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.
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.
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
Freedom of expression advocates in Mexico have issued yet another missive in support of the country’s long-suffering journalistic community.
The special prosecutor’s office for crimes against journalists, created in 2006 by the Mexican government of then-President Vicente Fox, is ineffective, lacks independence and is poorly funded, according to a report by the international freedom of expression nonprofit group Article 19.
Speaking at a news conference in the Casa Lamm cultural center in Mexico City on Friday, Dario Ramirez, head of Article 19 here, said the role of the FEADP, or Fiscalia Especial Para la Atencion de Delitos Cometidos Contra Periodistas, had not been adequately defined.
“That means that the scope of prosecution and protection is limited and ambiguous,” Ramirez said.
Article 19 says that 29 journalists have been killed and eight have disappeared in Mexico since 2000. Most cases remain unsolved, in part because of the inefficacy of the FEADP, according to the nonprofit. It and other organizations claim that a “culture of impunity” exists in Mexico, created by the failure to bring to justice those who kill or harass journalists.
“The inability to resolve these cases not only contributes to the climate of impunity, but it encourages future aggressions,” Ramirez said.
Sanjuana Martinez, a Mexican journalist who received death threats after reporting the alleged sexual abuse of young boys by Catholic priests in the United States and Mexico, also attended the launch of the report.
”We have a saying here in Mexico: If you want to hide something, create an attorney general’s office,” she said.
Only a few months ago, the head of the FEADP, Octavio Orellana Wiarco, said that reports of violence against journalists in Mexico were being exaggerated and that “there is a mistaken perception that Mexico is the country where the largest number of homicides of journalists takes place. This is not true.”
His comments sparked incredulity among Mexican journalists and their defenders.
Ramirez was keen to stress that the purpose of the Article 19 report is not to demand the termination of the FEADP but rather to adjust it to make it a stronger, more effective institution.
The statement from the nonprofit recommended — among other things — changing the focus of the legal body from protecting journalists to protecting freedom of expression and to improving the FEADP’s transparency and accountability.
Attacks on the Press 2008: Carl Bernstein on Self-Censorship of the Press from Meredith Megaw on Vimeo.
Here in Mexico, we keep our eye on the frequent press-freedom reports that come out, given the high levels of violence against journalists in the country and the culture of impunity that abounds.
The organization ranked Mexico among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists:
“Growing violence associated with criminal organizations has made Mexico one of the world’s deadliest countries for reporters. Since 2000, at least 24 journalists have been killed, eight in direct reprisal for their work. Seven other journalists have disappeared since 2005.”
“Powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, gangsters in Brazilian slums, paramilitaries in Colombia,and violent street gangs in El Salvador and Guatemala are terrorizing the press. Self-censorship is widespread.”
The U.K.-based Frontline blog begins on a positive note about Colombia’s journalists, remarking that “according to the Foundation for Liberty and Freedom of the Press, no Colombian journalists were killed in 2008 for the first time in 23 years.”
But it goes on to say that a total of 130 journalists were killed in Colombia in the past 30 years. The CPJ reports:
“While violence in Colombia has eased in the last four years, it remains one of the world’s most murderous countries for the press. Forty reporters, photographers and editors in all have been killed since 1992, and the country has the highest per capita rate of unsolved journalist murders in Latin America.”
And 2009 has already got off to a bad start for Colombian journalists, continues Frontline.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, Maria Eugenia Guerrero, a Colombian journalist, was found dead on the outskirts of the Ecuadorian city of Tulcannear earlier this month,
“[Guerrero], who was working for the Integracion Estereo station in the southern Colombian city of Ipiales, was brutally assaulted and killed and her body was left in a remote area outside Tulcan. … The body, according to the forensics report, showed signs of sexual assault, and it is presumed the journalist was killed in a violent manner because a portion of her skull was not found and had presumably been detached as a result of a severe blow.” link
Carmen Aristegui, one of Mexico’s most prominent journalists, disappeared from the Mexican radio airwaves last year in a cloud of controversy.
As Reed Johnson reported in January 2008, “Aristegui’s departure from W Radio set off a flurry of op-ed commentary in Mexico City newspapers. Several commentators have denounced the incident as an act of censorship and harassment by media and governmental interests.”
Now Aristegui’s back with a new radio news show –- this time on a different network. The journalist, who continued to host her nightly television news show on CNN Español during her radio hiatus, returns to the Mexican airwaves from 6 – 10 every weekday morning on MVS Radio.
