June 6th – Mexicans protesting a military crackdown on drug cartels launched a convoy protest Saturday that will travel through some of Mexico’s bloodiest towns on its way to the US border.
This dispatch was done for AFP. You can see it here on their YouTube channel.
It wasn’t hard to imagine what the real crucifixion of Christ might have been like if you were anywhere near the populous, working-class neighborhood of Iztapalapa in Mexico City last Friday.
Nothing was left to the imagination in what is one of the world’s biggest Passion plays. Holy Week, or Semana Santa, sees the staging of a number of scenes from the Bible on the streets of Iztapalapa, including Palm Sunday and the Resurrection. But none are as dramatic as the reenactment of Good Friday.
An estimated 2 million people descended on Iztapalapa on Friday to witness the 166th annual crucifixion, this year of Diego Villagran, the 18-year-old local playing the role of Jesus.
The sheer number of people taking part in or watching what was well-organized chaos was similar to portrayals of the crucifixion one might have seen in films such as “Ben-Hur” and Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ.” Babies and young children sat atop their parents’ shoulders, crammed into crowded streets and pushed up against police barriers as some of the 4,000 actors in the street play bayed for the blood of “Christ”.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s ubiquitous street vendors showed no shyness in taking advantage of the religious event. They were everywhere, flogging sunhats, bottled water and stamps of the face of Jesus, while offering to imprint the faces of those willing to pay five pesos.
The heat of the April sun, combined with the severe water shortages that the borough also experienced over the week, made the setting feel uncomfortably real. When the blood-soaked “Jesus” staggered past, surrounded by a jeering crowd that kept pushing him to the ground and laughing, it was hard to resist the urge to wade in and save him from his violent destiny.
But Villagran was well prepared for his ordeal. He has been in training for the role since January, when he was selected during a casting process from 20 young men from the neighborhood (watch the video above, filmed over a period of three months, to see Villagran prepping for his big day).
Playing the lead made Villagran into a temporary celebrity here in Mexico, and he says he has had at least one media interview a day since he was given the role.
Over the last few months in the build-up to his big week, Villagran trained daily on the Cerro de la Estrella, a steep hill that doubled as Mount Calvary on Friday. His preparation included dragging a 190-pound cross around a 2.5-mile running track and doing push-ups with a brick on his back.
But he also said that he had to do some spiritual preparation for the role that included, naturally, regular visits to church, but also what he described as “finding himself, within himself,” and asking himself at every step of the process why he was doing it.
“It doesn’t scare me to play this role – it makes me feel proud and gives me confidence,” says Villagran, who is unusually tall for his 18 years and stands head and shoulders above most of the men in the neighborhood.
Although a big guy, Villagran is still boyishly handsome, and he was striking in the role of Jesus. But he says that acting isn’t something he’s planning to pursue, adding that he’s more interested in becoming an engineer at the state-owned oil company Pemex.
“Since I was little, I’ve watched the procession, and I always wanted to see myself there – I always wanted to play the main role,” says Villagran.
“And now that they’ve given me the chance, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Well, he certainly did.
Video: Diego Villagran trains for the role of Jesus on Iztapalapa’s Cerro de la Estrella. Photo image: A video still taken from the above film. Click here for more images on Flickr. Video and photographs by Deborah Bonello
Last week, I was invited to speak at the University of Texas Pan America about this website, MexicoReporter.com, violence against journalists in Mexico, the drug war coverage and how new technologies are contributing to the journalism beast. So I went.
The day started with a panel discussion about media coverage of the “drug war” in Mexico. I can’t help but put those two word in commas because, well, it just makes it sound so dramatic. Although it IS dramatic — the violence I mean — it’s not like the whole country is at war. Far from it.
The panel was filled by three representatives from local media, as well as three journalists from Mexico – none of whom spoke great English so a lot of the discussion was lost in translation.
The panel session was rather like a lot of television news – about a mile wide and an inch deep. It was frustrating because it focused so much on the current border violence plaguing the line between Mexico and the United States, without delving any deeper.
As I said pointed out during the discussion, the drug-related border violence between Mexico and the United States is really just the head of the beer – the violence is present in many of the country’s states and failing to report that misrepresents the problem.
