A State at War with Its Journalists

By ; | December 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm | No comments | News

One hundred and eleven Mexican journalists have been killed since the year 2000. In the central state of Guanajuato, at least 44 have been attacked during the last eight years. Karla Silva is the only one who has managed to prove the state’s complicity in an attempt to intimidate and silence her profession.

A State at War with Its Journalists

On September 4, 2014, Karla Silva thought she was going to die. On this date, the young journalist survived an attack ordered by the mayor of Silao, Guanajuato, a rural municipality of 180, 000 citizens situated in the centre of Mexico. Karla reported on community issues such as the lack of basic services and the townspeople’s protests against the city council. The assault took place while she was investigating irregularities in the city council’s decision to hire private security firms.

Three men burst into the Heraldo de León newsroom that afternoon, shouting her name. Karla had never been threatened before, but she knew immediately who had sent them. She stood up from her chair and turned to face them: “I am the one you want.” 

A stocky man known as ‘El Buda’ (‘Buddha’) snapped at her: “On your fucking knees, or you’re fucking dead!” Then he punched her, and kept on punching. Karla is of slight build and quickly fell to the ground. After she hit the floor, Buda started to kick her. “They didn’t know me,” she remembers, “but they beat me with such hatred, it was as if I had done something to them. At one point I thought I was going to die.” 

Mexican Journalist, Karla Silva

Mexican Journalist, Karla Silva

While Buda beat her, one accomplice watched the entrance to the newsroom; another held one of Karla’s colleagues at knifepoint. The beating reduced Karla to a bloodsoaked heap under her desk, her face disfigured and her brain swollen with a concussion. Before they escaped, the attackers stole mobile phones, a computer, and the camera that Karla used for work.

The attackers had been hired by the Director General of the Police, Nicasio Aguirre, at the behest of the mayor, Enrique Solís, a member of the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party), the party that took the current Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, to power.

In a country where 111 journalists have been killed since the year 2000, Karla’s case stands out as the only one in which the state’s role intimidating her, affecting her work as a journalist, and repressing her freedom of expression has been proven. In an interview, Karla says: “The State is at war with journalists. The majority of attacks come from the State, they come from a government that has not known how to respond to the general public. I think they are achieving their goal: to cover the mouths and ears of Mexicans.”

After the attack, fear spread among the citizens of Silao. “People told me: I don’t want to speak anymore. If they hit you, a reporter, imagine what could happen to me.”

“People told me: I don’t want to speak anymore. If they hit you, a reporter, imagine what could happen to me.”

People began to keep quiet.

In Guanajuato, the municipal governments have controlled the media for decades. Through advertising agreements they have influenced the editorial line and media content, effectively practising censorship and denying the public’s right to be informed. In recent years, however, attacks against journalists have increased. Between 2009 and 2017, there were 44 attacks against the press, including the June 2015 assassination of reporter Gerardo Neito.

On top of the pressures of carrying out their jobs, Mexico’s communicators face precarious working conditions. Their employers provide none of the equipment necessary for their jobs and they work up to 15 hours a day for low salaries. Karla, for instance, earns less than 300 dollars a month. 

In spite of such adversity, Karla fell in love journalism because it offered her a chance to improve her community. A year before the attack, she completed a communications degree. Becoming a journalist wasn’t part of her life plan, but Karla soon realized the value of journalism in giving a voice to the people, monitoring the government and demanding accountability, and solutions. For this reason, after the attack, she decided to denounce the attack and fight against impunity. In Mexico 97 per cent of the attacks and crimes against the press remain unsolved.

Mexican Journalist, Karla Silva

Her mother said she should sell her house and move to another city, but Karla overcame her fear and mistrust of the authorities and waged a legal battle against the mayor, whom she blamed for the attack. She wanted to continue with her academic studies but couldn’t since her denunciation meant that she had to attend at least 70 hearings, some of which lasted more than 14 hours. On top of the fear, stress and hopelessness of the process, she faced pressure from her own newspaper; it began to count her attendance at judicial proceedings as vacation days.

Eventually, Karla’s sacrifices were vindicated. Guanajuato’s State Prosecutor confirmed that Enrique Benjamín Solís Arzola, the Municipal President, was the intellectual author of the attack. Solís was detained and sentenced along with five others, including the Head of Public Security, Nicasio Aguirre.

Karla often felt emotionally drained: “It was a titanic effort that I made during these three years, thanks to the organizations and friends that helped me. We won a war against authority. This need for justice allowed us to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We need this light in Mexico and it must be replicated. It is possible to generate change that allows us to grow as a country, to be a better society, and to avoid so many crimes. Not only against journalists but also against society in general.”

Karla says: “Journalism has become an uncomfortable entity for the authorities. It has proven a link between organized crime and government bodies. In such a situation, we are all but doomed.”

For this reason Karla laments the lack of solidarity whenever there is an assassination of or attack on a journalist: “What I would like to say in defence of the Mexican public is that violence is so generalized that people fear being seen, or being made a target of retaliation for supporting this demand for justice.” This fear continues to stalk Karla. Years after the attack, her life is no longer the same: “I still live in fear because, in spite of what many people say, justice is no guarantee that this won’t happen again. We live in a country where it is normal to kill journalists.”

Gabriel Ramírez and Cynthia Basulto are Mexican correspondents who report from Canada.. 

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