My final piece from a recent reporting trip to Juarez for AFP:
Multinational-run factories employing tens of thousands are doing brisk business in Ciudad Juarez, even as local businesses in the Mexican border town wither, devastated by the high murder rate and extortion by drug gangs.
You may remember this story I did a few months ago on survival techniques for journalists. I also produced a video on that course for the non-profit that runs it, Article 19, which you can see here as well as on their website.
Mexican poet turned peace activist Javier Sicilia meets President Felipe Calderon, who he has much criticized for the strong-arm military tactics against drug cartels that many blame for unleashing widespread violence.
This video was produced for AFP. You can also see it here on AFP’s YouTube channel.
Daniel Dominguez, one of the hard-worked crime reporters on El Diario, the biggest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, was kind enough to let me spend the day with him last week. Here’s the report I produced for AFP, which you can also see here on YouTube. The same video is also embedded below, in case of geographical restrictions on the above.
Mexico City authorities are counting on new metro lines, improved bus services and toll roads, and cycling initiatives to ease traveling for the city’s 20 million inhabitants, reports Adam Thomson, the FT’s Mexico correspondent. Filmed, produced and edited by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Mexico’s march for peace, led by Catholic poet Javier Sicilia, crossed over from Ciudad Juarez – the violent epicenter of the country’s drug war – into El Paso, Texas Saturday.
They were joined by hundreds of Americans in their demands for a change in strategy from both the Mexican and US governments.
This video was created for AFP.
Just to give you a taste of last night:
Friday 10th 2011 – Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and his caravan of peace protestors received a warm welcome from thousands of people in Ciudad Juarez when they arrived Thursday evening. It was the final stop on a tour of some of the country’s states worst affected by drug-related violence. On arrival, Sicilia and his supporters held a rally remembering the dead.
Some 37,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared ‘war’ against the country’s organized crime and drug networks.
June 6th 2011 – Since Javier Sicilia’s son was killed by gunmen in March, the left-leaning Catholic poet has become the voice for those left dead or grieving by drug-related violence in Mexico. Some 37,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched his assault against the country’s drug cartels and organized crime networks in 2006. But how far can Sicilia go in improving Mexico’s future?
This video was produced by Deborah Bonello / MexicoReporter.com for AFP and you can see it here on their site. </a>
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.
National oil company Pemex struggles as oil production drops. Carola Hoyos reports from Mexico for the Financial Times. Filmed, produced and edited by Deborah Bonello.
Feb 3rd 2010: The remittances that Mexican migrants send home to their families from a recession-bound US has dropped by 14 per cent over the last year. Adam Thomson visited the small town of Sengio in the Mexican state of Michoacan to see how families and local businesses are being affected by the drop off in funds. Filmed and produced by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Agustin Carstens, the recently appointed governor of the Bank of Mexico, talks about his predecessor as well as future plans for the bank and its relationship with Mexico’s federal government.
Click here and here for the two videos produced for the Financial Times. Thanks to Greg Brosnan, of Streetdog Media, for being the second cameraman, and the FT correspondent here in Mexico, Adam Thomson.
Although Mexico is currently in the grip of the worst drought it has suffered since World War Two, houses flooded and streets turned into lakes this week when torrential rainfall lashed down on Mexico City and the neighboring State of Mexico.
Speaking to El Universal, Ramón Aguirre, director of Mexico City’s water system, said that although the rains won’t be enough to replenish reserves enough to stop current water rationing.
See the video for more.
Video: Mexico: heavy rains can’t beat the drought. Credit: Deborah Bonello
Crops are wilting in the countryside, and the capital’s water shortage has turned dire as Mexico grapples with its worst drought in more than half a century.
The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City’s posh Polanco neighbourhood has been descended upon by thousands of Mexicans since the Canadian government announced on Monday that Mexican nationals now need a visa to travel to Canada.
