Journalist Couple Murdered In 2010…Guerrero

THE MOURNFUL MURDERS OF A MARRIED JOURNALIST COUPLE: JUAN FRANCISCO RODRÍGUEZ RÍOS & MARÍA ELVIRA HERNÁNDEZ GALENA (ANDREW KENNIS, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared first in Spanish in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Velez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It is published at the MxJTP for the first time in English and with the permission of the author, who reserves all rights to the English original.

The Mournful Murder of a Married Couple: Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos & María Elvira Hernández Galena

By Andrew Kennis

On a typically hot and rainy night in the southwestern part of Guerrero, several gunmen briskly walked inside an Internet cafe owned and operated by a married couple who both practiced journalism. The gunmen proceeded to pull out their revolvers, after having gotten out of a black car with tinted windows, and shot and killed the couple at close range. He was shot three times, while she was shot four times. The date of the double-murder was June 28, 2010.

Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos, and María Elvira Hernández Galena, were respectively aged just 49 and 36 years-old when they were murdered. Rodriguez’s child was just 17 years-old when he witnessed all seven bullets end the lives of both of his parents.

In a chilling display of the kind of impact that widespread journalist killings have had in Mexico, colleagues reached for comment at El Sol de Acapulco, where Rodríguez had been working for the last half decade, produced reactions full of trepidation and fear.

“I didn’t have any relationship with him, aside from that of a working relationship,” the editor Carolina Santos whispered into the phone. “But I can say that he was a friendly person and always very respectful of everyone with whom he worked,” Santos added, albeit with hesitation.

Immediately following that comment, however, my call was transferred over to a reporter who made it a point to mention that she never knew Rodríguez and that no one was “authorized” to talk about him except the publisher of the paper.

What the silence amongst Rodríguez’s colleagues left in the wake of his death does not prevent us from finding out about, however, includes the following: Juan Rodríguez had been practicing journalism in Coyuca de Benítez, located within the Costa Grande region north of Acapulco, during the previous two decades. When he was killed, Rodríguez was the local stringer writing forEl Sol de Acapulco, as well as El Diario Objetivo of Chilpancingo.

Just hours before his death, Rodríguez had been on-the-scene reporting on a march commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Aguas Blancas massacre, which occurred after police had attacked a march of peasants in Coyuca de Benitez, murdering 17 of them in 1995.

Apart from his stringing and Internet cafe duties, Rodríguez was also a trade union representative for the National Union of Press Editors. Just days before his death, Rodríguez and several dozen of his journalistic colleagues had roundly condemned the persistent violence against journalists, which in 2010 was reaching a fever pitch. Eight journalists had been killed in Mexico and one had been missing at the point that Rodríguez and Hernández were killed in 2010, putting it as a year to out pace 2009 in terms of total journalists murdered, which saw 13 journalists slain. Further, the deaths marked the third and fourth murders of journalists during 2010 in Guerrero alone.

While a spokesperson for the state prosecutors told media and human rights investigators at the time of the murder, that suspected robbery was the cause, local journalists anonymously quoted by the press, spoke disparagingly about this explanation holding much weight. Internet cafes typically have no more than 600 pesos on hand and are not prime targets for robberies.

The double-murder attracted international condemnation and disdain. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said that these kind of crimes must not go “unpunished.” Carlos Lauría, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s senior program coordinator, said that the wave of murders was causing “widespread self-censorship.”

In a curious footnote to the killings,.38 caliber bullets were found at the scene of the murder, which occurred during a year that the controversial and since revealed U.S.-based Fast and Furious gun-walking program was at its height. .38 caliber revolvers were among the leading weapons that were walked under the program that resulted in thousands of high-powered weaponry winding up in the hands of the leading drug cartels in Mexico. However, since less than 5% of murders ever result in any significant investigation or prosecution, no suspects for the murder have ever been revealed, much less whether Fast and Furious weapons were used in the scene of a heinous murder and an apparent attack on journalistic freedom and autonomy.

Mexico #7 On CPJ Global Impunity Index…Murders of Journalists

Out today, the extract below is from the CPJ webpage summarising the Impunity Index. Mexico is in seventh place, making it the most dangerous place in Latin America to inform people about news.

Getting Away With Murder

CPJ’s 2014 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free

By Elisabeth Witchel/CPJ Impunity Campaign Consultant

Published April 16, 2014

NEW YORK
Syria has joined the list of countries where journalists’ murders are most likely to go unpunished, while Iraq, Somalia, and the Philippines once again were the worst offenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in its newly updated Impunity Index. Convictions in four countries represented a glimmer of good news.

Syria’s entrance to the Index at number five highlights the rising number of targeted killings there, a recent threat to journalists operating in the country. With unprecedented numbers of abductions and high rates of fatalities in combat and crossfire, Syria was already the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.

Fresh violence and a failure to prosecute old cases kept Iraq, Somalia, and the Philippines in the three worst slots on the Index. Iraq, with 100 percent impunity in 100 cases, is at number one, a spot it has held since the survey’s inception in2008. Iraq’s journalists, targeted in record-breaking numbers since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, saw a respite in 2012, the first year no journalists were killed in relation to their work. However, a resurgence of militant groups across the country propelled a spike to 10 journalist killings last year—nine of them murders.

Consistent with the four previous years, Somalia ranks second worst worldwide. Four new murders in 2013 added to the already alarming numbers of journalists killed in retaliation for their work. Elusive armed insurgent groups have terrorized the media beyond the reach of Somalia’s fragile law and order institutions, but authorities have also failed to adequately investigate attacks by other sources, according to CPJ research.

For this year’s edition of the Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population, CPJ examined journalist murders in every nation in the world for the years 2004 through 2013. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index. This year, 13 countries met the Index criteria, compared with 12last year.

