Mexican photojournalist Rubén Espinosa was just found tortured and murdered, along with human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women.
Freedom of expression is under attack in my country, one of Latin America’s oldest democracies, and Rubén is the 14th journalist killed in the southern state of Veracruz where governor Javier Duarte has made open threats against reporters. Almost none of these crimes have been solved.
But this case has sent thousands into the streets and set off an explosion in the national and global media. Now Gael García Bernal, Salman Rushdie, Christiane Amanpour and hundreds of journalists, writers and artists have signed an open letter demanding justice for journalists in Mexico murdered for doing their jobs.
The letter is already making waves with the government, but if we add over a million more names, and get it published on the front page of Mexican media, we can drive it home and show that people from every country in the world stand with the freedom of expression fight in Mexico. Add your voice now:
Mexico now ranks as one of the deadliest countries in the world to be a journalist, on par with war-torn nations like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. And since President Peña Nieto assumed power, attacks on the media have risen by 80 percent.
For more than a decade Mexico has been wracked by incredible violence as cartels have waged war on each other for control of the lucrative drug trade. A slew of journalists have been killed for reporting on criminal gangs — but experts say many murders can be traced to reporting on political corruption. I know firsthand, death threats in the wake of my own political reporting in Mexico have forced me to flee the country more than once, I have been tortured and incarcerated by corrupted politicians.
In the southern State of Veracruz where Rubén worked for years, 13 other journalists have been killed in the last few years, all under the administration of a thuggish governor, Javier Duarte. He has consistently threatened reporters, and was apparently so upset by an unflattering photo Rubén Espinosa shot of him that he had the offending magazine removed from news stands all over the State capital.
In June, Rubén Espinosa told fellow reporters that recently he was being followed and menaced by men in government security outfits. He also said that someone in the State Government threatened him directly, saying, “stop taking pictures if you don’t want to end up like Regina,” referring to Regina Martinez — a journalist murdered in 2012.
But Ruben’s tragic death could be a turning point in this violence as thousands have gathered to mourn and demand justice in Mexico City. If we stand with them now, and publish this powerful letter, we will show the government they are under the global spotlight and the whole world wants justice and urgent action to end these murders. Join the call — journalists in Mexico, and everywhere, should be able to do their jobs without paying for it with their lives:
When freedom of expression is under attack, the Avaaz community has reacted time and again. Now it’s time for us to raise our voices to support brave Mexican reporters and rights defenders. Let’s make sure they know they’re not alone. That’s the true meaning of global solidarity. We know it can empower those on the front lines, and powerfully turn situations around.
They will not silence us,
Lydia Cacho, Mexican journalist and human rights defender, with the Avaaz team.
PS – If you’re a journalist or writer, click this special link to join the campaign.
President Peña Nieto: Investigate the Murders of Journalists in Mexico and Establish Mechanisms to Protect their Lives (PEN)
‘They want to erase journalists in Mexico’ (The Observer)
Writers slam ‘censorship by bullet’ in Mexico (FT)
‘Journalists are being slaughtered’ – Mexico’s problem with press freedom (The Guardian)
A Gruesome Murder in Mexico’s Last Safe City (The Daily Beast)
Mexico, where freedom of the press is being killed (DW)
No safety for journalists in Mexico (The Intercept)
Mexico City prosecutor confirms killing of news photographer (Reuters)
Mexican photojournalist Ruben Espinosa found dead (BBC)
“When I was tortured and imprisoned for publishing a story about a network of politicians, organized crime, child pornography and sex tourism, I was confronted with the dilemma: ‘Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by only 300 powerful men, corrupted and rich? Was there any point in demanding justice or freedom in a country where nine out of 10 crimes are never investigated? Was it worth risking my life and my freedom?’ Of course the answer was ‘Yes!’”
Lydia Cacho, Talking to the IFEX Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in June 2009 in Oslo, Norway
April 7, 2015
When I was in second grade of elementary school I was six years old and I witnessed my earliest memory of child mistreatment. The teacher ripped off the ear of a girl in the class. This happened in a small mining town in Zacatecas, Mexico. My father was the manager of the Mill and the rest of the children were sons and daughters of the miners. The next day I was taken from the second grade class, there was a single class per grade, to the third grade with my teacher from the previous year and I did my second year with the kids from the third grade.
To understand Mexico one must realize that Mexico is a European Settler State, and as such, his society is strongly stratified and racist, and that his moral values are paternalistic and authoritarian. There is a minority upper, upper middle class, that is white or aspirational white and holds most of the wealth, an underclass of mestizos, and a social lumpen of indigenous population. While social upward mobility is possible, or rather, not impossible — after all Benito Juarez was a pure blooded Zapoteca —, discrimination and vicious cycles of lack of educational and job opportunities tend to preserve the status quo.