Since Tuesday, Mexicans from Mexico City and states outside of the Federal District (another name for the capital) have been lining up around the block clutching envelopes and bundles of documents that they need to apply for the new visa. It’s up to the officials at the Canadian embassy to decide who qualifies and who doesn’t.
Much like the visa process Mexicans who want to visit the United States have to go through, they need to convince embassy officials that they only plan to visit, that they have enough money to do so, and that they won’t overstay their approved period of time in the country.
I spoke to many of the people lining around the block yesterday morning. They were, generally speaking, a very well-heeled, middle class bunch. All of those that I spoke to had already booked their flights when the Canadian government introduced the new visa restrictions.
The Canadian government explained on Monday that the new visa restrictions were in response to a surge in refugee applications from Mexican nationals. Reading between the lines, the new visa restrictions were in response to an increase in what they judge to be fraudulent refugee applications from Mexican nationals. As the news release stated:
In 2008, more than 9,400 claims filed in Canada came from Mexican nationals, representing 25 per cent of all claims received. Of the Mexican claims reviewed and finalized in 2008 by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent administrative tribunal, only 11 per cent were accepted.
The Canadian authorities have their reasons, but what still seems odd to me is that they should announce the new visa restrictions just two days before they came into force, throwing thousands of Mexican travelers into panic and dumping an enormous workload onto the embassy staff here in Mexico City. The usual working hours for visa issues is 8am to 1pm but staff have been working into the early evening over the last few days to cater to the demand for the new visa.
Watch the video for more on how Mexicans feel about the new visas.
Video by Deborah Bonello, created for the Los Angeles Times.
Deborah Bonello reporting for MexicoReporter.com
My breath is tearing out of my lungs and my leg muscles are screaming for a reprieve. I just scaled a 60-degree hill coated in thorny brambles and poisonous plants whilst being pounded by rain. In the dark. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but it did. Later that night, my fellow journalists and I were kidnapped by masked guerillas who jumped onto our bus.
Our only comfort? That none of this was real. But it could have been, which is the point of the survival course 18 journalists who live and work in Mexico attended last week in Toluca, just outside of Mexico City.
During the five day survival program, the journalists dodged tear gas and Army tanks and learned how to survive in the wilderness. The psychological stresses were addressed, too; they learned strategies for dealing with emotions.
In Mexico these days, that may be the most important lesson of all.
“Once in Apatzingan a cameraman and I were taken,” says Miguel Garcia Tinoco, a 40-year-old journalist and owner of the Notivideo video news website based in Michoacan.
“They took us to talk with a drug-trafficking boss on a street in Apatzingan, and they wanted to make us write what they wanted, what they wanted to communicate.”
This group of traffickers gained infamy three years ago when they tossed the severed heads of six enemies onto the dance floor of a nightclub.
“They wanted us to publish an explanation of why they’d murdered those six people. What we told them was that we couldn’t make a decision in terms of what we published or didn’t publish in the newspaper – that it was up to the editor. And in the end my editor decided not to publish anything at all.”
Antonio Ramos Tafolla, a 58-year-old reporter in the same state as Garcia, was kidnapped and beaten up by a group he says he was never able to identify.
“It limited me and the boldness that I had before to write. It limited me but it didn’t shut me up or stop me thinking, but I have more reservations now.”
Some don’t get granted any conditions. Ramos said that a colleague of his went missing two years ago and has never reappeared. Garcia says the same of two other fellow journalists in Michoacan. They are three of the eight journalists currently listed as missing in Mexico.
It’s not only reporters covering Mexico’s drug traffickers and organized crime networks that run the risk of reprisals. These journalists recounted tales from covering everything from car accidents, massacres and assassinations, to shoot-outs, kidnappings and election campaigns.
Run-ins with the federal police, the army and local governors are common for any reporter who questions local power networks.
“Sadly, the army has seen us, to a certain point, as enemies,” Garcia said.