In a positive development, convictions took place in four countries on the Index—yet in only one case were those who ordered the crime apprehended or tried, reflecting a global pattern. The Philippines sentenced the broadcast journalist Gerardo Ortega’s shooter to life in prison. With the murders of 51 journalists still awaiting justice, this development has not changed the country’s Index ranking, which has remained firm at number three since 2010. Pakistan’s near-perfect record of impunity was shattered when courts convicted six suspects (though two of them are at large) for the 2011 murder of Wali Khan Babar. Russian courts sentenceda Russian businessman to seven years for inciting the 2000 murder of Igor Domnikov, and Brazil’s courts convicted perpetrators of three murders—including, in one case, the mastermind. In the rest of these crimes, the masterminds remain at large.

Journalists protest the one-year anniversary of the murder of journalist Regina Martínez Pérez. Anti-press attacks are so common that Mexican authorities passed a bill authorizing federal authorities to prosecute crimes against journalists. (AP/Felix Marquez)

Journalists protest the one-year anniversary of the murder of journalist Regina Martínez Pérez. Anti-press attacks are so common that Mexican authorities passed a bill authorizing federal authorities to prosecute crimes against journalists. (AP/Felix Marquez)

Lawmakers in Mexico, seventh on the list, approved legislation in April 2013 to support enactment of a constitutional amendment giving federal authorities jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against journalists. Though the law is viewed as an important step toward improving press freedom, no significant progress has been made yet in Mexico’s 16 unsolved cases.

Colombia’s ranking improved significantly, due to a drop in journalist killings in recent years, though no one has been convicted of killing a journalist since 2009. While Colombia has taken measures to provide security to journalists under threat, journalists have also been compelled in many cases to self-censor, or flee their homes.

While no apparent progress was made in any cases in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, CPJ did not record any new murders in those countries from 2009 to 2013. Nigeria stayed on the Index for the second year in a row with five unsolved cases. Two new murders took place in India in 2013, bringing to seven the total number of unprosecuted murders.

Growing international concern over the absence of justice in media attacks prompted strong attention from the United Nations last year. UNESCO kicked off the implementation of the U.N. Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, a framework adopted in 2012. In November, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on safety of journalists. The resolution calls for states to act to pursue justice and recognizes November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity.

Among the other findings in CPJ’s Impunity Index:

  • 96 percent of victims are local reporters. The majority covered politics, corruption, and war in their home countries.
  • A climate of impunity engenders violence. In eight countries that appear repeatedly on the Index year after year, new murders took place in 2013.
  • Threats often precede killings. In at least four out of every 10 journalist murders, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed.
  • Killers of journalists aim to send a chilling message to the entire news media. Almost a third of murdered journalists were either taken captive or tortured before their death.
  • 10 of the 13 countries on the Impunity Index have been listed each year since CPJ began the annual analysis in 2008, underscoring the challenges in reversing entrenched impunity.
  • Political groups, including armed factions, are the suspected perpetrators in more than 40 percent of murder cases. Government and military officials are considered the leading suspects in 26 percent of the cases. In fewer than five percent of cases are the masterminds ever apprehended and prosecuted.

For a detailed explanation of CPJ’s methodology, click here.

CSUN journalism professor José Luis Benavides interviews Charles Bowden

Cal State Northridge, journalism professor, José Luis Benavides, interviews journalist and author Charles Bowden, April 22, 2013.

Over the last twenty years Bowden has authored several books on the violence occurring on the border between the United States and Mexico, focusing on Ciudad Juárez. Benavides and Bowden discuss the factors that led to his decision to start writing about the atrocities that Mexico’s powerful and, well-connected, elite carry out against the poor citizens of the country. At the forefront of his decision were the local street photographers that he encountered during a murder story he was investigating in Juárez in 1995. Bowden continues to tell the true story of why such an overwhelming amount of violence exists in Juárez.

After writing a piece about the exceptional work of the Juárez photographers, he discusses the origins of his friendship and collaborative working relationship with Juárez photographer, Julián Cardona. Bowden and Cardona have collaborated on several books. In “Juárez: Laboratory of our Future” Bowden shares how “American generated poverty in factories owned by American companies that pay slave wages,” are not enough for Mexican citizens, working in maquiladoras (foreign owned factories along the US/Mex. border), to survive. The book “Exodus/Éxodo” documents the emigration of Mexican citizens.

Sandra Rodríguez Nieto presenta su libro “La fábrica del crimen” en Los Ángeles/Sandra Rodriguez Nieto Presents her Book The Factory of Crime in Los Angeles

El Nuevo Sol periodista, Manuel Morfin escribe sobre la presentación de Sandra Rodríguez Nieto de su libro, “La Fábrica del Crimen”. Puede leer el artículo completo haciendo clic aquí.

“Sandra Rodríguez Nieto, periodista investigativa de Ciudad Juárez, presentó el jueves su libro La fábrica del crimen en la Universidad del Estado de California, Northridge (CSUN) en Los Ángeles, y habló sobre el proceso periodístico que realizó a lo largo de varios años y que culminó en la publicación de su obra, una historia que narra el trágico final de Vicente, un adolescente de Ciudad Juárez que mató a sus padres y hermana con la ayuda de dos de sus amigos y con la firme convicción de que nadie lo notaría…”

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GOOGLE TRANSLATION:

El Nuevo Sol reporter, Manuel Morfin writes about Sandra Rodriguez Nieto’s presentation from her book, “La Fabrica del Crimen.” You can read the full story (in Spanish) by clicking here.

“Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, investigative journalist in Ciudad Juarez, on Thursday introduced her book The Factory of Crime in the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in Los Angeles, and talked about the journalistic process conducted over several years and culminated in the publication of her work, a story that chronicles the tragic end of Vincent, a teen in Ciudad Juarez that killed his parents and sister with the help of two of his friends and with the firm conviction that no one would notice … “

Risking Life for Truth

Published in The New York Review of BooksAlma Guillermoprieto, writes about the real heroes of Mexico who seek the truth:

Let us say that you are a Mexican reporter working for peanuts at a local television station somewhere in the provinces—the state of Durango, for example—and that one day you get a friendly invitation from a powerful drug-trafficking group. Imagine that it is the Zetas, and that thanks to their efforts in your city several dozen people have recently perished in various unspeakable ways, while justice turned a blind eye. Among the dead is one of your colleagues. Now consider the invitation, which is to a press conference to be held punctually on the following Friday, at a not particularly out of the way spot just outside of town. You were, perhaps, considering going instead to a movie? Keep in mind, the invitation notes, that attendance will be taken by the Zetas.

Imagine now that you arrive on the appointed day at the stated location, and that you are greeted by several expensively dressed, highly amiable men. Once the greetings are over, they have something to say, and the tone changes. We would like you, they say, to be considerate of us in your coverage. We have seen or heard certain articles or news reports that are unfair and, dare we say, displeasing to us. Displeasing. We have our eye on you. We would like you to consider the consequences of offending us further. We know you would not look forward to the result. We give warning, but we give no quarter. You are dismissed.

1.

I heard the story of one such press conference a couple of years ago, shortly after it took place, and had it confirmed recently by a supervisor of one of the reporters who was present. It gives some notion of the real difficulty of practicing journalism in provincial Mexico, where dozens of reporters have been killed since the start of the century, some after prolonged torture. Different totals are given for the number of victims.

For example, Article 19, the British organization to protect freedom of expression, gives a figure of seventy-two reporters and photographers killed in Mexico since the year 2000, and of these, forty-five killed since the start of the administritation of Felipe Calderón, in 2006. Other organizations give a total of more than eighty. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), among others, lists only twenty-seven killed since 1992. It does, however, keep a separate, open list of journalists’ deaths in which the motive for each assassination remains unexplained by authorities. When these two sets of victims are added up the total is sixty-five. “Mexico has the highest number of unconfirmed cases in the world…and the real reason so many cases we examine are unconfirmed is that there’s no real official investigation [of these crimes] at all,” the CPJ’s director, Joel Simon, told me. “So we don’t know why they were killed.”

Whichever way one counts the total, those responsible for only three crimes against journalists have been tried, convicted, and sentenced since 1997, and in two of those cases there is widespread doubt that the convicted men were the minds behind the crime, or even that they pulled the trigger.

In recent years, all the murders of journalists and all but a few of the threats against them, as well as disappearances and kidnappings, have taken place in the provinces. While covering the trial of Raúl Salinas de Gortari, older brother of disgraced former president Carlos Salinas, back in 1997, I learned that reporting for one of the hundreds of small media outlets that exist outside Mexico City is hard and often humiliating work. Raúl Salinas was a powerful and unpleasant character. He could and probably should have been tried for many things in connection with the hundred or so million dollars he had languishing in various Swiss bank accounts, but he ultimately served ten years’ hard time on a murder charge for which the evidence was laughable. (The alleged skeleton of one of Salinas’s supposed victims was unearthed on his property with the assistance of a self-described seer. Eventually it turned out that, at the request of the main prosecutor in the case, the skeleton had been planted by the seer’s ex-son-in-law, who in turn had dug up his long dead father for the purpose.)

Farce or not, the judging of a former president’s brother, in a country where the powerful enjoy almost total impunity, was unquestionably the trial of the century. Under Mexico’s legal system, there was no jury, and the trial took place within a high-security prison a couple of hours’ drive from Mexico City. I went out there every day for a week, to wait for hours at a time under a harsh sun for the one day when the authorities would, more or less arbitrarily, allow public access to the proceedings.

My colleagues from the country’s principal news media turned out to be local reporters from the nearby city of Toluca, most of them stringers. I soon found out that they took turns among themselves covering the trial (or rather, waiting outside the prison for the occasional opportunity to cover the trial) so that each might have time to pursue the outside activities that allowed them to patch together a living. The reporter for one of the two principal television stations sold real estate in the mornings; another worked afternoons as a radio announcer. All were expected to recruit advertisers. (If memory serves, a commission on these ads was part of their income.)

Some arrived at the prison by bus. Several did not own computers. One had to borrow a tape recorder. They were not idealistic, but the job was exciting. They had clawed their way up the Mexican class system to find a career, and they were proud of themselves. It wasn’t clear how many of them had graduated from journalism school or even college. For better or worse, many provincial reporters still have not. They worked fantastically hard, longed for career training and respect, and knew a great deal more than they published or broadcast.

Given the circumstances, it would hardly be surprising if local reporters like the ones I knew back then were to be grateful for the envelope proffered by a drug trafficker as a sweetener to a death threat. Bribes, known as chayotes, are a long-established supplement to the income of journalists in Mexico.1

Such payments were promoted and made primarily by the government itself since the early days of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and offered with greater or lesser subtlety according to the rank of the person to be paid. An editor from the provinces told me that the practice was more common in Mexico City, but an editor in Mexico City said it was the other way around. “Remarkably, [the chayote] has been impermeable to all the winds of modernity,” said Luis Miguel González, the news editor of a business daily, El Financiero, and a literate and dispassionate observer of the world he works in. “It’s hard for foreigners to understand the lightheartedness with which the practice of the chayote is viewed in the general media,” he went on. “Chayobribes, chayotours, chayomeals are all part of the joke.”