Child labor is so prevalent that “the girl” is slang for a household maid, even when referring to middle age women. The availability of low cost child labor is perceived by middle class Mexicans as normal and even touted to foreigners as one of the best things that Mexico has to offer.
It is only natural that such society had an authoritarian paternalistic government. A recent UN investigation claims that human-rights violations by the Mexican government are widespread and go virtually unpunished (VÁSQUEZ, 2015).
“Torture and ill-treatment, in the moments following detention and before detainees are brought before a judge, are generalized in Mexico and occur in a context of impunity,” states the report. The reaction of the Mexican government was to complain about the use of the term “generalized” and to attack the Rapporteur as neither “professional nor ethical.” The subtext here is that human-right abuses in Mexico are mostly applied to the disfranchised poor that are invisible to the power elites.
Nonetheless, in the current climate of globalization and widespread Internet access, the
Mexican government has been responsive to international agreements on human rights legislation. This is considered a positive influence by lawyers and public servants. The modern antecedent is the Case of Radilla-Pacheco v. Mexico that was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and received judgment on November 23, 2009 (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 2009). Radilla-Pacheco was the first instance where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemns the Mexican state of serious human rights violations. As a result, the Mexican government has implemented measures to comply with international criteria of human rights enforcement. In particular, a new federal on rights of minors (LEY GENERAL DE LOS DERECHOS DE NIÑAS, NIÑOS Y ADOLESCENTES) makes explicit the legal standing of international treaties on human rights in article 49 (CÁMARA DE DIPUTADOS DEL H. CONGRESO DE LA UNIÓN, 2014).
Human rights continue to require improvement in Mexico. 22,000 people have disappeared or gone missing in Mexico since 2006; most are believed to have been abducted by criminal gangs, but many are reported to have been subjected to enforced disappearance by police and military, sometimes acting in collusion with those gangs. The few victims whose remains have been found show signs of torture and other ill-treatment. The federal and state authorities have failed to investigate these crimes and have attempted to cover up the human rights crisis (Amnisty International, 2014). Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade, according to a new report published by Amnesty International. The report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico charts a serious rise of torture and other ill-treatment and a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.
There are 32.5 million children in Mexico whose human-rights are not well established for social and institutional reasons. UNICEF indicates that in Mexico six out of ten children, under 14 years suffer acts of violence; and in almost half of cases (47 percent) was responsible the mother, and in 29 percent of the reports, it was the father (UNICEF, 2014). However, adults do not perceive the real level of violence suffer by the children.
In Mexico, deaths due to violence constitute 3% of all deaths. Between ages 0 to 4, it’s one among the 20 principal causes of death. According the World Report: Violence against Children (UNICEF, 2006), babies and minors have higher risk of death by homicide (UNICEF, 2014). Girls are in a situation of additional vulnerability because they experience inequality and violation of their rights on a daily basis. According to the Violence against Women National Survey 2003, 1 out of 4 women admitted having a violent relationship in their lives. 42% of the interviewees were beaten as a child by a parent or other family member (INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ESTADÍSTICA Y GEOGRAFÍA, 2013 ).
Because the children’s exposure to violence and neglect is rooted in social values and traditions the role of journalism as factor for changes is paramount. However it is not easy for Mexican journalist to go against the grain. Even the new laws that purportedly are meant to protect the right of minors are taken by the government as gag opportunities. In the final version of a new bill designed to protect children The Mexican National Congress agreed to remove a provision which would have called for prison time for journalists who publish or disseminate information, images, or voices of children without the consent of their parents. The Inter American Press Association (SIP) expressed concern that the legislation could have been used to restrict freedom of the press. The organization warned that, even though the law had not been debated in Congress, it could be used to condemn journalists, writers, editors, and media directors to lengthy prison sentences (MARTY , 2014).
The human rights activists and journalists face attacks, threats, intimidation, kidnapping and executions in reprisal for their legitimate and valuable work. Those behind the attacks are almost never brought to justice. Despite positive statements of the government, resources and political support at high level are necessary to ensure that the authorities implement security measures. The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these attacks promotes tolerance to these attacks. Civil Society must seize every opportunity to publicly recognize the positive role that human rights activists and journalists play and their right to do their job. Such recognition is essential to reduce the risk under which these people operate (Amnisty International, 2014).