Failing to report the U.S’s seemingly insatiable appetite for narcotics — which is the main driver between the illegal trade — is also problematic. One of the speakers described the responsibility of the U.S for the drug violence problems in Mexico as a “school of thought.” I’d say it’s a hard fact, not a theory. People buy fair trade coffee but then roll up a joint or have a few lines of coke at the weekend — chances are they haven’t stopped to think much about where their drugs come from and at what price in the same way that they worry about the origins of their coffee.
There was also a lot of concern over whether the border violence is “spilling over” into the United States. There was a lot of difference of opinion over that issue, and not one that I could apply any of my own experience to being based mainly in Mexico City. What I DO know that the Los Angeles Times (full disclosure: I spend the majority of my time working for them) has reported drug-related incidents spilling over into the United States here and here.
It’s also been reported by the LATimes that the drug cartels are moving in on the people smuggling business.
The other thing the television reporters during the event in Texas were especially were keen to talk about was what they see as the similarity between Mexico with the Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was a hard one for me to sit still through. Although the drug-related violence around Mexico is widespread and brutal, there are also huge swathes of the country — Mexico City being one of them — where you wouldn’t even know that there was a “war” on between the drug traffickers, as well as between them and law enforcement .
It’s my understanding that the vast majority of the 7,300 or so people that have been killed in drug-related violence since the start of 2007, when Calderon’s offensive began in earnest, are either law enforcement agents, drug traffickers or people involved in some way with the drug trade. Innocent civilians have been caught in the cross-fire, but they’re in the minority.
The media coverage of the drug war shows us how now more than ever, in these times of media accountability and economic hardships, we have to balance information and news provision with a need to entertain and engage audiences.
Everyone wants to report accurately, but they also want good ratings / reading figures / hits. Good reporting takes time and money — the internet means that news rolls now, there ARE no deadlines. Blood and guts gets more viewers / readers. In a time and cash-poor world, its understandable that alot of coverage focuses on the blood and guts of the illegal drug story. Understandable, but is it forgivable?
Peter Gabriel, the musician and activist, implored Mexico President Felipe Calderon to show “real political will, muscle and budget” in investigating the hundreds of unsolved murders of young women in the border town of Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua Friday.
Speaking to a packed press conference through a translator, and flanked by Mexican film star Diego Luna and musician Saul Hernandez from the band Jaguares, Gabriel said that he asks no more young women have to suffer the same fate as more than the 300 girls and young women who have been murdered in the border town since 1993.
He also asked that “all those families who are still suffering an enormous pain have the chance to find out the truth of what happened to their kids, to their family members, and to get some kind of justice and reparation.”
Towards the end of the press conference, Gabriel was asked what he thought about the current levels of drug-related violence in Mexico and whether Calderon’s military strategy would be a success. The drug war in Mexico has killed more than 7,000 people since the beginning of 2008 — read more about it here.
Gabriel answered that a new, global approach was needed to fight the illegal drug trade, and that, in his opinion, legalization of drugs is the obvious solution.
“I would rather the doctors were administering the drugs than the drug traffickers,” said the musician.
Peter Gabriel is a prominent human-rights activist, and in 1992 founded the nonprofit group Witness, which uses video and online technologies to bring human-rights violations to light.
A press release from the federal government about the meeting between Calderon and Gabriel reported that “President Calderón pledged to combat any abuse of authority and to promote the repairs of damage to victims. At the same time, he confirmed his government’s will to combat impunity. He said that federal forces are collaborating with the local authorities to solve the cases of feminicides.”
See the video for footage from the press conference.
The music of Mexico’s drug trade has taken a beating lately. As we reported from Tijuana last year, some radio stations south of the border have stopped playing the songs and promoters have banned the music from many public events. Nightclub owners ask bands to turn down narcocorrido requests.
Richard Marosi wrote: Narcocorridos still draw legions of fans, despite government
efforts to squelch the music. Calor Norteña played the song about
Villarreal only because of repeated requests from hard-drinking
bar-goers. But it was a momentary exception to a backlash that has
succeeded like none before in changing people’s attitudes toward the
music, say members of several bands, nightclub owners, concert
promoters and government officials.