Sometimes money is given to a reporter, a publisher, or an editor, specifically for the purpose of slandering a political enemy. Sometimes it is given in thanks by the subject of a particularly favorable story. Mostly though, the money is handed out, like a regular salary, to beat reporters by their sources. In exchange, the writers are expected to publish government press releases as if they were news stories and to keep their own reporting within bounds delineated by the chayote giver. High-level reporters who pride themselves on their independence would be offended by such bribery. Instead, as González put it, they might be offered the chance to be lied to by a high-level government source.

It is hard to determine how immoral the chayote might seem to Mexican reporters, given that the practice was institutionalized by their own government. Not to accept a bribe or emolument from an official can be seen as a hostile act—a threat, almost. Few editors or publishers can be counted on to stand behind a reporter who refuses to play by the rules. Even fewer pay a living wage. (In the state of Tabasco, where the Zetas are powerful, the enterprising Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martínez found out that reporters are paid 60 pesos—about $5—per story.)

There has been a great burst of reformism and housecleaning in the Mexican media starting in the mid-1980s—there are now any number of superb, and fantastically brave, reporters who struggle to report and publish stories on all aspects of Mexico’s difficult situation2—but the practice of chayotearing beat reporters has gradually crept back to pre-reform levels. As a working editor, El Financiero’s González has to deal with these issues in often painful ways. “They will offer a free official trip somewhere. Then they’ll tell you that on the trip there will be a good news story. Turn down the trip and you lose the story.” My own very general impression over the years has been that the great majority of Mexican beat reporters see themselves as seekers of the truth who operate within extremely narrow confines. Or as González sums up their view: “Accept the bribe but don’t get corrupted.”

Which is to say that Mexican beat reporters’ dealings with the menacing drug traffickers in their neighborhood are not so different from their historical relationship to government officials. The distinction between dead reporters suspected by international watchdog organizations of being on the take from the drug trade and dead reporters suspected by those in political power of not being on the take from anyone is perhaps less useful in this light.

Let us say that a Zeta press conference makes a deep impression on reporter A, particularly after reporter B is murdered for collaborating instead with the police. Reporter A decides to tailor her stories to what she imagines would be the liking of those who are watching her, and even accepts specific instructions, guidelines, and requests. Let us say that one day she is murdered by enemies of the Zetas, who have spotted her as an enemy collaborator. In the unlikely circumstance that an outside observer could actually learn why and how it was that reporter A died, the question would remain: Was she involved with the drug trade or a victim of deadly blackmail? In either case, the likelihood is that both reporters A and B were merely trying to stay alive.

2.

I went recently to the charming city of Xalapa, capital of the state of Veracruz, to talk with officials there about a recent wave of killings of journalists—eight dead in just two years, two of them dismembered, their heads left near the door of another newspaper. Xalapa has a lovely climate, an ambitious university, one of the best museums in the country, and, in the last two years, a raging war between powerful rival drug groups.

The state also has a notable spokesperson, Gina Domínguez, so famous that she was featured on the cover of a local society magazine that month. An enormous bouquet of roses decorates her spacious office. Her staff, friendly and highly qualified, speaks of her effusively. Thanks to a change in state law, she now oversees public relations for all branches of state government and not just for the governor. It is common to hear that she is the real power in Veracruz. More poisonous online rumors point to her tour of duty as press secretary to Mario Villanueva—former governor of the state of Quintana Roo, now extradited to the United States on federal drug charges—and accuse her of bribing the editors of local and even national newspapers.

On the day I arrived, all the Veracruz newspapers carried a front-page story—lifted more or less whole from the press release issued by Domínguez’s office—about the arrest of four men and one woman. The headlines announced that with these arrests (which actually took place a week before the press conference), the killing of four of the eight reporters murdered in Veracruz since 2011 had just been solved. The detainees had confessed, saying that they had acted as hit men for the Pacific Coast drug group Cartel del Milenio.

Further, the press release and the media stories said, the accused had identified the killer of a fifth journalist, who, they said, had worked for the enemy camp, the Zetas. The suspects said that they had also killed “some” other reporters, which in turn had, according to the communiqué, “caused the deaths of still other reporters assassinated…by the Zetas.” Better yet, the group of killers had freely confessed, or so it was said, to an additional thirty-one homicides. Thirty-six killings solved at a single blow!

In her office, Press Secretary Domínguez spoke in such perfectly even tones, with an expression so utterly unshifting, that I have no memory of her personality. She blinked once, and changed the subject, when I suggested that reporters used to the official bribe system were now being asked to choose between the frying pan and the fire, but otherwise she surfed smoothly over every question.

Could I interview the detainees? She listed the intricate legal impediments to that. Why was it that the wave of crimes against reporters had increased so sharply when the governor she now worked for was elected? In Veracruz, as in the rest of Mexico, she noted, drug group warfare was always shifting from state to state, and the murder of journalists was one of the accompanying phenomena. The government’s record of successful struggle against violent crime was outstanding, she said coolly, and it had gone further than that of any other state in promoting more professional journalism. Had she in fact worked for the disgraced former governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva? Indeed she had, she said, for two months, and she had left that state long before his arrest.

Throughout the interview—she gave generously of her time—she stayed on message. “We have always maintained that the murder of these journalists had nothing to do with freedom of expression.” The five detainees’ confessions, she insisted, made it clear that the murder victims were only partially employed as reporters, and that the actions of reporters on the police beat were furthering the interest of los grupos criminales. In every case but one, she stressed, all the victims were linked to the police beat.