At least some of the Mexican journalists are not lacking in courage but the road is hard. An illustrative example is the case of Lydia Cacho (Jones & Thomas de Benitez, 2014). Lydia Cacho was arbitrarily detained and tortured. She has lived through harassment, threats, exile, and all for one reason: reporting the abuse of political power, pedophile rings and sex trafficking (ARTICLE 19, 2014). Cacho was arrested arbitrarily, incommunicado and tortured on 16 December 2005, accused of defamation and slander. The Judicial Police of the state of Puebla, jointly with the Attorney General of the state of Quintana Roo, arrested the journalist in Cancun without being legally entitled to do so. In this context, several recordings were leaked. In these the governor of Puebla, Mario Marín, offered to punish journalist Cacho for the book The Demons of Eden. The journalist was acquitted a year later. Since 2005, Lydia Cacho has been attacked and threatened by issues related to her work as a journalist and human rights defender. Even in 2012 she had to leave the country because of threats against her life.
Most Mexican civil groups involved with children were motivated by charitable notions of care and ‘love’ rather than on rights as fundamental core precepts with legal and political backing The weak effect of child rights discourse in a charged political atmosphere diffused the outrage generated by the Cacho case into compelling and competing discourses of gender rights, press freedom and representative politics that became the frames through which the scandal was understood.
In themselves, Lydia Cacho’s claims were not startling or new. On the eve of the Demonios scandal, Mexico’s record on ensuring the rights of young people were considerable in the letter of law but absent in daily reality. The ‘Cacho Case’ represented an important test for how the media might adopt a discourse of rights and confirm journalistic freedoms and constitutional protections afforded to citizens.
Lydia Cacho had long been deeply involved in the practice and advocacy of child rights protection and welfare and concluded her book by questioning how people could be unaware that child abuse, pedophilia and trafficking existed on the scale that she had uncovered, and why, if people had suspected its scale, they had not acted. The media presented the ‘Cacho case’ as a conflict involving a short, dark skinned man (Marin), a network of businessmen of Lebanese origin, and Lydia Cacho herself, an educated white woman. Child abuse was generally referred to only as context, the true scandal was the constraint on individual and press freedoms, abuse of power, and the weak rule of law. Child rights organizations were largely absent from demonstrations, reports in newspaper columns, and television and radio commentaries pertaining to the Cacho case. Cacho herself was frustrated by this lack of attention to children’s rights. So why did child rights not become a central focus of public discourse surrounding the Cacho case? What does this absence tell us about the extent to which international rights discourse has been embraced by civil society in Mexico? (Jones & Thomas de Benitez, 2014)
‘… the first thing I said [in interviews] was that these children are in danger … Somebody wants to kill them. They want to have a new life, they need help, they need psychologists …. And what the media printed was that I was very brave, that I was good looking, and that Mario Marín and I had a fight, a personal fight. So, my efforts were centred on talking about the children while the media efforts were centred on making money on my case and making it a scandal. There was a time in which anyone who asked me, ‘What do you think about the scandal?’, wouldn’t get an interview. I would tell them to . . . forget it…This is not a scandal, this is an issue – child pornography and child abuse. There are children on the line and you’re asking me about a scandal…’ [Interview with authors, 2 February 2009 (Jones & Thomas de Benitez, 2014)]
Among Mexican child advocacy organizations there is a wide and largely superficial understanding of child and human rights. Some organizations have no compunction about disregarding the UN Convention on Rights of Children and being oblivious to its precepts, justifying this stance by claiming that work with children requires sensibilities to local realities and cultural norms. Children’s rights are perceived in Mexico as a foreign concept. Perceiving themselves to be neither activists nor even advocates, most Community Service Organizations (CSOs) generally did not consider the Cacho case as an opportunity to engage the public on the issue of children’s rights, nor as a basis for transforming popular discontent into a social movement. CSOs that do include rights advocacy as more central to their work often have a more international orientation.
Good investigative reporting is necessary in Mexico as an element of change that brings a deeper awareness and concern for children’s rights into Mexican Society. It is not enough to have a few brave and talented journalists like Cacho and Aristegui. Social media must be used by concerned individuals to raise consciousness at the local level. However, even in this limited space the risks are high. Marisol Macías Castañeda, also appearing as Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro in media reports and known for her online name “NenaDLaredo” or “La Nena De Laredo was a Mexican editor-in-chief for Primera Hora in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico and posted information about drug activities online. Macías was secretly reporting using the internet site Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, about drug cartels in her city. Los Zetas murdered her in a publicly visible and brutal slaying. Her murder is the first documented murder of a journalist by a drug cartel in retaliation for journalism that was posted on a social media site (Wikipedia, 2014).
But, if there is life, there is hope, and Mexico can have a good future if it moves toward a more egalitarian society that treats children as human beings with inherent rights. A militant activist journalism is a required element to make the transition from a paternalistic authoritarian society that worships violence into a democratic egalitarian society.
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