They describe a growing dislike, even revulsion, for music that critics
say celebrates the people terrorizing a community that has suffered at
least 207 violent deaths this year. Attendance at narcocorrido concerts
has dipped; bands say audiences request the music less and less,
preferring dance and romantic tunes that take their minds off the
But Mexican artist Cristina Rubalcava wasn’t put off by the controversy. After writing a song for los Tigres Del Norte about the controversial 670-mile fence project along the U.S.-Mexico border, she got to listening to some of the band’s narcocorridos and created a mural that illustrates phrases from more than 40 of their canciones. Watch the video for more.
Mexico City’s Museo de la Ciudad is playing host to a photojournalism exhibition — Expofotoperiodismo — that features nearly 50 photos from 2008. You can see some of the images featured in the show in the above slide show.
All images appear courtesy of the Museum de la Ciudad, and the show runs until April 19th.
Young animal rights activists took to the streets in central Mexico City on Sunday, chanting “Corridas de toros — vergüenza nacional (bullfights — a national shame).” They were protesting the hundreds of bullfights that take place here in Mexico.
The march was attended by about 800 people, most of them in their late teens or early 20s. It began at the Hundido Park on Avenida Insurgentes at midday, a few blocks from the Plaza de Toros Mexico, the biggest bullfighting venue in the country and one of the largest in the world with capacity to seat 48,000 people.
The protesters walked just a few blocks north, taking up a lane of traffic. Many of the motorists driving by honked in support.
Mariana Hernandez, a 20-year-old biology student clutching a sign that said “Ya Basta! (Enough, already)” said, “The bulls that they kill are living things. They shouldn’t kill them for fun.”
“The more of us that are here, the better,” said Manual Hernandez, 19, another protester. “This is the second year that I’ve come here and there are more of us every time.”
Many of the activists that we spoke to mentioned 11-year-old apprentice matador Michel “Michelito” Lagravere, who in January killed six calves in the bullring in Merida, southern Mexico.
“It’s such a cruel act and that a child of this age is promoting this type of activity and being treated like a hero is really bad. He killed six calves — in reality, that’s six children,” said 28-year-old Israel Arriola, another activist taking part in the march.
The protest was organized to coincide with the 63rd anniversary of the Plaza this week. Bullfighting was brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s and nowhere is it more popular outside of Spain than in Mexico.
Claudia Ortega, 25, a coordinator at Animanaturalis.org, one of the organizations behind the march, said a survey conducted by the nonprofit group found that 75% of Mexicans are against bullfighting, but that very few act on their views.
“Each year, 250,000 bulls or horses die in bullfighting or related activities” worldwide, she said. Ortega expressed hope that protests such as Sunday’s might encourage more Mexicans to speak out.
Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH is its Spanish acronym) appealed to authorities over the weekend to investigate thoroughly the recent killings of a number of journalists here, and to put an end to the impunity for those who murder members of the profession.
Since 2000, 45 journalists have been killed in Mexico, according to the latest missive on the issue from the human rights body. Those who cover organized crime are especially at risk.
The appeal from the CNDH follows the recent murders of Miguel Ángel Villagómez Valle, editor of the newspaper La Noticia, in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán state; David García Monroy, columnist from El Diario, Chihuahua; and José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, from El Diario in Ciudad Juárez, in the state of Chihuahua.
The largest number of killings of journalists has been in Tamaulipas, where nine cases were recorded since 2000. Six journalists were slain in Chihuahua, and four in each of the following states: Veracruz, Oaxaca and Michoacán.
The CNDH also refers to the recent attack on the offices of the Culiacán newspaper El Debate earlier this month, which it said was an attack on the fundamental rights of the newspaper’s workers. Two grenades were thrown at the offices in the early hours of the morning of Nov. 17. No one was hurt.
Towards the end of last week, the global non-profit Reporters Without Borders issued a statement appealing to the international community, and especially the United States and Canada, to grant asylum to journalists fleeing Mexico.
Violence against journalists in Mexico has become increasingly intense over the last few years. In 2007, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report that the country in 2006 was second only to Iraq in dangers for journalists.
