A VOICE FROM THE GRAVE: JUÁREZ, THE BORDER’S SECOND MURDER CITY (ARMANDO RODRÍGUEZ, EL DIARIO…)

A VOICE FROM THE GRAVE: JUÁREZ, THE BORDER’S SECOND MURDER CITY (ARMANDO RODRÍGUEZ, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 14 February 2005. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). There is no web-accessible version of the Spanish-language original.

This translation is dedicated to the work of journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto.

Translator’s Note: Armando Rodríguez Carreón, “El Choco,” was a veteran crime reporter for El Diario de Juárez until his violent murder in November 2008. You can read a portrait of El Choco by his colleague Martín Orquiz for Nuestra Aparente Rendición, here (unofficially translated into English for the MxJTP).

Rodríguez’s murder continues in impunity, with multiple failures in the investigation. El Choco’s unsolved case is one that marks Mexico as infamous for its inability, or unwillingness, to get to the bottom of journalist’s murders, meaning that it ranks number 7 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index for 2014. In the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and pursuant to Mexico’s 1998 ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), the state has the international responsibility to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights abuses: among other human rights violations, Armando Rodríguez and his family have been denied access to justice for his murder, implying the state’s violation of a human rights treaty, the ACHR, it has ratified.

The MxJTP has translated this 2005 story by Rodríguez because the stories that place Mexico’s hard-hitting journalists at risk are themselves in danger of being forgotten. So, the act of translation can also be an act of recuperating the memory of the work of a slain journalist.

But on its own terms, Rodríguez’s February 2005 article is distinctive because it discusses different ways to count the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, excavates the history of the city’s violence — a historical issue that he identifies as ever present but has changed over time — and because Rodríguez used sociological analysis to identify with a great degree of prescience Juárez’s oncoming descent into violence. This murderousness would, ultimately, consume him, too.

Even today, the Mexican government still disputes murder statistics and is still unable to reduce the country’s impunity rating. And, even though Rodríguez identified structural issues common to modernity that contributed to the rise in violence, less astute and overly descriptive commentators and analysts have sought only to explain violence in Mexico and specifically in Juárez through the lens of drug trafficking.

Specifically in regards Rodríguez’s murder, we still don’t know why he died or who killed him. But that shouldn’t mean that we ignore what he bequeathed us, his willingness to inform society of important events by writing journalism. PT.

A Voice from the Grave: Juárez, the Border’s Second Murder City
by Armando Rodríguez (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

SIDEBAR — MAIN STORY FOLLOWS…

- An investigation by El Diario, based on data from the Attorney General of the State of Baja California Norte, shows that of northern Mexico’s fourteen most important border cities, murders are most numerous in Tijuana: 705 cases from January 2003 to December 2004.

- Juárez took second place with 402 murders for the same period, approximately 17 murders per month.

- The study contrasts these figures with the number of murders during the same period in San Diego, California (127), while in El Paso there were just 33.

- The report indicates that murders in Tamaulipas’s cities are less numerous than those of Juárez or Tijuana.

- Ciudad Juárez ranks second in northern Mexico’s border region in terms of violent homicides in the last two years.

- The cities with a low murder rate are: Nogales, Arizona, with just one murder in two years; Calexico, California, with two cases; and Hidalgo, Texas without a single murder over the same period.

- The Tamaulipas Government’s website (www.procutamps.gob.mx/portales/estadistica.asp) indicates that from January 2003 to October 2004, Nuevo Laredo registers 120 murders, 74 in Reynosa, and 65 in Matamoros.

- The president of the Center for Border Studies and the Promotion of Human Rights (CEFPRODHAC), Arturo Solís Gómez counts 189 homicides during 2004 in Tamaulipas’s border cities. And 70 of these can be tied to drug trafficking, according to data published by internet-based sources.

- The figures for Tamaulipas are still below those of Juárez and of Tijuana.

- The data clearly indicates that the Mexican side of the border is more violent than the U.S. side in every single case.

Crime and Society

Juárez is considered Mexico’s twelfth most unsafe city, according to the Fund for Public Security in Mexico’s States (FASP).

This ranking can be compared with the assessment made by the Federal Government’s Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL). The Ministry says that the border is the most violent area of the Republic.

The three cities in the country most overtaken by insecurity in proportion to their population size are: Juárez, San Luis Potosí and Acapulco. The report is currently [for 2005] being distributed on the webpage of Mexico City’s Attorney General: http://www.pgjdf.gob.mx/violencia.asp.

The SEDESOL report indicates that these three cities rank high in terms of murders, rapes, violent events, and suicides. When these violent events are added together, it means that cities can be compared against one another in terms of violence.

But the international business magazine, América Economia, suggests that the homicide index in Ciudad Juárez has registered a fall of 41.5 per cent over the last four years.

The magazine’s study, which was undertaken for business interests, declares that in 2001 there were 26 homicides per 100,000 residents, while in 2004 there were 15.2 homicides per 100,000 residents.

Ciudad Juárez’s murder statistics, compiled from the state district attorney’s autopsy records and compared with El Diario’s review of that data, demonstrate that in thirteen years there have been 2,957 violent homicides.

The crime figures have become more significant after the U.S. alerted its citizens to the wave of violence in Mexico’s border cities.

In Juárez, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said that insecurity in Mexico’s border region is a result of drug trafficking.

“We know very well that in certain cities there are growing tendencies for criminal activities, in some more than others, but the alert was for the length of the border and not just for one city,” he noted.

“I believe that Juárez is not one of the most violent cities in the Mexican Republic. The thing is that it has a bad reputation because of the deaths of women. Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Tijuana have more murders,” said Assistant District Attorney Flor Mireya Aguilar Casas.

She indicated that in spite of border cities’ problems with a floating population, statistically there’s evidence that they aren’t more dangerous nor are more bloody acts committed here.

“I don’t think it’s risky for a foreigner to come visit this city and I don’t think that there should be an imminent danger alert for these cities,” she added.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Mexican Rights Body: 89% of Attacks on Journalists Go Unpunished

Further evidence of Open Season, no bag limit, on MX journalists. And no drivers on the horizon to reverse direction. If anything, we can see more sanctioned scrubbing to polish the Pena/PRI image.

Mexican Rights Body: 89% of Attacks on Journalists Go Unpunished

MEXICO CITY – Some 89 percent of the attacks on journalists in Mexico go unpunished because authorities do not investigate the cases, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said.

Only about 19 percent of cases involving the killings and disappearances of journalists, as well as attacks on media outlets, end up in the hands of a judge, the CNDH said in a statement.

Suspects go to trial in just 11 percent of cases and barely 10 percent of judicial proceedings end with a conviction, “producing an impunity rate of 89 percent,” said the CNDH, Mexico’s equivalent of an ombudsman’s office.

Prosecutors are failing to investigate and gather evidence to clear up crimes against members of the media, “such as murders, disappearances, attacks, injuries, threats and intimidation, among others,” the CNDH said, adding that it made a recommendation in this area in August 2013.

Between Jan. 1, 2010, and Feb. 28, 2014, 347 complaints were received about violations of the human rights of members of the media, the CNDH said.

A total of 88 journalists and other members of the media have been murdered since 2000, “presumably, for reasons related to their work,” the rights body said…

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.

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