The following day, both Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists mentioned the dearth of evidence provided by the Veracruz state attorney general. A few days ago, when I asked Dario Ramírez, head of Article 19’s Mexico regional office, if he knew how the case against the suspects was moving along, he explained why he didn’t. The logic of the government officials, he said, “is to let the cases ‘cool,’ without producing an effective result. There is no access to the investigation, so we don’t know what stage it’s in.”

3.

On November 13, 2008, the reporter Armando Rodríguez, who worked for the Juárez newspaper El Diario, waited in his car with his oldest daughter, then eight years old, while his wife got the youngest ready for preschool. She heard shots, and for a moment thought that it was just part of the general Juárez soundtrack. When she looked out the window seconds later it was too late. Riddled with bullet wounds, Rodríguez was slumped over his daughter’s body, whom he died protecting.

Armando Rodríguez—known everywhere as El Choco (for “chocolate”) because of his skin color—started out in journalism as the cameraman for Blanca Martínez, who was then a TV reporter. They married, and while Blanca became the editor of the local Catholic church weekly, Rodríguez persuaded a Juárez newspaper to hire him, and he transferred to El Diario as a reporter.

He worked the police beat hard, particularly at the time of a series of unspeakable feminicidios, or serial killings, of young Juárez women, and then again when the wave of drug violence started in 2008. An elder statesman on the police beat, Choco was respected by his editors and by his colleagues for his aggressive reporting.

“They said he was temperamental,” his widow told me over the phone, “but it was just because he was so passionate about his work.” The first time he got death threats the paper persuaded him to take a break because he needed an operation. Many other threats followed. In the weeks leading up to his murder, Choco Rodríguez had published articles linking relatives of the Chihuahua state attorney general, Patricia González Rodríguez (no relation), to the dr ug trade. On November 12 he wrote a story about the gangland execution of two police officers who, according to Choco, worked directly for the attorney general, pointing implicitly to the possibility that the attorney general herself had connections to the drug trade. The story ran in the issue of November 13, which hit the street around 1:30 AM. A few hours later, Choco was dead.3

I asked Blanca Martínez how the investigation into her husband’s murder was going and her voice got small. “That December they came to question me,” she said. “I can’t remember if they were federal or state police. They asked me about his work, they asked me if he carried a weapon. [He didn’t.] One of them told me that they had precise instructions [from the federal government] to investigate the case. That was the first and only time the government ever sought me out.” There were no arrests, she said. There were no new leads. The investigation was inactive. Years had passed before she was allowed to see the court files on her husband’s murder, and then only briefly. There was, additionally, the fact that the main federal investigator had been gunned down a year after the murder. His replacement was killed shortly afterward.

Few murders in Mexico have been the focus of as much media indignation or pressure as Choco’s. It has become a cause for Juárez reporters and editors and several media associations in Mexico City. The crime has also become a flagship case of sorts for the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York and is the most influential organization of its kind. In the fall of 2010, after many requests, the CPJ was able to meet with President Felipe Calderón, whose term in office is likely to be associated forever with the ill-fated decision to declare a military war on drugs, and with the atrocious violence that ensued.

During his conversation with the CPJ delegation, the president emphasized that he was just as concerned with the fate of journalists in Mexico as his visitors, and as determined to see justice done in the case of every crime against them. In fact, he said, the murder of Choco Rodríguez had just been solved; the culprit was a confessed hit man who had been under arrest for several months and had not previously mentioned murdering Rodríguez, but who had recovered his memory of this crime.

Weeks before the CPJ meeting with Calderón, a reporter at El Diario was contacted by someone who claimed to have a brother, a convicted murderer, doing time in the Juárez penitentiary. This brother was the leader of a gang of killers, and had confessed to several murders. But the source was concerned because the convict was being removed from prison every weekend and taken to a military base. There, he was being tortured mercilessly, and told to confess to the murder of Choco Rodríguez. But he continued to insist that he had not committed that murder.

The day after the CPJ delegation’s meeting with Calderón, the editors and reporters at El Diario were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together: the tortured hit man was called Juan Soto Arias, and it was he who had been identified by President Calderón as the confessed killer of Rodríguez. “Whatever limited confidence we had in the investigation disintegrated at that point,” Joel Simon told me. “Someone was acting in an incredibly cynical manner. We don’t know how high up that went. Regardless, the president told us information that was incorrect and easily confirmable as incorrect.” The investigation has been dead since that incident, “like all investigations into the killing of journalists,” as Simon pointed out. (Soto Arias reportedly remains in prison, serving a 240-year sentence for the murders he initially confessed to. He was never charged with the killing of Armando Rodríguez.)

One day recently I had a long phone conversation with Rocío Gallegos, who was Choco Rodríguez’s editor at the time of his death. Since that first murder, reporters have received many threats, and a young intern was assassinated.

El Diario is unusual in that it is relatively prosperous and concerned for the welfare of its news staff, Gallegos said. Staff reporters are given fellowships to attend journalism school and seminars. They have health and life insurance, and most are on a salary. While journalism in Tamaulipas, homeland of the Zetas, has all but vanished, news continued to flow out of Juárez, and El Diario, even when it became the most violent city in the world. (Thanks largely to a deal that appears to have been struck between the Pacific Coast drug mafias and the local drug runners, similar to a reported deal in Tijuana, violence in Juárez has greatly diminished in the last year or so.) Even before Choco’s death, the traffickers’ hostility to the media was made clear: a week before that murder, Gallegos recalled, someone placed a man’s severed head at the foot of a public statue honoring the city’s paper delivery boys.

I asked Gallegos, who is currently the news editor at El Diario, how life had changed at the paper in the long years of bloodshed. “We understood that we had to give up on exclusives,” she said. “Whether we got a scoop or not became irrelevant. [There were places] where you simply couldn’t send a reporter out alone.