Today, the CNDH said that it “deplores…the lack of results from investigations to identify and apprehend those responsible.”
Reporters Without Borders issued an appeal to the international community today to provide asylum for journalists fleeing Mexican cities such a Ciudad Juarez. The non-profit appealed especially to the United States and Canada to provide humanitarian assistance.
Journalists in Mexico who cover organized crime are often risking their lives. The move from the global press-protection network comes in the wake the murder of Armando Rodriguez, crime reporter on El Diario, who was shot dead in Ciudad Juarez last week, and the problems some journalists are experiencing in attempting to escape Mexico.
Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a fellow reporter of Rodriguez at El Diario, fled to the United States in June because he was getting death threats, reports Reporters Without Borders. But the non-profit claims that Gutiérrez Soto has been detained in the Texan border town of El Paso since June after entering the United States “in an unauthorized manner – while his asylum request is considered”.
“Gutiérrez has remained in detention despite a recent reminder by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees about the obligation to provide asylum. He could remain there
for several more months as a hearing scheduled for today has been postponed until March.“
Gutiérrez Soto is not the only journalist to have fled Mexico. As we reported yesterday, Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of the news website La Polaka, fled Mexico yesterday with his family to the United States after receiving death threats in his home city of Ciudad Juárez.
Luís Horacio Najera, a correspondent for the national daily Reforma, is currently in Canada, and the managing editor of Reforma, Alejandro Junco de la Vega, went to the United States several months ago for what he said were safety reasons.
Reporters Without Borders said:
“Claudio Tiznado, a reporter with Géneros, a newspaper based in Hermosillo, in the northwestern state of Sonora, requested asylum in Tucson, Arizona, in May 2007 but was unsuccessful and returned to Mexico a few months later.
“Misael Habana had a similar experience. Habana used to co-produce a news programme on the privately-owned national TV station Televisa with Amado Ramírez, who was murdered in Acapulco, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, on 6 April 2007. He requested asylum in Canada but gave up after seeing it was going to take a very long time.”
Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of the news website “La Polaka,” has fled Mexico with his family to the United States after receiving death threats in his home city of Ciudad Juárez, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.
His departure follows the killing of crime reporter Armando Rodríguez last week, who was shot to death on Thursday November 13th when he was in his car.
Aguirre told the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET), a non-profit based in Mexico City, that when he was on the way to reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón’s funeral last week he received a call on his cell phone.
“They told me, ‘You’re next,’ and because of the way things are, I decided to take my family and leave,” said Aguirre.
“I left everything: my house, my office. I left my car in a public parking lot. I was very scared. I didn’t ask the authorities for help, I don’t trust them.”
BorderReporter.com did some digging around about what was going on just before Armando Rodríguez was killing last week.
I’ve ascertained a few details from Juárez, some chismes that a few birds sang last night.
On October 29, Rodriguez, a cops reporter for El Diario, had co-written a story about the murder of a nephew of Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez. The story in its entirety is at the end of this posting in case it’s removed from the Diario site. He pretty much knocked that one out of the ballpark.
The nephew, Andrés Sanchez Pineda was murdered along with two other men. Forty-three AK-47 rounds were found at the scene.
In the story, Rodriguez and the other reporter noted that the nephew, Andrés Sanchez Pineda had been arrested in El Paso, Texas, three years before for trafficking more than 350 pounds of weed. He pleaded guilty, admitting that he was supposed to haul the weed in a tractor-trailer to Tennessee. Carry on reading here…
When he was murdered in late October, he’d been driving a Dodge Ram truck that belonged to the State of Chihuahua. Sanchez was not a government employee.
“La Polaka” is an online political newspaper that frequently, according to CEPET, publishes critical reports. It covers information from the state capital of Chihuahua City, Ciudad Juárez, and El Paso, Texas.
The persecution of journalists here in Mexico is common. Just this weekend, two grenades were thrown at the offices of the Culiacán newspaper El Debate. The explosions, which shattered windows but caused no injuries. Click here for more.
– Deborah Bonello in Mexico City
Veteran Mexican crime reporter Armando Rodríguez was shot to death yesterday morning while in his car in the border city of Ciudad Juárez.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have both condemned the killing.