She took some time out to speak to the Los Angeles Times about why her show got silenced last year, and the reality for journalists working in Mexico.
You can watch a video of protests over her departure last year here, and the Spanish-language version of the interview is below.
Jonathan Mirando García, age 7. Disappeared in the Tlapan neighborhood of Mexico City on Nov. 22, 2006. Distinguishing features: a mole on his nose.
Saul Hernandez Ramírez, 10 months old and 55 centimeters in size. Disappeared in Naucalpan, Mexico City, on an unknown date.
América Martínez Enriquez, 1 month old. Disappeared from Matamoros, in the state of Tamaulipas, on June 23, 2003.
The list of missing children in Mexico, crushingly, goes on for a lot longer. About 45,000 children are reported missing in Mexico every year, according to Aprenem (Asociación Pro Recuperación de Niños Extraviados y Orientación de la Juventud de México), an organization dedicated to trying to find them.
It was that staggering fact as well as the huge number of posters and ads for missing children around Mexico City that prompted Mexican artist Ilán Lieberman, 39, to create “Niño Perdido” (Lost Child). The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a book of the same name later this year, opened Tuesday in the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico in downtown Mexico City and is scheduled to travel to El Paso, Texas, in June.
Lieberman spent more than three years working on 100 drawings that are intricate copies of often bad-quality newspaper photographs of missing children, taken from the Mexican newspaper Metro. Using a pencil and a microscope, he labored over each postage stamp-sized portrait for two weeks –- almost as though he was paying personal homage to each boy and girl.
The result is a show of tiny drawings framed and hung in the upstairs gallery of the museum, and on Tuesday the exhibition’s first visitors inspected the detailed images with magnifying glasses provided as part of the work.
“What these images represent is a social reality in Mexican society,” Lieberman said.
The exhibition also features the newspapers from which Lieberman cut out many of the images that he so painstakingly copied. Often, ads for the missing children with basic information such as their age and where they disappeared were published alongside lists of recovered stolen
cars, or on the other side of a news page carrying bloody, attention-grabbing stories.
“That says everything there is to say about the issue,” Lieberman said. “A lack of information and a lack of care.
“The sensation that I got from those images was sad … that they seemed so forgotten.”
The show brings out the profundity of those tiny images — how the loss of something so precious is represented in such a poor way. It also reflects a very sad reality and one that, according to Aprenem, the Mexican government does little to change.
But Lieberman insists that the show is not a direct attempt to change government action on the issue, but to prompt society as a whole to reflect more on Mexico’s disappeared children.
“It’s not criticism specifically against the Mexican government, because it’s a problem within Mexican society -– it shows a lack of care on the part of our society as a whole and our social fabric.”
Lieberman also stressed that the project has an artistic angle, examining the concept of reproduction versus originals.
Past works by the artist have seen him labeled the “human photocopier” by reviewers. The 2005 New York show “Desperdicios,” or “Waste,” featured hand-drawn replicas of objects such as a yellow Post-it notes with a telephone
number scribbled across it, a restaurant customer’s bill, and a folded phone message slip.
“Niño Perdido” will be showing in the Museo de la Ciudad de México until May 10. After that, the exhibition will travel north to El Paso, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and neighboring Ciudad Juarez -– one of Mexico’s most violent urban centers. Not only is the city currently in the grip of extreme drug violence, but it has a long history of women being slain or disappearing.
Given the theme of the exhibition, Lieberman said, a showing next to Juarez made a lot of sense.
Top photo: The drawings in Ilán Lieberman’s “Niño Perdido” (Lost Child) exhibition in Mexico City are
best appreciated with a magnifying glass. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: Lieberman’s drawing of Rosario Pérez Monzalvo, age 1. Height 70 centimeters. Slim build. Brown
hair. Big, dark brown eyes. Distinguishing features include a rash on her legs. Disappeared from Ixtapaluca in the state of Mexico. Credit: Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico
Bottom photo: Museum visitors view the “Niño Perdido” (Lost Child) exhibition in Mexico City. Credit: Deborah
Bonello / Los Angeles Times
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.
The growing economic crisis has prompted the Mexico City government to launch its first ever soup kitchens for the city’s multitude of poor citizens, who are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their families due to surging food prices.