“We were so unprepared for this situation!” she said.

It overwhelmed us. We’d come in from a scene where the victims’ mothers were crying, the families were crying, and then we had to sit down and write. Or it would be three in the morning and I’d find myself comforting a reporter who was weeping because she’d just received a death threat on her cell phone. You have to think: how have we been affected by all this? I think a great deal about those colleagues who have had to go out and photograph twenty corpses. How have they been affected?

I asked her what she would have wanted to see in these years of terror. “Justice,” she replied. “Less aggression. Greater safety. But above all, I would have wanted justice, because the murder of our colleagues has received no justice. I would like to know who killed them and why.”

  1. 1Why the chayote, a prickly vegetable known as mirliton in New Orleans, should signify illegitimate money willingly taken is a mystery, but it is a word known by Mexicans in all walks of life, and a principal reason why the media are so little respected. Another common term for press bribes is embute, or “stuffing.” 
  2. 2Interviews with a small sampling of these colleagues can be seen online (with English subtitles) in a half-hour documentary produced by Article 19, at vimeo.com/38841450. 
  3. 3In 2010, in one of the drug war’s more grotesque episodes, the Zetas distributed a video recording of the torture of the state attorney general’s brother. Before they killed him, the brother stated on camera that he and his sister had both worked for a rival drug group, and that she had ordered the murder of Armando Rodríguez. The reliability of statements made under such conditions is, of course, nil. 

Mexico’s drug cartels target journalists in brutal killing spree…Observer

I admire a lot of Ed Vulliamy’s reporting from Mexico, but based on known research that has been posted repeatedly on this list and elsewhere, it is just WRONG to repeat the number of Mexican dead as “60,000 since 2006.” That number MAY have been true 2 years ago and the killings have only increased since.  And these numbers are not wild estimates from human rights groups. These are the hardest numbers available from Mexican agencies: INEGI and SNSP. Jim Creechan and I have posted and published these numbers often in the past few months.  Mexican journalists have also written estimates from 100,000–150,000 dead in Calderon’s sexenio. LE MONDE, the major French newspaper, reported 120,000 back in August.  What kind of data do the mainstream English-language press require to update their reports of the death toll from homicide in Mexico?

I would also note again the unquestioned reporting of the government line as to who (or what) is behind the killings of journalists in Veracruz.  This report mentions the killing of Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco in 2011, but ignores the testimony of his surviving son, Miguel Angel Lopez Solana, who implicates the state government and the military in the slaughter of his family. The reason Miguel Jr. is seeking political asylum in the United States is because criminal organizations working in tandem with corrupt government entities murdered his family and will come after him also as they have subsequently murdered many of his colleagues in Veracruz.
His story is told here and much of it is in his own words.
In this passage highlighted below from the Observer article, why believe a note left by supposed Zetas when there is eyewitness testimony that the note was not there when the body is first discovered? Apparently, it is only after the police and marines come to investigate that a note from Zetas appears:

Apart from the barbarism of his killing, Víctor Báez’s death bore another hallmark of a narco execution: a note pinned to his torso, this one reading: “Here’s what happens to traitors and people who act clever. Sincerely, the Zetas.” But Báez’s colleague says that he learned from the marines “that the note was not there when the body was discovered by a neighbour who found Víctor’s door open – it was put there later… by someone, for some reason”.

Compare this information with the similar account of one of the most spectacular massacres officially attributed to Zetas also in Veracruz. News reports in REFORMA (a conservative paper affiliated with the PAN government) at the time said that the bodies bore hallmarks of military-style torture. Family members of some of the victims proved that their dead relatives (most of them young men and women) had no criminal records and no involvement in any criminal activity. In fact, there was evidence that they had been picked up at random, tortured, killed and dumped in Veracruz with messages penned on their bodies supposedly from Zetas…  These stories have been cited in published articles and also posted in full on this list and elsewhere. Feel free to search for them or ask me and I can repost if necessary.  molly
Scores of journalists have died in a country gripped by violence that has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives since 2006

 

More Mexicans requesting asylum–report from Atlanta

An interesting article from Atlanta GA concerning an increase in asylum
claims from people not directly affected by the violence…This legal
tactic seems to have potential to make asylum more difficult for those
Mexicans with more serious claims.
“We [attorneys] are trying to create this new class of protected people,”
she said. “The more Americanized they are, the more tied they are to the
United States. We have to litigate this class into existence, because it
doesn’t exist.”

 

another journalist missing in Mexico–Coahuila…

Another journalist is missing in Mexico. Stephania Cardoso, a crime
reporter in Saltillo, Coahuila, disappeared between late Thursday night and
Friday morning from her home, along with her 2-yr-old son.  Her house
appeared disturbed and her camera was broken and left on the floor. Neither
her relative, nor co-workers had been able to contact her…. molly

 

Veracruz journalists–living in terror–Marcela Turati in PROCESO

A long article in Proceso on the situation of journalists, esp. in the
state of Veracruz, Mexico. A major point of the article is that while
Mexico has a lot of laws, state institutions and non-governmental groups
that say they exist to protect freedom of the press, they don’t do anything
to stop the killing and terrorizing of journalists. A google translation is
posted below. molly

GOOGLE TRANSLATION

In Veracruz is not strange that a journalist is threatened. Not be picked
up, tortured and murdered. Or, if it saves life, which means that hired him
to fire you … Being a journalist in the state is like bringing a target
painted on the back. Y-governmental bodies responsible for civil-union
protection to simply wallow in inaction. It is so serious and scandalous
state of Veracruz press is already known internationally and is the subject
of forums. In one reporter summed Veracruz: “We are living in terror.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS (Process). – Minutes before the end of the forum dedicated to
discuss the challenges of journalism in Latin America, a Mexican reporter
spoke: “In Veracruz we are living in fear. The journalists not only kill
us, torture us and we also cut up. There you stand, you’re stuck, you do
what they want. “

It was Miguel Ángel López Solana, who on June 20 last year survived the
murder of his father, the deputy director of Notiver, Miguel Angel López
Velasco-investigator of drug-trafficking and political corruption, his
mother and brother, photographer of the same daily. This fact opened the
spate of killings since then cripples the lives of journalists in the state.