An unidentified assailant shot Rodríguez, 40, a reporter for the local daily “El Diario”, at least eight times with a 9mm weapon, according to Mexican news reports and CPJ interviews. Rodríguez was sitting in a company-owned Nissan sedan parked inside his garage at about 8 a.m. when he was shot, local authorities told CPJ. His young daughter, Ximena, who was in the car at the time of the attack, was uninjured. According to Jaime Torres Valadez, the local mayor’s spokesman, the reporter was pronounced dead at the scene.
“We mourn the death of Armando Rodríguez and offer our deepest condolences to friends and family,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “The unprecedented wave of violence against the Mexican press must be halted immediately. We urge state and federal authorities to promptly investigate Rodríguez’s slaying and bring those responsible to justice. Mexico needs to break the cycle of impunity in crimes against journalists.”
The motive is unknown except that Rodriguez covered the crime beat for his newspaper, El Diario de Juárez, for more than a decade.
The newspaper is staying silent about the murder thus far, but this is what my colleagues in Juárez and some law enforcement sources in Texas report this morning:
Rodriguez had actually fled recently to El Paso recently; I don’t know if he used his cross-border visa or had sought political asylum. But believing he was safe, he returned to Juárez and resumed work at the newspaper. A threat came in over the past few weeks, I’m unclear on the date still, and the newspaper sought police protection for him but none was forthcoming.
Rodriguez is the second news reporter at El Diario to flee Mexico for the United States. A second, whom I will not name for security reasons, is currently living in the United States under asylum.
Five journalists have now been murdered in Mexico this year and one has gone missing, says Carlos Lauria with the The New York-based, Committee to Protect Journalists.
As we reported last week, Mexicans don’t have much faith in the word of their government. The natural reaction of many here in Mexico following a plane crash last week that killed Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño as well as former top anti-drug prosecutor Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos has been suspicion.
Some statistical, rather than just anecdotal evidence, emerged of that this morning in a survey published by the Milenio newspaper here in Mexico. The telephone questionnaire, based on 500 telephone interviews with people over 18, reports that more than half of all Mexicans – 56 percent – won’t believe that the plane crash last week that killed the country’s interior minister was an accident, even if a government investigation declares it so.
Furthermore, 48 per cent of respondents said that if the government investigation into the crash does in fact find that foul play was at work, the authorities will bury the facts.
Of the remaining respondents, 41 per cent said that the government WOULD inform the public if foul play was found, but that they’d hide some of the details, and the other eight percent said that they didn’t know.
A plane carrying Mexico’s Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño and eight others crashed in central Mexico City last week, killing everyone on board and at least four other people who were in the street when the plane came down.
The death of Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos as well as Mouriño spurred theories that the plane crash could have been the work of criminal gangs because both were key players in President Felipe Calderon’s fight again organized crime in Mexico. But opinion differed last week as to the impact the deaths of the two men would have on calderon’d fight against crime and the country’s powerful drug cartels.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the death of Mouriño and José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos was a “colossal setback” to Mexico’s battle against drug traffickers. But analysts interviewed by the LATimes Ken Ellingwood said otherwise.
Mouriño’s death seems unlikely to significantly alter the course of Calderon’s 2-year-old, uphill campaign against drug traffickers.
“He may have been incredibly important, personally, to the president. But it’s hard to see where the ship of state has been affected,” said Daniel Lund, a Mexico City-based pollster and political consultant.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation currently being carried out by Mexican, British and American officials, it looks like many Mexicans have already made up their minds about what happened last week.
The Mexico Government maintains that there is no sign of foul play surrounding the plane crash on Tuesday night here in Mexico City that killed interior minister Juan Camilo Mouriño, the former deputy chief Federal Prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos and more than 14 others. The victims were honored this morning in an official ceremony.
The Los Angeles Times reports the above, adding:
The crash…was a serious blow to President Felipe Calderon at a time when his government is locked in a violent struggle against drug traffickers and faces growing signs of economic trouble related to the global downturn.
But both gossip and common sense do raise the question of the possible involvement of Mexico’s powerful drug trafficking networks in Tuesday’s “accident”. As we saw earlier this year during Morelia’s September 15th Independence Day celebrations, certain factions of Mexico’s drug networks are willing to take out their frustrations not just on Mexico’s politicians but on the public themselves if the ensuing arrests are to be taken at face value.
