The helplessness of journalists threatened in Mexico: “My death was dated”

       
A woman watches the coffin of the journalist Celestino Ruiz, killed on August 3 at his home in Actopan, in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in peace for journalists. The last three were killed in four days, between July 30 and August 2

The reporter Héctor Valdez left his town in southern Mexico to flee a date: May 10, the day he was going to be killed. “If I had stayed there, they would have killed me and nothing would have happened,” says this journalist, who has been a refugee for a few months in Mexico City. A feeling of helplessness common in the country. Eight months after the start of the new Government, nine informants have been killed in a climate of harassment that does not seem to dissipate.

The day before his departure, Valdez, 54, had covered the third shooting of the day in Tulum, the Caribbean town where he lived, in the tourist state of Quintana Roo. After recording a video with his cell phone, he went to the car to upload it to his network news portal Tulum. It was stifling heat and he left the door open. “Suddenly, a walking guy, common and ordinary, passes by, stares at me and says:‘ You are going to die tomorrow, fuck! ”, He recalls. The next morning, Valdez left with a suitcase and three changes of clothes.

The wave of murders that Mexico has been experiencing for more than a decade has left a trail of violence against journalists: 3,594 attacks and 95 murders from the end of 2006 until 2018, according to the NGO’s registry Article 19. The trend has not slowed in the first months of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The murders, nine in just eight months, are on their way to breaking a record since Article 19 began counting them in 2000.

The last days of July and first of August were fateful. On Tuesday, July 30, they found the body of a media manager in the trunk of a car. That same day, a group of hooded men attacked Molotov bombs at a local newspaper in Chihuahua, in the north of the country. And on Friday, August 2, two other reporters were shot dead.

The profile of the victims is repeated: local media reporters that cover the red note, as crime news is known in Mexico. They often cause harassment and demolition campaigns against them, especially when they deal with corruption issues. Jorge Ruiz, one of the reporters killed on August 2, had reported attacks on his home after publishing critical articles with the management of the City of Actopan, a town of 40,000 inhabitants in Veracruz, east of the country.

Valdez has a similar story. In May he attended one of the daily press conferences of President López Obrador to ask for protection. He denounced threats and criticized local authorities. Several Tulum officials charged him. “The Saraguato if it is not protected will soon be extinguished,” wrote the general director of public works in the town on his Facebook account. The saraguato, the nickname used by its detractors to refer to it, is a howler monkey from the region, endangered by deforestation. A worrying comparison.

In the face of abuses, entities responsible for protecting threatened journalists lack a budget, personnel and training, according to civil society organizations. “Mexico has institutions, but the figures are still comparable to those of war zones,” said the representative in Mexico of the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists Jan-Albert Hootsen.

According to the international organization Reporters Without Borders, Syria is the country that accumulates the most murders in recent years, although in 2018 Afghanistan was the deadliest: 14 journalists and two collaborators killed. Mexico, among the countries in peace, is the most dangerous for these professionals.

The federal protection mechanism, which depends on the Ministry of Interior (Interior) and is under review, has a budget for this year of about 10 million dollars (8.8 million euros) to cover 948 people, including reporters and activists. The authorities have recognized that it is not enough and that they will seek more resources by 2020 in a country marked by austerity and cuts.

“Suddenly, a walking guy, ordinary, passes by, stares at me and says: ‘You are going to die tomorrow, fuck!”

To Felix Bigman, the nickname used by a 46-year-old reporter from Yucatan, to the south of the country, the mechanism has failed him. He entered more than two years ago. He was promised a panic button, security cameras and periodic police surveillance: the cameras never arrived, he has only seen patrols a couple of times and the panic button, which he did receive, did not help him much. “Once I pressed it. The Federal Police called me to tell me that it would not be possible to send a patrol because they were in an operation, ”he says. A spokesman for the mechanism says they are “isolated cases” and that the delays may be due to the fact that some journalists live in “isolated communities.”

Cross Responsibility

Sometimes, failures in protection can be fatal. In the case of the murder of Jorge Ruiz, the local prosecutor accused the Veracruz government of having suspended his escort a few weeks earlier. The local Executive, controlled by Morena, López Obrador’s party, rejected the accusation and blamed the Prosecutor’s Office, led by opponents, for not providing him with the address of his grocery store, where he was killed.

Between one and the other, the State Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists (Ceapp) of Veracruz, which advised Ruiz, has recognized errors. “If there is no coordination, the result can be this,” says its president, Ana Laura Pérez. “The risks should have been better evaluated.”

Beyond protection failures, the underlying problem is impunity. 99.13% of these attacks remain without conviction, according to Article 19. One of those cases, the murder of the reporter Francisco Pacheco after leaving his daughters’ school, has been stuck for three years. Recently, his daughter Priscila, a 27-year-old lawyer, took a jug of cold water when he went to an appointment with the specialized Prosecutor’s Office, whose head has not so far wanted to make statements. “They want to frame it in a passion crime based on an anonymous testimony,” he laments.

Experts believe that authorities sometimes seek to avoid connecting murders to the exercise of journalism. “It is easier to say that it is passionate because linking it to your work can touch people of power,” acknowledges Ana Laura Pérez, of Ceapp. “If we continue with the inertia that has not been sentenced for the murders, nothing will change,” says Colin, Article 19.

In Mexico City, Valdez divides his time between the safe apartment where he lives, paid by the federal government, and the corner cafeteria with his cookie and cake shop window. There he drinks coffee facing the window, an old custom that he keeps just in case. “To see who is coming,” he explains. For now, his return to Tulum has no date: “That is my place, but I am not a suicide.”

VIOLENCE AGAINST THE PRESS, IN FIGURES

180 countries and territories evaluate Reporters Without Borders every year to measure the situation of journalism, a profession that is facing acts of violence that are increasing, according to the organization.

In 2018, 66 journalists, 13 citizen journalists and five collaborators were killed.

The United States  are the following that accumulate more deaths: six each.

Mexico is the most dangerous of the countries at peace. In 2018, eight reporters and two citizen journalists were murdered.

Afghanistan was the country with the most deaths: 14 journalists and two collaborators.

In Europe, the only record is that of Slovakian Jan Kuciak, shot at his home.

So far this year, there are 25 reporters, four citizen journalists and one collaborator killed. Mexico, which records nine, is followed by Afghanistan, with three.

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