~ This article was originally published by Emeequis on August 16, 2015 ~
In Veracruz, the shock doctrine has been applied. And journalists who have not been bought off are suffering. They do not know if they will be next, when it might happen, and what they can do. They are paralyzed, thinking about everything that has happened.
Even in this state of uncertainty, they refuse to give up the spaces they have won. They have tried to put aside their fear and some of his closest colleagues repeat the phrase that Rubén [Espinosa] used to repeat like a religious mantra: “Fist high, head up.”
Ehécatl Ríos tries to calm himself. So that the echo of those shovels, the ones that were placing the earth on the tomb of his colleague Rubén Espinosa, do not come to haunt his dreams. So that the sensation of unreality does not appear again. But he cannot. He trembles.
Ehécatl, also a photojournalist, writes about his fears on social networks. If a few friends read them, if they comment, it is like an exorcism. He shared his nightmare: “They trapped my body with octopus legs, they imprisoned me with a snake’s coil, it stuck out its tongue searching for my lips… the nightmares touch my sheets and I can only succumb to the sweet insomnia.”
Ehécatl is shivering again. He feels threatened. Because he fears for his son. Because he lives in Veracruz. Because there is no possible refuge. Because they killed his friend, Rubén, and nobody can assure him that they are not coming for him. Because they raped his friend, Nadia, and nobody can promise he will not be next. Because the dark night of absolute impunity is resisting the dawn. And dawn will not come soon.
Ehécatl Ríos answers a call from a stranger, the journalist who is writing this.
–It hit you all very hard, didn’t it?
–Well, it’s that… the message is very clear, right? No… it’s that… you’re not safe now even if… before it was that the majority of journalists were uncovering things related to the narcos… but if you just reported the news, covering other things…
–I suppose that for you it is even more complicated because they have you pinned down…
–No, it’s really messed up! I guess, yes… I have not been working in the press for a while, but even so… Ehécatl Ríos says. An echo repeats his words. A buzz. Bzzztt… bzzztt. Like a telephone line with more than two ears listening. Like birds on the wire. He hangs up.
–Are you still hearing the echo? Maybe you are tapped… it could be.
–Oh yes… surely—he responds.
–Say hello to the boys.
–Haha, haha… I don’t care.
–How are you, how do you feel?
–It is incredibly painful. The feeling is so big that I don’t even understand it, right? It is hate, it is rage… a lot of fear. To be in the middle of everyone and suddenly you’re in shock, right? That’s how it happens. In shock. Meantime you are reliving over and over the same scene that won’t let you sleep.
The scene could not be more painful: the moment in which Ehécatl found out that his friend Rubén Espinosa had been murdered, along with four women: Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz, Alejandra Negrete, and Mile Virginia Martín.
The moment in which he asked a friend, what is up with that? And she replied dryly, flatly, “he turned up… and he’s dead.”
–When they told me, I started crying on the floor. It isn’t possible, it isn’t possible! I went to Rubén’s funeral and I kept repeating, this isn’t happening… it’s not happening! Right? I had to see their two bodies to be able to process, right? To know that it was real. And even like that, standing before Rubén… and… seeing him there… it is very hard… like there is a part of you that does not want to see it… because… we did a lot of coverage together… taking photos… –Ehécatl tries to explain, but he cannot. A torrent of emotions silences him. He breathes. Sighs. Whimpers.
He does that so the air he breathes can give him the strength to narrate the following.
Because it is even harder to tell, for him and for his fellow reporters, photographers, cameramen. For Noé Zavaleta, correspondent for Proceso magazine in Veracruz. For Felyx, another one of Rubén’s friends. For the activists in civil society organizations who do not even dare to give their names because they fear the flame will burn their hands.
They are following us…
He is in Xalapa. A Wednesday afternoon in February of 2014, following the murder of the journalist Gregorio Jiménez, in Las Choapas, at the border with Tabasco. Ehécatl is in the capital of the state. In the main plaza, on Juan de la Luz Enríquez Avenue: the Plaza Lerdo, rebaptized as Plaza Regina Martínez to prevent the silence of an unpunished homicide.