Given Mexico’s high level of endemic poverty, it is perhaps most surprising that the city government had not set up a feeding program before now. Traditionally, in the capital at least, most Mexicans, no matter how poor, manage to eat, though the meal might consist of little more than tortillas and a gruel-like soup. That may be changing, and organizers suggest the crisis will only deepen as food gets more expensive.
– Deborah Bonello in Mexico City
Lydia Cacho’s celebrity was apparent from the get-go last Thursday night in the trendy Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, where the journalist launched her new book “Not With My Child” (Con Mi Hij@ No).
When your humble correspondent arrived for the launch at the beautiful bookshop Libreria Rosario Castellanos, the raven-haired writer was posing for an all-male squad of newspaper photographers. In a country where journalists are killed for poking their noses into dark places and challenging the powers that be, Cacho has become something of a hero for doing just that and surviving, albeit by the skin of her teeth.
The photo session was brief, and then it was on with the business of launching her latest book — a manual for parents in Mexico to help them recognize if their children are being abused and, if so, what they can do about it. That might seem like a rather strange subject for a book, but it is the product of Cacho’s rather harrowing experience.
The sexual abuse of minors is a topic she has specialized in, and Cacho has been the victim of harassment due to her investigations into the issue.
She was a relatively unknown journalist until she published a book in 2006 that alleged the existence of a child sex ring in the southern state of Cancun, after which she was illegally arrested and harassed by some of the powerful men she implicated in “Los Demonios del Eden” (see more details of the case here).
She catapulted to fame when she challenged her aggressors by going public and filing a legal action against them — although it was ultimately unsuccessful.
Since then, Cacho has become something of a symbol for the issue of the repression of journalists and freedom of expression in Mexico. Her last book, “Memories of a Disgrace (Memorias de una Infamia)” detailed the events that unfolded after the publication of “Los Demonios del Eden.”
Speaking to a packed auditorium on Thursday, Cacho said that after “Los Demonios del Eden” was published, she was inundated by more than 3,000 e-mails from people who were worried their children were being abused, or who knew their children had been abused and didn’t know what to do about it. That prompted her to write “Not With My Child,” which she says is an effort to answer the questions she received from her anxious public.
“My intention was that it would be as though I was accompanying the people reading it,” said Cacho.
She was joined on Thursday by journalist Carmen Aristegui, herself no stranger to being silenced. Her prominent and critical morning talk show on the capital’s W Radio was cut last January after five years on air (read the details here). At the time, the outspoken broadcaster, who continues to host a show on CNN Espanol, said that she suspected her head had been called for by powerful members of President Felipe Calderon’s administration. Aristegui launched a new show on a different network this morning.
She commended Cacho on Thursday for seeking solutions and changes to the problem of child abuse in Mexico.
“We know it”s there and is something that we have to confront,” she said.
“Not With My Child” includes chapters on the history of pedophilia and the sexual abuse of children, as well as how to negotiate Mexico’s ineffective justice system. Cacho says that building strong social networks is one of the most important means of detecting and putting a stop to child abuse in Mexico.
Photo: Journalist Lydia Cacho holds up her new book for the cameras at a launch event in Mexico City. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times.
A group of Honduran men and women came to Mexico looking for their missing loved ones earlier this year. They claim that there are nearly 600 Honduran migrants who are missing in Mexico who disappeared whilst crossing Mexico to get to the United States.
Their visit coincided with a report that was published by Mexico’s federal human rights commission that alleged attacks against Central American migrants trying to cross Mexico were increasing.
Ada Marlen was 17 and already the mother of two children when she set out from her home in Honduras to seek work in the United States. That was in 1989; her family hasn’t heard from her since.
“Nineteen years ago my daughter started her journey, in search of her American dream, and to this day I don’t know anything about her,” said her mother, Emeteria Martinez.
The 70-year-old was among a group of 15 Hondurans who traveled to Mexico recently to search for missing relatives and draw attention to the perils Central American migrants face en route to the United States.
Tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. The trek, which can involve perilous journeys by boat and through isolated countryside and mean city streets, often ends unhappily.
Emeteria Martinez, 70, from Honduras holds a photo of her daughter Ada Marlen, who disappeared nearly twenty years ago during a visit to Mexico City. Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times
Mexicans might be encouraged to do a bit of soul-searching today by a United Nations campaign, which has declared December 9th International Anti-Corruption Day.