“I just ran away, ran away, ran to where I could, to the darkness of the
night I reached, I was there,” he told journalists and officials of
organizations present at the forum. And, apparently, has not stopped
running for his life.

His testimony revealed that journalists in Veracruz that are known risk no
justification. Notiver accused, the local newspaper for which labored, to
have fired him. The House of Journalists Rights, created with public funds
to shelter journalists in difficult situations, gave less than a week’s
stay. The organizations he claims to have attended, the said house of the
journalist, Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters
Without Borders, could not agree to help.

The many government institutions created to protect journalists, including
the National Commission on Human Rights, sinned away.

The reporter spent six months in the Federal District waiting for someone
to help him leave the country. Desperate, to be known without help, he
returned to Veracruz and then traveled to the border of Tamaulipas and the
United States where for a month asked for a visa. Since April is in this
country with his wife, seeking asylum. His only support, he said, has been
the newspaper La Jornada, which was a correspondent.

Some of his remarks were “a war zone Veracruz no worse than (…) There is
an immense impunity nurtures violence. From the time they killed my family
should have changed things and we would not be mourning the death of
others. No one did anything. Neither the newspaper did a follow-up note. “

Bore witness to the corruption of local government, in addition to not
protect reporters ‘leaked’ to the press the list of journalists
executables, which was fulfilling-the collusion between officials and drug
traffickers, the indifference of the media owners to local reporters
threatened or killed, the removal of government institutions and NGOs
should protect and institutionalized impunity that encourages new crimes.

He was saved but not the same fate his three colleagues Guillermo Luna,
Gabriel Rodriguez and Esteban Huge, although after the first killings left
journalism (or ran their means to distance himself from them), in some
cases fled the state or tried unsuccessfully to obtain a visa. In May were
killed. Their bodies were dismembered.

Less than a week earlier, on April 28, had been killed the correspondent of
process in that state, Regina Martinez, known for his work against the
powerful, in what appeared a hunt against journalists.

This period was called by the UN the “tragic week in the Mexican press.”

On Friday 1, Notiver-which has four journalists killed Lopez Solana replied
that the company itself has required
justice for the murder of his father, denies that the reporter was hired by
the newspaper, accusing him of “walking down the wrong path” and asks him
to tell the U.S. authorities “everything he knows” (“we are sure that if
anyone knowswho murdered his family and why you, “he said).

The Forum organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas
were several things clear: No one understands what happens in Mexico, a
country with strong institutions and monetary resources and allows murder
and gagging their journalists. And that Veracruz is the state where
violence has been merciless with the guild.

Diluted Resources

Research Studies Center and Freedom of Expression (CELE) of Argentina said
the nonsense: In Mexico there is a proliferation of organizations dedicated
specifically to the protection of journalists and investigation of crimes,
and that is not reflected in results.

They include the Program Attacks against Journalists and Human Rights
Defenders of the National Commission of Human Rights, the Special
Prosecutor for the Investigation of Crimes against Freedom of Expression of
the PGR, the Special Committee to Monitor Attacks on Journalists and Media
in the House of Representatives and the Unit for Promotion of Human Rights
Department of the Interior.

Among the burdens that drag on the whole, the CELE detected operating with
a limited legal framework, depend on political decisions, their powers are
limited by jurisdiction, have a tight budget, small staff professionalized,
have serious difficulty in coordination, are hostages of jostling among the
parties and the government, which pays just-concluded-there is more to
impunity.

In Mexico, despite all the bureaucracy assigned to the case, only 3.7% of
crimes are solved and in 59% of cases, the PGR has been declared
incompetent to investigate.

“Unlike other countries in the region, Mexico has strong institutions and
there is clear evidence that when the Mexican government wants to take an
action on an issue, gives institutions the power to act. But as for
protection of journalists and investigation of crimes there is a
proliferation of overlapping institutions and not conducive to good
operation, “said Natalia Torres, lead researcher of the CELE.

Document institutional designs for the effectiveness of protection policies
and investigating crimes against journalists states that one of the most
emblematic of this inefficiency is that institutions have not even been
able to agree on how many assaults are committed each year against
communicators. Each institution has its own, and incomplete account.

“The study did not assess the mechanism of protection (recently approved),
perhaps the mechanism can turn it around and create a coordinated, open to
civil society participation and generate statistics, but until 2011 in this
way has been running,” said researcher in an interview with Proceso.

Meanwhile the annual report of Article 19 states that in 2011 were assigned
to the Interior Ministry 25 million pesos for measures to protect
journalists, which is unknown to what was used 24 million. We only know
that 22 thousand dollars were assigned to protect a journalist from Sinaloa.

Silence The report forced the state complicit in violence against the
press, the international organization said that the NHRC has poor
accountability and offers dubious figures that do not meet the emergency. If
true the little we have, then each trade that sent that cost 226 000 pesos
advocacy.

In the prosecution of the PGR agency calls it “no skills and no
achievements”, and notes that despite the seriousness of the situation has
presented a budget under-spending. A legislative committee is described as
“ornamental” because its members have dedicated themselves to go to forums
instead of adopting the necessary reforms.