The photos on the website alcalorpolítico do not lie. Ehécatl, along with an ever larger group of reporters, photographers, cameramen, cartoonists, editors, and even some columnists, approaching the very doors of the statehouse carrying a mountain of white flowers and a placard: “We do not believe you. Justice for Goyo [Gregorio].”
He is dressed in black. Rubén is too. And the other colleagues. Nearly everyone. A human chain of journalists in mourning.
A leather vest, with that type of collar that everyone calls Mao, and the camera pack slung on his back. The black sneakers with white edges. Curly hair that gives his face a youthful aspect: an almost perfect circle, edged by a beard that sprouts from his sideburns and wraps to a bushy tangle of hair on his chin. His hands, with the camera ready to shoot, a white carnation dangling from the left. His eyes, looking directly at the photographer, and therefore at the others. Directly.
At that march, or one of those days, he received the first threat. Ehécatl remembers it with clarity:
–I took photos of a person who seemed suspicious to me: he was taking photos of everyone and he wasn’t a journalist, he wasn’t one of us. He approached me and said: “What do you want? I’ll show you my badge if you want… I’m from the Ministry of Defense.” He stood there, as if to say “Is there an issue, buddy?” filled with cynicism, as if he felt protected by all the chaos.
But that is not all. Three weeks before the murders of Rubén, Nadia, Alejandra, Mile Virginia, and Yesenia, he got another message. Even more disturbing.
He was walking with his youngest son on the streets of Xalapa, the cultural capital of the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly, he saw the same man:
–That was the most upsetting. He looked at me, with arrogance, with hate, you understand? As if to say, “I know who you are.” And he stayed there, without looking at you.
Ehécatl was frozen. It was, as they say, paralysis by analysis. It was not that he had to fear for his own security, but also for that of those closest to him, his family, who are all he has and all he loves.
–And those have not been the only incidents. There is a person who we have totally identified as a spy for the state Ministry of Public Security who is always taking photos of colleagues. He suddenly turns up taking pictures of those who are demonstrating.
One afternoon, at one of the many social mobilizations that happen in Xalapa, he ran into the spy, by accident. He pushed him. The spy said something, Ehécatl cannot remember what, and he became angry. So angry that he flung himself at him, took the telephone he was using to take pictures of the demonstration’s participants, and threw it to the ground.
–Later, when I thought about it, I was very regretful. A colleague took photos of the moment. I don’t know… perhaps at some point they will be useful. I don’t know…he stammers. The line goes silent. Surely, he is thinking.
It is what he is doing these days. Thinking. It is what so many of his colleagues have done. Amid the insomnia, thinking. Amid the fear, thinking. About their conditions. Their circumstances. The possibility of being the next on the list.
As Felyx—as he asks to be called—writes from the place where he is hiding in exile, “Yesterday, during the protest, the rain fell with rage. Today, when we said goodbye, the sun shone with the same light that your photos radiated. The light that will illuminate us.”
That was what Ehécatl noted on his blog, Ojo de Viento. There, he wrote it clearly:
If they kill me
they will know I am there with you,
each with his camera,
each with his stories.
Because those of us who are being watched,
who won’t be bought,
refuse to be quiet, who give voice,
and also eyes,
to those who keep trembling for the damage.
A colleague understands perfectly. Noé Zavaleta, Rubén’s work companion, his friend, has published about it: since the murders of August 1, the harassment and intimidation have grown.
“The University Committee for Struggle, which includes students from the University of Veracruz, from the Faculty of the Humanities, and social and environmental activists, denounces that after the murders of the activist Nadia Vera and the photojournalist from Proceso, Rubén Espinosa, the police harassment from the Civil Guards in the state of Veracruz has increased.”