Why should Mexico be particularly interested? Because, as we reported today, more than 5,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence so far this year – that’s more than double the toll for that time period in 2007. Although a lot of the violence is being put down to infighting within the drug gangs, corruption within Mexico’s police force and legal branch is also a major obstacle to bringing down the powerful drug networks.
President Felipe Calderon‘s government is currently undergoing a probe called Operation Cleanup, which has resulted in a number of ugly discoveries within its ranks. As Tracy Wilkinson reports in the dispatch linked above: “Mexican law enforcement has also suffered its worst corruption scandal in a decade, with dozens of senior officials and agents accused of accepting money to pass secrets to traffickers.”
Noe Ramirez Mandujano, for example, a veteran federal prosecutor who headed an elite organized crime unit known by its initials in Spanish, SIEDO, was arrested in November on suspicion of passing intelligence to drug gangsters based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, reported Ken Ellingwood.
A TV spot from the United Nations campaign marking today can be seen below, and shows how corruption is the responsibility of everyone, not just law officials. Few Mexicans and foreigners living in this country can honestly say that they haven’t in some way sanctioned a corrupt system, even if it’s something as small as paying off a policeman to get him out of one’s hair or tipping the garbage collectors for collecting the trash.
As we reported in April, Mexicans paid the equivalent of about $2.6 billion in bribes last
year, according to the nonprofit group Transparency Mexico. That’s 42%
higher than two years earlier and an average of more than $24 for each
of Mexico’s 105 million people. Much of the money went to fix parking tickets, get garbage collected
or secure parking spots from the legions of informal attendants who
block off spaces and charge for them.
Almost everyone who lives in Mexico shares blame because so many turn a blind eye to the corruption of others. So it’s smart of the spot to focus on individual responsibility.
On a side note, activism for a reduction of corruption around the globe is based around the U.N.’s Convention Against Corruption, which of course, Mexico has signed and ratified. The 2003 Convention was opened for signing by participating states in Merida, Mexico.
A television, radio and print advertising campaign called “What you don’t know can hurt you (“Te hace daño no saber” in Spanish)” is to launch here in Mexico in an attempt by press freedom groups to raise public awareness about violence against journalists and to demand more action from the government of President Felipe Calderon.
At a candlelit presentation Tuesday night in the Interactive Economy Museum in downtown Mexico City, domestic and international organizations announced the campaign to an audience of several hundred people. They hope to bring an end to what they claim is impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists in Mexico.
Since 2000, 28 journalists have been killed in Mexico and eight have disappeared, according to Article 19, one of the organizations sponsoring the advertising campaign. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission says the figure is actually higher and that 45 journalists have been killed in the same period. Mexico is the deadliest country in the Americas for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, and reporters who cover organized crime are especially at risk.
In recent weeks, Miguel Angel Villagomez Valle, editor of the newspaper La Noticia, was killed in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state. Also killed were David Garcia Monroy, columnist for El Diario, in Chihuahua, and reporter Jose Armando Rodriguez Carreon, also of El Diario, in Ciudad Juarez.
“The response of the Mexican state in all of these cases has been the same — immunity for those behind the crimes,” said Brisa Solis, executive director of the National Center of Social Communication (CENCOS), another of the groups supporting the campaign.
Expressing solidarity were several Mexican journalists, including Lydia Cacho, who has become a symbol of the persecution of journalists here in Mexico.
Cacho says that she was arrested illegally, taken to the end of a pier and told to jump by state police from Puebla after she published a book alleging the existence of a pedophile ring in Cancun in 2005. Her case against her alleged aggressors went all the way to Mexico’s Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled, controversially, that although there was evidence of crimes against Cacho, her rights weren’t violated enough to warrant further action.
“The defense of our reporters is a vital factor in the guarantee of our access to information, and to make decisions in a free, autonomous way,” Cacho said during last night’s event.
The first phase of the campaign — which opens in the media today — will be aimed at raising awareness, and the second phase will take more of an advocacy approach. The campaign is being supported by a number of press freedom nonprofits: The Global Latin America Community Radio Assn. (AMARC), the Mexican Assn. for the Right to Information (AMEDI), Women’s Communication and Information (CIMAC), Fundacion Manuel Buendia, the Institute for Security and Democracy (INSYDE), Reporters Without Borders, The National Journalism Prize, the Mexican Press and Democracy Foundation (PRENDE), Universidad Iberoamericana, the Rory Peck Trust and the National Press Editors Assn. It is being funded by CENCOS and Article 19.