[Note: The entire matter of the Morelia bombings has gone quiet since those arrests were made and those confessions from Julio César Mondragón Morales, Juan Carlos Castro Galeana and Alfredo Rosas Elisea presented to the public. As MexicoReporter.com noted at the time, the arrests pose as many questions as they provide answers. How do three men throw two grenades? If these guys are soldiers - or the highly trained hit men that Los Zetas are rumoured to be - then why do they look like the average man off the street rather than trained killing machines? Or were they just hired by the Zetas to do their gruesome bidding? And physical bruising visible on some of the suspects suggest that confessions might have been extracted under questionable circumstances.]
The Christian Science Monitor could be right in reporting this morning that the death of Mouriño and José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos is a “colossal setback” to Mexico’s battle against drug traffickers. That’s convenient both to the drug traffickers themselves, and of course elements within the Mexican government who want Calderon to look as though his plan against the drug cartels is failing.
Santiago Vasconcelos was the former deputy chief Federal Prosecutor and a leading advisor to President Felipe Calderon in the drug war. At the time of this death he had resigned after complaints about his ineffectiveness and corruption within the elite, organized crime-fighting agency that he led. During his career, he suffered a number of attempted assassinations.
“The other high-ranking official, Vasconcelos, had dedicated most of his life to fighting organized crime. He survived at least one potential assassination attempt this winter, when five hit men allegedly out to kill him were arrested. He headed the organized-crime division for the Mexican attorney general until August.
“US Ambassador Antonio Garza said the two men were models in the fight against organized crime” (Christian Science Monitor).
The Presidential office released a statement saying that the plane’s black box has been sent to the Unites States for analysis and that results can be expected within a week. The press noted the involved of both British and United States authorities in the investigation, no doubt intended to give it more credibility and transparency than an official Mexican investigation alone would carry.
“Monterrubio … introduced journalists to marvels of Mexican culture, such as the Day of the Dead, a holiday that features hot chocolate, sweet buns and offerings of brandy and cigars to the departed. He also hosted tours of the Mexican Cultural Center on 16th Street to showcase murals of fabled painter Diego Rivera, husband of artist Frida Kahlo” (Washington Post).
Two members of the protest movement that activist and videographer Brad Will was covering when he was shot dead more than two years ago have been arrested in connection with his murder, according to reports at the end of last week here in Mexico (LATimes and New York Times).
The arrests have infuriated supporters of the dead journalist, who have campaigned for justice since his death and complained about official investigations into his murder.
They claim that Will, who was reporting for IndyMedia, was shot dead by government agents in October 2006, while he was covering an anti-government protest in Oaxaca involving the People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO).
Mexican government investigations, however, say that Will was shot at very close range, suggesting his assassins had to be fellow protesters or at least those in the crowd near him at the time of his death.
A deputy prosecutor said they identified the alleged shooter based on witness statements.
“All agree in identifying the suspect as the person who was about two meters in distance from the victim,” said the deputy prosecutor, Victor Emilio Corzo Cabañas.
Officials identified the suspected gunman as Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno. The other arrested man, Octavio Perez Perez, and at least eight other people are accused of helping hide Martinez.
Both were supporters of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, known in Spanish as APPO. The group’s leaders denied the allegations. LATimes
But as our friend Daniel Hernandez points out on his blog Intersections, stills from the final footage on Brad Will’s camara suggest otherwise.
The arrests of Martinez and Perez has prompted the National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico to label the investigation riddled with “omissions, deficiencies, irregularities, and delays.”
Amnesty International this afternoon called for the protection of Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno, currently in custody in Santa María Ixcotel, where the human rights organization claims the activist is at risk of being tortured in order to procure a confession to the crime of which he is accused. Amnesty also raised doubts about the thoroughness of the investigation into the journalist’s death.
Estas fallas incluyen la incapacidad para evaluar las pruebas forenses y la investigación de todos los posibles sospechosos, entre ellos funcionarios del Estado.
