By Rommel Téllez of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Legislators, leaders of indigenous associations and general public paid a small tribute to Alexander Montenegro Tuesday night at the legislative assembly. It was not a big event and passersby could have asked themselves who that person was and why he was being cheered on like some hero.
The reason why goes back to Jan. 4, 2017, in Alto Quetzal, an indigenous community located in the Turrialba canton, which is part of Cartago province. It also goes back to a day in the life of Claudio Jiménez, an indigenous man who belongs to the Cábecar tribe.
That day, he was returning home after buying a chicken to feed his family. To get to his community he is forced to cross the Chirripó river by pushing himself on a tram attached to a zip line. He did this as usual but this particular instance found his finger snared with the zip line and the grip.
The wound was so bad that he almost had his finger cut clean off at the first phalange. Scared and bleeding he headed to the closest clinic, which if walking takes at least three hours. By the time he arrived to the Alto Quetzal clinic, it was 6:30 p.m and the only doctor available refused to check him out on the grounds that she had finished her shift two hours before.
She told him to return the next day or to call 9-1-1.“She then closed the door and hid,” Jiménez said.
The Alto Quetzal medical staff actually sleeps on-site. They start their shift Mondays at 5:30 a.m and go home Fridays at noon.
He then felt like fainting and sat on a small sidewalk next to the clinic. That’s where Montenegro showed up and helped him out as much as he could. Being a technician in with the attached pharmacy, he provided the wounded man with painkillers and food.
He then walked away to find a better cell phone and call an ambulance, despite the doctor instructing him not to do so.
“It is my personal phone and I call who I want to,” Montenegro fired back at the doctor angrily.
When he returned, he saw Jiménez with a bloody bandage someone had put on him and looking pale.
“This man had been walking for hours while bleeding. It was really urgent to get him an ambulance, which would take several hours to arrive at the place and then some more hours on the way to hospital,” he said.
Finally, Jiménez was taken to Hospital William Allen, where he stayed for four days.
But that’s not the why Montenegro has been praised.
Bothered with the whole situation, Montenegro decided to make the case public and got in touch with Mario Redondo, a legislator for the Alianza Democráta Cristiana party.
“I approached him because he is the legislator representing Cartago and he’s been involved in indigenous issues for some time,” explained Montenegro.
The legislator took the case to session, making the case broadly known in the Spanish language media.
At the same time he talked to the lawmaker, Montenegro filed an official complaint before the authorities of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social and a formal investigation kicked off, probably under the pressure of public opinion and media attention garnered.
Several weeks later, and with the testimonies of Jiménez and another witness, the Caja authorities finished their investigation and found the doctor guilty of not abiding by the institution’s guiding principles.
According to a press release issued by Redondo’s office, the investigation found that “not only formal and technically incomplete attention was provided, but also the behavior of the doctor was contrary to the precepts that guarantee an integral, universal, and egalitarian care.”
Her sentence was a two-day suspension without pay. Unexpectedly, the same authorities applied the same punishment to Montenegro, on the grounds that he should have first taken the case to the Caja authorities and not making it public.
“This is a way to silence the good officials, to tell you to be quiet because we will punish you if you don’t behave in the way we want you to,” Redondo said in a statement.
“At least I believe this resolution also sends the message that, not only the indigenous people, but all the users of the Caja deserve respect and good treatment.”
As of now, the accused doctor has filed an appeal to the sentence, and so did Montenegro, however he plans to let the whole situation go and accept his punishment. That’s why some call him a hero albeit a silent one.
“I’ve had almost zero support from my colleagues but a lot of support from people with whom I never expected would show it,” Montenegro said. “Even public officials have congratulated me and that feels good.”
“However, I’ve been in fear of being fired and I just want to stop all the stress me and my family have gone through.” he explained.
As of today, Montenegro has been transferred to another medical team where he feels his colleagues do not trust him much. “I think they truly believe I’ve been disloyal. They think of me as a snitch,” he said.