“They close their operations and don’t let us film, they don’t let us into some crime scenes to get information … And they also take away our gear and they assault us.”
Back in the classroom Dr. Ana Zellhuber gives the journalists some practical guidance in dealing both with people who have just come out of emergency situations, as well their own emotional reactions to tough circumstances.
“You’re not heroes,” she says. “You’re reporters. Everyone has a duty to perform – do yours. Don’t turn yourselves into one of the victims.”
Stories unfolded in the classroom. One of the four women on the course, a reporter from Tijuana, talked about the time she was approached by a man who said the Mexican Army had massacred people in his town.
She didn’t know what to do because as the man told her his story she knew she was going to cry but she worried that crying would draw attention to herself.
“There are no wrong emotions,” said Zellhuber. “And there are always emotions.”
Monica Franco is a 31-year-old journalist working in Puebla.
“Intimidation is a daily reality for us,” she told me.
“We’re not just intimidated by the police – we’re intimidated by government spheres, by press officers, intimidated by politicians and by civilians who now don’t see us as allies.
“A lot of co-workers end up losing the point of why we’re here, which is to inform and give a voice to those people who don’t have one. And that’s what leads a lot of people to see us as enemies of society.”
Franco hits on an interesting point. Some of the journalists that have been killed here in Mexico over the last few years (see here for more numbers) were targeted as a direct result of reports they’d filed.
But in Mexico, where training is in short supply, wages are pitifully low and reporters aren’t protected or helped by their employers, it’s easy to see how they themselves can fall prey to corruption.
Franco says that someone broke into her home in Puebla. The burglars only stole journalism gear, nothing else.
“Instead of helping us we were intimidated by the police and told that due to our jobs, they could break into our homes, she said.”
They never learned who did the break in, Franco says.
“We just put up a stronger gate on the front door.”
Article 19 and the Rory Peck Trust organized the survival course, which took place between May 17th – 22nd in Toluca, Mexico.
A couple of non-profits who work on press freedom and protection issues here in Mexico, the Rory Peck Trust and Article 19, got together and ran a course just outside Mexico City this month for 18 journalists living and working here.
During the five-day course, the participants, who came from states all over Mexico, from Michoacan all the way to Tijuana in Baja California, were “kidnapped”, dodged tear gas, learned first aid, and received psychological training on how to deal with emergencies.
See the video for more.
Video: Mexican journalists put through their survival paces, by Deborah Bonello.
Mexico’s “Museum of Drugs,” buried up on the seventh floor of the Defence Ministry, isn’t open to the public. The installation was designed as an educational tool for military personnel who have been tasked with fighting Mexico’s narco-trafficantes and organized crime networks. It explains the methods that drug traffickers use to get their product around and out of the country, as well as the strategies that the army employs to try and stop them.
Traffic on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma was blocked briefly last Friday afternoon by an actor in the role of Jesus.
Wearing a long white robe over jeans and sneakers and carrying a cross fashioned roughly out of wood, ”Jesus” took a tumble on a pedestrian crossing on the traffic artery in front of the U.S. Embassy while on his way to Calvary Hill.
But Friday’s performance wasn’t part of Mexico’s traditional Semana Santa (Easter week) activities, which are now in full swing. The depiction of the crucifixion of Christ in the tradition known as the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, had a cross-border purpose.
Organized by pro-immigration activists, the street performance depicted Jesus as a Mexican migrant, and as the actor walked around dragging his cross, others wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ICE (U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, Mexico’s national migration agency) flogged him from behind shouting, “Walk, wretch, walk!”
One of the organizers was Elvira Arellano, who shot into the spotlight in both the United States and Mexico in 2006 after she took refuge in a Chicago church to avoid being deported back to Mexico. Click here to read more about Arellano’s case.
Arellano was eventually deported, leaving behind her 10-year-old son Saul, who was born in the United States after she had crossed the border illegally from Mexico.