There is no room for doubt. Noé reproduces the words of the activists, who describe: “The [state Security Forces, SSP], the Civil Guards, the prosecutors, and plainclothes police surround our streets, hour neighborhoods, watch our houses, take our photos. Members of the Civil Guards [Fuerza Civil] have detained our compañeros, without reason, to take them into cells and scare them for hours, outside of the law. Without charges. That is how it is, the sting of the threat always at the back of your neck.”
An era of fear like that seen by Eduardo Galeano in the message he wrote on his Facebook wall. The fear, like a ceremony for the confirmation of power, like that of a dirty war, according to the definition of the philosopher Michael Taussig in his book Un gigante en convulsions: “Dirty war is a war of silencing. Officially, there is no war. There are no prisoners. There is no torture. There are no disappearances. Only the silence that consumes in great part the language of terror, intimidating everyone so that they do not make any comment that can be interpreted as a critique of the armed forces.”
That is what Veracruz is living. Without exaggeration. What else could explain the 14 journalists murdered in scarcely five years. Fourteen.
Harassment… Underground or Open
How would it sound to Ehécatl Ríos and to the hundreds, thousands of journalists of Veracruz to hear the words of Jorge Morales, member of the State Commission for Attention and Protection of Journalists, when he criticized the total indolence of Gabriela Arango, the president of the Permanent Commission for Attention to Journalists of the state congress: “What we wanted was… direct attention. A sufficient framework…but they told us that it was impossible… they sent us down the drain.”
How would it seem to journalists in Veracruz the fact that the legislative commission, created to attend to the needs of and protect media workers, has only met once in 19 months. In that lapse, Rubén Espinosa was murdered.
As Jorge Morales told La Jornada Veracruz, “what we want is immediate attention… they do not pay attention. They do not think it matters.”
The journalistic profession in Mexico is high risk, with high levels of impunity.
It is easy to review the array of official statistics from the Federal Mechanism for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists: since 2012 there have been more than 170 requests for protection, principally in Guerrero, Veracruz, Mexico State, Chiapas, and Oaxaca.
Reviewing more recent events:
While walking on the streets of Cuitláhuac, a municipality near Córdoba [Veracruz], the reporter for the paper El Buen Tono, Raúl Rodríguez, is approached by a man traveling on a motorcycle.
–Boy is it hot!—says the motorcyclist.
Without answering, Raúl looks at him. Nothing.
–of course…Take your reports down a notch!—the motorcyclist spits, before lifting his shirt to reveal a pistol and continuing on his way.
Unnerved, as the newspaper reported, Raúl sought help from the municipal police, but without result. He even traveled to Córdoba, to present a criminal charge. But nothing happened.
Another reporter, Jair Negrete, working for an episcopal office in the area of Agua Dulce, near Coatzacoalcos, was beaten by officers of the municipal police, after demanding money saying:
–I know you. You’re a reporter from TV Azteca. You’re going to pay everything you publish. You work for a national company and you can’t give me money? Journalists are the fucking worst, they think they are owners of everything!
Or the case of Daniel Orozco, told by Noé Zavaleta in one of his texts. A boy of scarcely 23 years, a reporter for La Red, a crime rag in Coatzacoalcos, who after covering the discovery of a possible narco-grave received a series of messages on his cellphone: “Get off it!”, “We know where you are,” “We’re going to mess you up!,” “For rooting around we’re going to smash your face!”
That was what also happened to Filadelfo Sánchez, host on the La Favorita radio station in the region of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, who before being murdered with seven shots as he left the station, received similarly threatening messages: “We’re going to mess you up.”
And Indalecio Benítez, also a radio host, whose attack, in the region of Luvianos, in the triangle formed by Guerrero, Michoacán, and the State of Mexico, suffered a terrible fate for him and his family, as he told Elena Michel in El Universal:
“On our way home, after having a few snacks, we saw some masked men leave my house. I told my sons to get down, they’re going to attack us. And the three in the back got down. I hit the accelerator and heard the shots. It sounded hollow. That was all. I fled and hid with the Marines (a base was near his house). I asked them ‘Are we ok?’ and they said yes. But I never focused on my other son. When I got to the Marine base one of my sons said to me “Dieguito fainted.” I got down, grabbed him, and I realized he was dead.”