Meanwhile, the rapporteurs of the UN and the OAS for Freedom of Expression,
Frank La Rue and Catalina Botero, respectively, present at the forum and in
2010 traveled to the country to know the reality, which issued
recommendations to the State Mexico, called for the end of impunity in the
investigation of crimes.

Process Botero says: “We worked with the UN rapporteur to try to understand
the situation in Mexico, which is complex, is one of the countries with the
highest rate of violence against journalists in the region and made a
series of recommendations believe urgent. The situation in Veracruz is
extremely serious. “

Botero also made an urgent appeal to the federal government to adopt all
the mechanisms of protection, it implements the newly adopted law on
protection and prevention and that independent and qualified authorities
investigate crimes committed in Veracruz.

“It is urgent that federal investigations take, take all the mechanisms at
its disposal to advance research and convicting those responsible for
crimes against journalists that all they were doing was fulfilling its duty
to inform. Each murder sends a message that can not speak of what happens
in Veracruz and Mexico are entitled to know the results of the
investigations that they, and especially Regina, being developed, “he says.

La Rue for his part said that the increase in violence against journalists
in the Americas, the most serious cases are Mexico and Honduras, and noted
that Veracruz lives at critical moments.

“The common phenomenon of these acts is that of impunity. The State’s
obligation to investigate each fact itself, where it comes from, who
executed it, investigate and establish a criminal trial. Every one that
remains unresolved but does not generate a lot of violence. Is a multiplier
effect because the message is that anyone can get away with it, “says
Guatemalan.

Guy Berger, head of the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media
Development UNESCO Process says that while Mexico appears to have
institutions that could curb impunity, require coordination to be effective.

“It’s great to have these mechanisms, now need to begin to work,” he says.

He also notes that if the media do not protect their own members or come to
their defense, journalists can not expect society to do.

At the forum, Heriberto Cantu, editor of El Manana newspaper in Nuevo
Laredo in May was attacked with explosives, reiterated the editorial
decision to cancel the coverage of drug violence.

“Four hours from now imagine a newspaper that has to work behind
bulletproof glass barricades or as a result of the bloody disputes,” the
newspaper editor beaten that he has lived a decade of attacks since the
murder of Roberto Mora, director editorial, strafing, verbal and written
threats, intimidating messages and attacks with explosives.

Entering Honduras

At the forum held from 20 to 22 May last in this city attended by more than
70 journalists and officials of organizations defending freedom of
expression representing Latin America and the Caribbean, who were given the
task of making a diagnosis of the challenges facing you and press to take
practical measures to reverse the crisis situation.

Knight Center director, Rosental Alves of Brazil, began the meeting called
Security and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers and citizen journalists
with the claim that “the serious problem of safety and security of
journalists has acquired unprecedented catastrophic proportions” and is fed
by the serious illness of impunity. If you do not care for journalists,
said, cut the chance of having informed societies and endangered democracy.

The cases of Mexico and Honduras were the most alarming about the growing
violence against its journalists. According to statistics from the
organization Artículo19, 47 journalists have been killed during the
presidency of Felipe Calderón and 14 were missing and at least 565 offenses
were committed against the press in 10 years.

Daniela Pastrana, executive director of Journalists Network of Foot, of
Mexico, told a story about the situation facing journalists Veracruz: the
week following the four murders came to that entity to provide a
professional training workshop and found colleagues desolate, without
support from organizations, government or business.

“I asked them what they need and one of them replied: ‘A gun, but not
because I want to do anything to anyone, is to not catch me alive.’ That is
the level of fear that have (…) They understand that there is persecution
and that they will pursue as journalists and wherever. Of the desolation
that level, “he said.

The forms of attacks on the press released or recrudecidas this
administration, the reporter mentioned the bombings, disappearances, exile,
self-censorship and infiltration in the newsroom, attacks against users of
social networks and torture after the murder .

He noted that vulnerability is accentuated by reporters in the provincial
media where, generally, these are little known in its day, earn an average
of 3 thousand 500 pesos per month charge for less than 100 pesos note, they
drawup to 10 per day and their means are in line with local governments.
“The journalist threatened, run. Threat is synonymous with unemployment,
“he said.

The forum which brought together the highest authorities in the protection
of journalists at the international level, the Mexican case was widely
discussed.Although in May, following the murder of Regina Martinez, were
approved mechanisms to protect journalists and a new law requiring the
federal government to attract and investigate crimes against journalists,
Benoit Hervieu, the head office the Americas to Reporters Without Borders,
expressed doubts about the extent of such modifications.

“The federalization of crimes to investigate the attacks are very late and
incomplete because it is accompanied by a substantial reform of the justice
system and the police investigation. The situation with Mexico is
desperate, and in other countries achieve results but in countries like
Mexico and Honduras all worse, “he complained.

In an interview with Proceso also referred to the murder of Regina Martinez
who said: “It’s hard not to imagine a relationship between what is revealed
Regina and her murder, one of his publications was an article about the
arrest of nine policemen allegedly linked to drug trafficking . He had also
been summoned to appear in court as a witness in Veracruz. “

 

 

World Press Freedom Day-3 journalists slain in east Mexican state

MEXICO CITY — Three men who had worked as news photographers were found slain and dumped together in plastic bags by a canal in the eastern Mexico state of Veracruz on Thursday, less than a week after the killing in the same state of a reporter for an investigative newsmagazine, officials and colleagues said.

Press advocates called for immediate government action to halt a wave of attacks that has killed at least six current and former reporters and photographers in Veracruz over the last year, spawning an atmosphere of terror and self-censorship among journalists

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World Press Freedom Day: Journalists Being Killed At ‘Astonishing Pace’