TV spots for the campaign show the names of journalists who have been killed or disappeared in Mexico. The names appear over a white background, until they eventually obliterate all of the white.
Photo: One of the campaign ads, which asks: “If they’re not there, who is going to inform us?” Credit: Article 19.
*Edited Dec 5th, 2008, 9:35a.m Mexico City time. The campaign is being supported, but not funded, by a range of non-profits. It is being funded by Article 19 and Cencos.
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
Reports are surfacing this morning that the offices of the Culiacán newspaper El Debate were attacked with two grenades early Monday. The explosions, which shattered windows but caused no injuries, happened at around 1a.m when two youngsters wearing white shirts threw the grenades at the main entrance to the offices, reports La Jornada.
The area has been cordoned off by the Army.
El Debate is the largest newspaper in Sinaloa and “fairly aggressive in its organized crime coverage”, according to BorderReporter.com. As Tracy Wilkinson reported earlier this year, the city of Culiacán is the birthplace of Mexico’s multi-million dollar drug trade and home to some of the major players in Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.
El Debate is not the first newspaper to be targeted with grenades in Mexico, where attacks against journalists and the media – especially those who cover organized crime – are depressingly frequent. More than 30 reporters have died or disappeared in Mexico since 2000, the group Reporters Without Borders says.
In May last year, Cambio in the Northern State of Sonora closed its doors after two grenade attacks and what its editor said was a failure on the part of the Government to protect its 250 employees. In October 2007, journalists of the Oaxacan newspaper “El Imparcial del Istmo” resigned out of fear for their lives following the killing of three of the newspaper’s employees and repeated threats after the newspaper reported the finding of a grave containing seven corpses.
In February 2006, the offices of El Mañana newspaper in Nuevo Laredo were attacked by men wielding grenades and assault rifles. A reporter was left paralyzed and the paper later announced that it
would cease producing investigative reports on drug trafficking.
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).
I thought I knew what the big story was going to be last night as I headed out of the house to a small gathering of people at the apartment of a friend of mine.
We, a bunch of Mexicans and foreigners (English, Irish, Puerto Rican, Australian, Italian and, ahem, Maltese) were planning to sit around the TV with Mexican pals watching the results of the polling unfold in the United States. And we were going to applaud when Barack Obama was elected president.
Heading across from my house towards the Condesa, I walked briskly in what was a chilly November evening – cold for Mexico. As I was about to step onto Baja California, a major road that cuts across the top of the neighbourhood I was headed to, I heard the familiar sound of police sirens. I stepped back, as six police trucks sped past and ran the red light, with emergency lights spinning and blazing and sirens blaring. In the back, policemen in bullet-proof jackets holding their rifles clasped onto the sides of the trucks in an attempt to stay balanced.
Frankly, I thought nothing of it.
That kind of fuss is a daily occurrence here in Distrito Federal. But, as I bit into my first mini-hamburger of the night twenty-minutes later, a recently-arriving guest informed me that a plane had come down. Just a blovk off Paseo de la Reforma. In it had been Mexico’s Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño, who is roughly speaking the second-most important politician in Mexico after President Felipe Calderon himself.
I had a weird sense of deja-vu, and flashed back to September 11th of the year 2001, when I was on a plane traveling to San Francisco for a conference. We got as far as Edmonton, Canada, when the plane landed – apparently for refueling. The other journalists I was traveling with started talking about how a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York, and I remember thinking that it must have been a flying accident. Not so.
Last night, I turned to the internet. Both El Universal and Reforma were carrying pictures of burning cars silhouetting firefighters and onlookers. I made a call to the office. They were on it. But as we settled down to discuss the results of the elections, I couldn’t help feeling that we were following the wrong story.
This morning, most of the national newspapers are carrying dozens of tributes to those who died in yesterday’s plane crash from people around the country. Along with Mouriño, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos (a presidential advisor who formerly headed the organized-crime unit in the federal attorney general’s office) , Miguel Monterrubio, Arcadio Echeverría, Norma Díaz, Captain Julio César Ramírez Dávalos, co-pilot Álvaro Sánchez and flight attendant Gisel Carrillo also died. El Universal reports that another four people died - presumably they were nearby when the plane hit.
As yet, it looks like it was an accident. The entire plane came down – there was no bomb, no explosion. But of course, this is Mexico – things can change, and that includes versions of the truth.