“It’s very sad that the migration policies treat us as though we were basically terrorists or criminals,” Arellano said in an interview after the protest.
“We’re just families looking for a better life. We want to live better and we all believe we have the right to look for work opportunities. Unfortunately, we don’t find those opportunities here in Mexico, which is why we go looking for those opportunities in the United States.”
Arellano, who was accompanied by protesters carrying signs that said “Stop the Deportations” in English and Spanish, implored Mexican as well as U.S authorities to show more respect for migrants’ human rights. As we reported last year, tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. Migrants have been maimed or killed hopping aboard freight trains. Others are robbed or raped.
Often, they are arrested and held in squalid cells or denied medical care. In hundreds of cases, Central American families never hear from their relatives again.
“Mexico’s National Migration Institute is complicit with the U.S immigration authorities because here in Mexico they ignore the rights of migrants who come from Central America,” Arellano said.
Thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally every year.
See the video for more.
Image: A Mexican man playing the role of Jesus takes a tumble in front of the U.S embassy Friday during a street theater performance depicting Jesus as a Mexican migrant. Click here for more images on Flickr.
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.
But “Voces Silenciadas” (Silenced Voices), a documentary film that was part of the Ambulante film festival here, broadens the debate around the persecution of journalists to encompass the bigger issues of media ownership and the relationship between the media and Mexico’s political powers.
Director Maria del Carmen De Lara doesn’t simply examine the dozens of unsolved cases of murdered and disappeared journalists in Mexico over the last couple of years –- she delves deeper, looking at media monopolies in Mexico and how those affect press freedom more broadly.
Aristegui’s “Hoy Por Hoy” morning news program had been on for five years and was one of the most listened to in Mexico when it was cut from the airwaves. Aristegui has since returned to radio news on a different network, but De Lara says her case shows how concentrated media ownership in Mexico has reduced the range of opinions in Mexico’s media and silence unwanted ones.
You can see Aristegui explain the circumstances behind her case in the video below, first shown in this La Plaza post.
In the documentary, De Lara makes her point mostly through a series of interviews with prominent Mexican journalists, analysts and writers, as well as media executives. Those interviews are interspersed with an audio recording of her repeatedly calling Televisa, part owner of W Radio, for an interview about Aristegui’s case — an interview that is eventually granted but sheds no new light on the case. Mexico’s giant Grupo Televisa multimedia company and Grupo Prisa, Spain’s largest media conglomerate, are joint owners of W Radio.
The format of the documentary is where it sags because the film is mainly a series of talking heads, sometimes accompanied by images of satirical cartoons snipped from Mexican newspapers. None of the visual material does justice to the urgency of the problems facing the press here in Mexico, which is a shame, because the issues of freedom of expression and violence against journalists here are serious.
But De Lara’s interviewees do make a great case.
On leaving the cinema, I was disappointed as a viewer with the format of the documentary and didn’t feel I’d learned anything I didn’t already know. But on reflection, it occurred to me that foreign journalists were not the target audience of this film. The cinema is a good place to reach at least some average Mexican citizens, most of whom get their news from television. A massive 92% of Mexico’s television stations are owned by just two companies -– Televisa and TV Azteca -– which is De Lara’s point.
“I want the people to see the whole story that has been the struggle for a different kind of journalism in Mexico, a journalism that’s more diverse and inclusive,” she said in a telephone interview from Puebla, Mexico.
“That they understand what are the pressures for journalists, that the people understand another view of things, that they have other information, which this documentary has also done, for history.”
She also said she wants to show that, since the 1984 assassination of one of Mexico’s most prominent journalists, Manuel Buendia, Mexico “continues to have situations of impunity and situations that violate fundamental human rights.”
At the time of writing, there was no distribution deal signed to take the documentary to the United States, but De Lara was in conversations about possibly showing the film in London.
Image: A publicity poster for the documentary “Voces Silenciadas” (Silenced Voices). Credit: Ambulante.com.mx. Video: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times