mis paisanos, de estar al lado de ellos y ellas.

    Y así fue que regrese a los 19 años de haber realizado mi servicio social en Chiapas, y encontré que las enfermedades de la pobreza eran las mismas, que cuando salí de México, porque aun se mueren por enfermedades prevenibles (tuberculosis, tos ferina) y se enferman de: diarreas, parasitosis, sarna, neumonía, paludismo, chagas, leishmaniasis, etc.), aun hay alta tasa de muertes maternas y muertes perinatales, hay niños que nacieron y se murieron y nunca existieron porque no se registraron, aun se vive en insalubridad, aun consumen agua contaminada, etc. Los cancerosos, los sidosos, los ancianos con chagas, los tuberculosos se mueren sin una muerte digna, porque no tienen dinero para pagar los medicamentos y la buena calidad y calidez de la atención medica. A la mayoría de los médicos solo les interesa el dinero.

    La situación en México, tanto en salud, como en educación cada día es mas difícil acceder para la gente pobre y principalmente para los campesinos indígenas y no indígenas del sur de México. El gobierno de México, esta impulsando una "guerra de baja intensidad", en lugar de cumplir con los acuerdos de San Andrés Larrainzar, Chis. firmados por el mismo gobierno (presidente Lic. Ernesto Zedillo), a ustedes que me están escuchando les pido su solidaridad con los pueblos indios y no indios para que exijan al gobierno de México, que cumpla con estos acuerdos.

    En el año 2000 recién entrado el siglo XXI, empecé a trabajar con el proyecto de Medicina Comunitaria, del hospital San Carlos (dirigido por hermanas de la caridad) en Altamirano Chis. Hospital para indígenas pobres. Proyecto apoyado por DGH. Que me permitió integrarme de nuevo en las comunidades indígenas autónomas, ahí conocí sus aspiraciones por mejorar sus condiciones de vida, ahí conocí lo que significa la salud autónoma y su proyecto educativo autónomo. Ahí conocí el porque luchan. Y aprendí con ellos, que no solo con acciones de salud podemos integrarnos, sino que también con otras acciones que hacen que cambie la situación de salud, que fortalecen la salud. Como por ejemplo: trabajo para hacer bordados, trabajo para hacer pan, dar semilla para hortalizas, etc. Ahí es donde ponemos en practica el significado de "La Medicina de la Liberación" a través de apoyar solidariamente, acompañar sus esfuerzos, fortalecer el trabajo comunitario y organizativo y la capacitación de promotores. Además trabajar con las mujeres indígenas para elevar su autoestima. Y así poco a poco fui aprendiendo un poco su idioma tzeltal, sus costumbres, y el respeto que le tienen a los y las ancianos(as) y a la vida. Ahí aprendí con ellos lo que los libros de medicina no nos enseñan, y también aprendí con ellos y ellas como enseñarlos y hacer las cosas juntos. Aprendiendo mutuamente.

    La guerra es uno de los problemas mas serios a nivel mundial, que acaba con la vida misma y el desarrollo de cada uno de los individuos y las colectividades en el mundo, dejando graves consecuencias como perdidas humanas, discapacitados, huérfanos y viudas, etc. etc. Sino que lo mas, mas, mas grave aun son las consecuencias psicológicas individuales y colectivas de toda una generación como es, el resentimiento, el odio, y los rencores contra quienes los agredieron, y así sucesivamente se hereda por varias generaciones después, porque los daños que ocasiona la guerra misma jamás se olvidan y requiere de mucha atención hospitalaria y siquiátrica para cada individuo, esta atención se puede hacer en los países ricos pero ¿en los países pobres? ¿cómo? Y con que recursos; en los países que han sufrido directamente los efectos de la guerra ¿quién paga los daños ocasionados por la guerra? ¿quién atiende los daños psicológicos? ¿quien paga el daño moral? ¿Quién paga el daño emocional? ¿quién paga el daño sentimental? ¿Como se puede reconstruir la familia, destruida? Si se ataca y se mata la vida misma, se atenta contra la salud, entiendo que la misión de los médicos, enfermeras, asistentes médicos, promotores de salud, etc. y las personas que trabajamos en la practica medica debemos defender el derecho a la salud y la salud como un derecho humano, nuestro deber es enseñar a defender, promover, proteger y denunciar, la violación de estos derechos. Que como resultado de esta lucha será prolongar la vida y vivirán mas dignamente nuestros hijos, nuestro nietos, nuestros amigos, nuestros parientes, y en general las futuras generaciones. Estaremos dejando un campo fértil en donde pueda crecer la vida.

    Todo ese dinero publico que los gobiernos se gastan en mantener la política de la "Seguridad Nacional" "La defensa de la soberanía" y la "Seguridad Publica", dizque para defendernos, deberían de reducir el gasto militar, el gasto en seguridad publica, y los funcionarios públicos bajarse los salarios; para que la salud publica y la educación sean totalmente gratuita (pagada con nuestros impuestos y los recursos naturales como es el caso de México). No estamos pidiendo al poder político, ni a los que están detrás del poder político (los grandes; pero grandes ricos, que tienen concentrada en pocas manos la riqueza del mundo) algo que es imposible hacer, solo tienen que obedecer las demandas de los diferentes sectores sociales organizados y respetarse mutuamente como buenos religiosos y ciudadanos del mundo. Pero la realidad no es así, la sociedad esta polarizada pero por causa de los que tienen el poder económico y los que mantienen y apoyan al poder político cueste lo cueste, e imponer su voluntad utilizando todas las armas convencionales o de exterminio masivo habidas y por haber, y que siguen gastando e inventado como matarnos y exterminarnos a los pobres.

    No hay razón para que mi país este así, como esta, mi país, es un país rico en recursos, no somos un país pobre como nos hacen creer, no somos un país sin cultura, la riqueza en México esta concentrada en pocas manos, los grandes ricos nos han robado, nos han engañado, nos han despojado, los grandes ricos y los políticos que nos han gobernado por mas de 70 años son los culpables que la mayoría de los mexicanos no tengamos acceso a los servicios públicos de calidad y calidez como son salud y educación gratuitos. El gobierno actual esta violando todos nuestros derechos día con día, hay persecución, tortura, represión, asesinatos políticos, etc. Por esta razón los invito a que denuncien y le exijan al gobierno de México que respete los derechos a la salud y a la educación, en general todos los derechos humanos de todos. Y que su gobierno de EEUU no le venda armas ni le de asesoría militar a nuestro gobierno de México.

    Pero tengo fe y mantengo mi fe en pie de lucha y además fe de que algún día el pueblo se organizara más para que todo esto cambie, por el bien y para el bien de todos y las futuras generaciones. Nuestra obligación moral, y nuestro trabajo es seguir luchando para que las futuras generaciones vivan en un mundo habitable, y enseñarles que deben seguir luchando para proteger y defender su vida, sin importar a que religión pertenezcan, sin importar a que partido político pertenecen. Y así estaremos honrando a los que murieron por continuar esta lucha. Por esta razón este reconocimiento no solo es mío, sino que es de todos los que luchamos porque esto cambie.

    Muchas gracias.

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