These failures include the inability to evaluate forensic evidence and the investigation of all of the possible suspects, amongst them, government employees. (Amnesty International statement).
“She said some words to my mother that I’ll never forget: ‘Don’t be scared, but they just said on TV that they’ve found a girl that fits Alejandra’s description. We still don’t know if it’s her. Don’t be frightened but call and ask,’” said Maria Luisa Garcia, who stayed outside to speak to their neighbor while her mother Norma went into their modest house in Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico.
“Suddenly I heard a loud thud,” said Maria Luisa.
“When I ran inside to see what it was, my mother was on the floor crying. I said to her, ‘What is it? What is it?’
“The cell phone was on the floor and she was yelling: ‘Not my daughter! Not my daughter!’ ”
Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade disappeared on Feb. 14, 2001, when she was leaving the maquiladora, or factory, where she worked in Ciudad Juarez, which sits on the United States/Mexico border with Texas.
The 17-year-old mother of two never reached home. Five days later, her body was found on waste ground wrapped in a blanket, displaying signs of physical and sexual abuse, according to Amnesty International. She had been held captive for several days before she was killed.
Lilia Alejandra is one of the 370 women who have disappeared in Mexico’s Chihuahua state since 1993. Her story is the main focus of Bajo Juárez, a documentary film that was five years in the making and that opened here in Mexico this weekend.
Directors Alejandra Sánchez and José Antonio Cordero follow Alejandra’s mother Norma Andrade –- housewife turned activist -– in her unsuccessful campaign for justice over the death of her daughter in what is a moving and fair portrait of a community that feels utterly abandoned by its legal system.
The directors took a photojournalistic approach to the documentary, which features poignant video portraits of young women in Ciudad Juarez on their way to work or going about their daily business. The women stop for a few seconds to gaze into the lens of the video camera as life goes on around them.
But that’s the only beauty to be found in the film, which offers another necessary but ugly account of the repeated failure on the part of the Mexican authorities, local and federal, to put a stop to the killings and bring all of those responsible to justice.
The multitude of directors and film crews who have made films about the situation in Ciudad Juarez have reported hostility from authorities in the city, but director Sanchez said that wasn’t the problem in making the documentary, which was filmed discreetly with a very small crew.
“The biggest difficulty was giving order to what is universal chaos –- that was the hardest thing,” said Sanchez, who started work on the film with co-director Cordero in 2001.
As with the scores of young women who have been abducted and killed in Ciudad Juarez over the last decade, Alejandra’s unsolved case probably won’t be the last. And this documentary is one of dozens of other films, plays and other artistic projects to take up the cause –- the latest and most high profile project was a movie called BorderTown that starred Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas. That played across cinemas in Mexico earlier this year.
Although Bajo Juárez was finished more than two years ago, the documentary only made its commercial cinema debut this weekend. Sanchez said that it was “complicated” trying to get the film released earlier than that. Former Mexico President Vicente Fox, who refused to be interviewed for the film but whose administration provided archive footage, was the focus of Norma Andrade’s campaigning efforts. But Sanchez argues that it’s not important that Fox’s “sexenio,” or six-year term, ended before the film got its commercial release.
“I think [current Mexico President Felipe] Calderon has the same responsibility that Fox or [his predecessor] Ernesto Zedillo. This year alone, 35 women have disappeared,” says Sanchez.
Although the situation in Ciudad Juarez has persisted for more than a decade, inspired numerous media and Hollywood movie projects and become an international scandal for Mexican authorities, human rights groups say that many of the cases remain unsolved. Amnesty International also claims that “those responsible for the systematic failure of investigations have not been held to account.”
So the question is: Will this documentary make any difference?
“I think it’s really important that people see an X-ray of the system of impunity that exists in Mexico,” said Sanchez, adding that her expectations, nevertheless, are limited.
“My most realistic hope is that it leaves a record, on celluloid, of one of the blackest stories in Mexico’s history,” she says.
And while Bajo Juarez is an eloquent, honest account of these grim crimes, the killings of women in Ciudad Juarez are far from being part of history. Not yet.
Image: A screenshot from the documentary Bajo Juarez, provided through http://www.bajojuarez.com/
– This post was written for La Plaza, Los Angeles Times, by Deborah Bonello.
