By: Kiko J. Sánchez / Source: Zero Grados / The Dawn News / March 27, 2017
México has a constant wave of good journalism. Some of the best articles, media and new projects are born on that side of the much-discussed wall. Therefore, anybody wanting to learn about the job of reporting and telling stories must take a look at them.
But Mexican journalism also stands out because it’s brave and daring. Because it has had to reinvent itself to work with danger. Mexican journalists can’t afford the luxury to gloat in accessory details because they’re putting their lives on the line with every letter. Independent Mexican journalists are another target in the narco war.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico.The three countries with the highest amount of journalists murdered in 2016, according to the International Federation of Journalists. In Syria, which is torn by a war, there were less journalist deaths (6) than in Mexico (11).
The amount of violence in Mexico is overwhelming. Armed organizations, trafficking networks (of weapons, drugs and humans) and different State institutions are killing and making alliances. And in the middle of that, there’s the civil population, which risks (and loses) their lives.
Hundreds of thousands have been murdered, kidnapped, displaced, disappeared, since on December 11, 2006 the government of Felipe Calderón declared the war on drug trafficking. And the death count accelerated with the arrival of Peña Nieto in 2012.
That’s what Marcela Turati, one of Mexico’s most renowned journalists, calls the form of journalism that reports “statistics of death and demographic behavior”. Numbers that shock us for a moment, and then are forgotten.
The executometer was the first form in which the consequences of the narco-war reached the media. Cold reports consisting only numbers, without a story, without a face. Due to the media monopoly and the pressures, these reports replicated the official discourse. But in time, independent journalists began looking beyond. They investigated, put the pieces together, listened to the victims, shaped the story. And in that process they unveiled the lies, the inconsistencies, the alliances, the connections, the consequences, the losses, the helplessness; the dynamics of this tragedy.
As they did this, they began moving outside the safe zone. They were no longer protected: they had become targets of threats, kidnappings and death. They became a preferred target, because the death of a journalist means that other deaths will also be silenced. Groups of reporters and investigators were formed, as a way to protect themselves and be more effective.
March 2017: a month in journalist killings
The last reports by Miroslava Breach Velducea had unveiled the existence of a mass grave full of unidentified bodies and new illegal expulsions of indigenous peoples from the mountains by narcos to make room for poppy plantations.
For years, she had exposed environmental damage, violence against civilians, attacks against indigenous peoples by drug cartels and the PRI and the PAN buying seats in government.
On the morning of March 23, she got into her red pickup truck with her son, ready to drive him to school, when a man approached the driver’s window and shot her eight times. She was 54 and one of the most important journalists of newspaper La Jornada. Over the last few months of her life she had denounced to several institutions and organisms that she and her family had received death threats. The state did nothing to protect her.
On March 19, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera was having breakfast with his wife and son in a restaurant in Yanga, Veracruz. He was the president of the Association of Journalists and Graphic reporters of Córdoba and the director of newspaper El Polìtico. He also wrote columns in El Diario de Xalapa and El Sol de Córdoba. There, he had exposed the internal conflicts of the PRI (the party of President Enrique Peña Nieto and former governor Duarte) and the lack of transparency in the candidacies to Mayor.
He knew what he risked by not giving in to pressure. In December 2010, his son had been abandoned on the roadside after surviving a kidnapping and a shooting by municipal police agents. Nevertheless, he continued to denounce collusion and corruption in the sugarcane industry. In Veracruz, this industry is rich and powerful, and murders of union leaders and illegal buying and selling of processing plants were everyday occurrences.
That morning, while he was having breakfast, several unidentified individuals approached his table, and without a word shot him to death.
In September 2015, Cecilio Pineda Birto was shot at while he was in his house in Guerrero. Miraculously, he survived without a scratch. But they were after him. On March 2 this year, the threat he had publicly denounced became a fact. Around 8 pm, he was sitting in a hammock, waiting for his car to be ready at a car wash in Pungarabato. Two individuals riding a motorcycle passed by and shot him with high-calibre weapons. Cecilio’s life went out as the ambulance carried him to the hospital.
Hours before this attack, he had gone on Facebook Live, where he had over 30 thousand followers, to present a series of evidence that, he said, proved there had been a pact between public officers, including the governor of Guerrero, Héctor Astudillo Flores, and members of the Los Tequileros cell of the Michoacán cartel.
These three journalists are the latest to have died in this invisible war. So far in the 21st century, 123 have been murdered for reporting on it. And 99.7% of the cases are closed without a sentence. In the best-case scenario, authorities don’t investigate these deaths. In the worst, they actively obstruct investigations to protect the culprits. Impunity is the norm.
As told by the journalists who signed the open letter named #YaBastaDeBalas (#StopTheBullets), “the Mexican government and the states haven’t acted to prevent communicators from being murdered. No Mexican life is worth more than others. But this society is being deprived of eyes and ears, and left defenseless against violence.”
“I DESERVE ABUNDANCE. I DESERVE ABUNDANCE. I DESERVE ABUNDANCE…”
That affirmation, written in all caps with an almost teenage handwriting, filled the pages of a Montblanc notebook belonging to the wife of the governor of Veracruz. The notebook was found in a cellar containing documents and abundant goods (ranging from school supplies to wheelchairs) that had been stolen from the State. The notebook also contained a map with dozens of properties, and names and details that revealed a vast network of corruption and money laundering.
By the time this was found, Javier Duarte’s and his wife Karime Macías’ whereabouts were unknown. In November 2016, interim governor Flavino Ríos had arranged for an official helicopter to pick up Duarte and had given him the farewell, and so the governor, who was already being sought after by the justice system, disappeared. That plump and vivacious governor, who admired Spanish dictator Franco “for sharing the same tone of voice” and for his “strength, enthusiasm and energy”, had become one of the most corrupt politicians in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
A few months ago, it was revealed that, under Duarte, doses of chemotherapy destined to public hospitals were being diverted into the black market while children and teenagers suffering from cancer died after being treated with fake medicines based on distilled water.
This atrocious example is just one example. He’s also suspected to have been involved in murders and disappearances, and of being related to the Z cartel. The amount of money he stole from Veracruz is estimated to be in the thousands of millions.
Without independent, brave journalists, Duarte and Macías will continue to “deserve abundance”. But denouncing unrestrained ambition, lack of scruples, corruption, collusion with organized crime or impunity demands courage. Duarte is also the governor of the state where the most journalists die, in one of the countries where more journalists are killed.