Six Years of Murder

By | December 4, 2018 at 3:42 pm | No comments | Campaigns, News | Tags: , , , ,

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s six years in office have been the most violent on record for Mexico’s journalists.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s six years in office have been the bloodiest period for journalists in Mexican history. According to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), no fewer than 59 journalists were killed between 2012-2018. UNESCO’s recent report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity lists Mexico as the deadliest place for journalists, ahead of war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Ninety percent of the cases documented by the National Human Rights Commission remain in complete impunity: neither the material nor the intellectual authors of these crimes have been brought to justice.

The attacks have triggered protests from press unions and elicited widespread public support and solidarity. One popular campaign has even used the slogan “#SOSPress They Are Killing Us.” Álvaro Delgado, a senior journalist at Proceso, Mexico’s leading political weekly, calls Peña Nieto’s time in office “six years stained with the blood of journalists … a shameful, bloody, and violent sexennium.” In June 2017, at an event in Los Pinos, the president’s official residence, Delgado unfurled a banner that read: “Enough bloodshed, Mr. President. Fix it. #NotOneMore.” Proceso magazine has experienced the violence firsthand. In April 2012, one of its journalists, Regina Martínez Pérez, was found beaten and strangled at her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Ninety percent of the cases documented by the National Human Rights Commission remain in complete impunity: neither the material nor the intellectual authors of these crimes have been brought to justice.

“I demanded an end to the bloodshed,” says Delgado, “something to stop the violence against the journalists. Regrettably, despite that protest, nothing has been done. If you want to know why violence against journalists keeps increasing in this country you only have to look at the state’s indifference towards impunity, the politicians’ contempt for journalism.”

The free-speech NGO Article 19 points to the ineffectiveness of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) in the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) as a key reason for Mexico’s enduring impunity. Earlier this month it noted that while assaults on Mexican journalists have surged more than 40 percent above last year’s levels, 99.2% of FEADLE’s investigations fail to hold anyone accountable.

Erika Hernández, a journalist who has covered Peña Nieto for the Reforma newspaper, says the government’s response to the crisis was never sufficient. “He created a bureaucratic and ineffective protection mechanism. Solving the murders and punishing the perpetrators would have made a much larger impact.”

Two of the 59 murdered journalists worked for La Jornada, a newspaper known for its critical stance line towards the political establishment and its in-depth investigations of corruption and drug trafficking. On May 15, Javier Valdez, La Jornada’s Sinaloa correspondent was gunned down as he left his office in Culiacán at noon. His corpse was left in the street – a telling image of how easily a journalist can be disposed of in Mexico. Eight days later the journalist Miroslava Breach was shot eight times outside her home in the state of Chihuahua.

While assaults on Mexican journalists have surged more than 40 percent above last year’s levels, less than one percent of the special prosecutor’s investigations hold anyone accountable

Rosa Elvira Vargas, editor of La Jornada and another reporter who has covered the presidential beat, said the Mexican authorities have not investigated the crimes diligently. Furthermore, local governments often try to link journalists who have been attacked to criminal activity. Vargas concludes: “Not only were they stigmatized, the authorities also rid themselves of the obligation to clarify the murders. They managed to divert attention away from themselves, to downplay the suspicion that the authorities themselves had either been complicit in, or even ordered these abominable acts.”

Paris Martinez, a reporter for the web portal Animal Político, said the murders of Breach and Valdés had made it clear that killing journalists was an act of censorship. The killings could be traced back “to the core issue that their work highlighted: the relationship between organized crime and the political clans in each region.”

During Peña Nieto’s presidency, attacks on the press have been provoked by coverage of drug-trafficking, organized crime and its links to public officials, government corruption, human rights violations, and large corporations’ abusive treatment of local communities and their natural resources.

Fernando Coca was the Chief Information Officer for El Mañanero, a group whose radio and television shows are highly critical of the Federal Government. He explains that for President Peña Nieto “Journalism had to be subordinate to the person in power. He never intended to get to the bottom of the crimes committed during his administration.” Although it was among the most widely watched and listened-to programs in Mexico, El Mañanero was removed from the airwaves by Televisa, Mexico’s leading television consortium.

Since 2000, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 140 journalists have been murdered in Mexico and 21 others remain missing. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) describes the country as the most dangerous in the world for communicators. The surge in violence has occurred within the context of the government’s war on drugs, a conflict that now claimed 260,000 lives and left more than 30,000 others unaccounted for. Last year was Mexico’s most violent year on record with 31,174 homicides according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

On December 1, 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-leaning politician who won the last election with more than 30 million votes, will become Mexico’s new president. For Álvaro Delgado “there is a possibility that the President will take up a new, unequivocal stance towards the media, and decide whether or not he will continue to show disdain towards them, or tolerate impunity for crimes against them.”  If, however, the new administration fails to end the widespread violence throughout Mexico, its journalists will feel no safer.

For his part, Fernando Coca believes that the incoming government has to guarantee the free exercise of journalism and protect journalists not only against attacks from”legally constituted authorities but also from the de facto power of organized crime, mainly in the states of the country which complement government actions.”  

The last twelve years in Mexico but especially those during the government of Peña Nieto have provided ample evidence of how complicity between criminal elements and the state can produce an atmosphere in which harassment, censorship, and even the murder of journalists can take place with almost complete impunity.

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

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