Today, people of all ages will march in memory of a massacre that took place forty years ago in Mexico City – an event that remains one of the darkest in the country’s recent and bloody history.
On October 2nd 1968 the country was gearing up for the opening of the Olympics here in Mexico City but Mexico – like many other nations around the world – was in the midst of a student movement.
Hundreds of peacefully protesting students, men and women were shot dead by government forces in Tlatelolco’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas near the city’s center that night.
The Mexican authorities have yet to establish the facts of what happened on October 2nd 1968, despite efforts on the part of the families and groups representing those killed.
Earlier this year, an exhibition opened just off La Plaza De Las Tres Culturas in Mexico City in memory of the events of that night.
You can watch a video about that tragic night, and the new show in its memory, below. Tomorrow, we’ll have words and pictures from today’s marches across the city.
Image: A monument in the center of La Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco, Mexico City remembers the hundreds of people killed of “disappeared” on the night of October 2nd, 1968. Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times
“And then I heard a thump. There was a patrol car parked in the street blocking the cars – a transport patrol – and I heard something hit the patrol car. I turned round to see and something rolled…when it stopped I realized that it was a grenade.”
Rafael Bucio, a 30 year old car-parking attendant, was out with his wife and two small children in Morelia, Mexico on Monday night enjoying the Independence celebrations when two grenades went off.
Bucio’s wife Gloria Alvarez, 32, was holding their three-month old son Uriel in her arms when the explosion happened. She died from her injuries in a public hospital. The baby somehow escaped unharmed.
Watch Bucio tell his story of that night in the video below.
Meanwhile, Ken Ellingwood reports that three arrests have been made in connection with the two bombs which went of in Morelia on Monday night, killing seven people and injuring more than a hundred.
Two explosions during Mexican Independence Day celebrations in the western state of Michoacan killed eight people Monday night and injured dozens more, we reported yesterday.
I spent the day down on Reforma where, as Mexico’s military marched, people reacted to the bombings.
A story emerged here in Mexico today surrounding the emergence of a couple of videos which apparently depict the Mexican police, in the city of Leon, being instructed in the art of “torture” by an unidentified, English-speaking foreigner.
The videos are posted below – some viewers might find them offensive. (more…)
April is shaping up to be a bad month for journalists in Mexico. (more…)
In February this year, the car of Mexican journalist Estrada Zamora was found empty on the side of the road in the southern state of Michoacán with its engine running. Zamora was not inside and has not been seen since.
Click on the link above to read the full article, published today by Index on Censorship.
This is a version of an article which appeared in Press Gazette last month.
While traveling home through Pánuco, Veracruz with his 16 year old son in late January this year, Octavio Soto Torres, journalist and director of the Mexican daily Voces de Veracruz, was shot at by four masked gunmen. This was just the latest in the ongoing litany of attacks against journalists in Mexico. Torres, who escaped alive, is known for his harsh criticism of local authorities.
As Mexico continues its transition towards a real democracy and the administration of President Felipe Calderon ups its fights against narco-traffick and organized crime in the country, journalists who cover politics, drugs and crime take huge risks. Attacks take place nearly every week and few are ever investigated, according to NGOs monitoring freedom of expression issues in the country.
Although fewer journalists were murdered in Mexico last year than during 2006, the levels of violence and intimidation against them have increased, according to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) and Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission.
So what are editors and journalists doing to avoid serious harm? Mostly nothing – literally. (more…)
There is a great Leader in this Sunday’s Observer which makes a point I’ve often debated – how cocaine takers in Britain and the US, which provide the demand for the illegal drug industries in Latin America, tend not to think too hard about the impact their weekend drug habits might be having on other people.
If they did, given the trend for ethical shopping that is sweeping the Western World, demand would surely drop.
Mexico remains the deadliest country in the Americas for journalists with two murders in less than a month, and three disappearances, according to today’s annual report from Reporters Without Borders. Three journalists were murdered last year, and three media workers were shot dead.
Those levels are an improvement on 2006, when nine journalists were killed, but 2008 is looking grim if the stats are to be believed. As many journalists were killed last week than in the whole of last year. (more…)