Since then, Indalecio has lived in exile. Like at least 60 other journalists, according to the estimates of Freedom House and Article 19. They are displaced. Because doing their jobs, as Noé says, has become a burden:
–Clearly we are anxious… uncertain, because we do not know when this is going to stop. Since Regina Martínez (the murdered Proceso correspondent) we have been saying that it is a watershed, that someone has to say enough is enough… That was in April 2012 and we are still counting!
–Without knowing how it will stop, right? Whether it is in Veracruz, or Mexico City…
–Exactly. We are afraid because, there’s no other way to say it, we are asking who is next? We feel battered because… how can I say it? They hit us where it hurts the most. They took a great friend, but also a person who was bringing compañeros from the new generations. Rubén, who was 31 years old, brought in kids from 22 to 25 years old, photographers and videographers, and he taught them about journalism, about photography. Rubén made a group, united friends, and got along with everyone, Noé says.
When I speak with him, Noé’s voice sounds sad, but firm. As if the fear from the days after the murders was, bit by bit, becoming exhaustion, rage. Becoming something else.
–This has caused a lot of hurt. Many of us cannot sleep peacefully anymore. We wake up anxious in the early morning. I have talked to other colleagues. Some of them sometimes even begin crying during their reporting, just from remembering. But there is also a lot of anger. A lot of rage. A feeling of impotence, because Rubén’s case wasn’t something that happened overnight, because since 2012 he had been complaining about aggressions and pressures.
–Do you feel calm?
–I am… well, it’s relative. What can I say. Right now I am walking, alone, through the Centro. But… with my colleagues we have a whole plan like little kids: at nine at night we all check in… if we are home, where we are, with who… just last week, every day, someone went with me to my house, friends, and they pick me up nearby. We’re still doing it.
But there is nothing that guarantees that there will not be more aggressions. That is why he is angry. Just as Ehécatl is. Just as another displaced colleague, who asked that I not reveal her name because she is afraid. She said:
–I am going to leave. I cannot sleep. I wake up bathed in sweat. I have had two anxiety attacks this week, with tachycardia. Where? I don’t know. If Veracruz isn’t safe and neither is Mexico [City], then I’m going to get the fuck out.
–Out of Mexico?
–Out of the world if necessary. I can’t take it. I can’t take the fear anymore, she says. And she explodes. Like Ehécatl, like Noé, like all those who know of these stories of the systematic harassment of Mexican journalists.
Life Goes On
What is it that bothers them? Why is there so much harassment?
–That is what I would like to know—responds Ehécatl. Now you don’t know anything about what is happening. You cannot feel any peace in this city, in this state, not even in the country I think. They steal everything, right? You reach a point when it is a struggle to walk in the street and constantly watch your own shadow. You feel like you are being followed, you hear footsteps, you don’t even know if it is real. Because you don’t know what is going on.
–You know very well that you’re being followed. What can you do? Take their photos? What good would it do?
I think that is what everyone is feeling. That is why there has been the open clamor, the frontal challenge to the state congress when Ehécatl and others burst into the session like a hurricane and indignantly announced:
Congressmen and women: we are here because once more they have insidiously murdered one of our colleagues, and worse still, for many of us, Rubén was a brother.
Today, we demand that the State Congress, if it has an ounce of dignity and a little social conscience, request that the state prosecutor hand over to the federal attorney general and Mexico City prosecutor’s office the investigation of the attack on students on June 5, which Rubén had given complete coverage as a journalist and activist for Proceso and AVC Noticias.
We ask that the congressional commission “demand”—its exhortations do not serve, they are recycled paper for the prosecutor’s office—that the state prosecutor cease to protect members of the Ministry of Public Security who participated—through omission or complicity—in the attack on the students, of which the principal critic of that act of arbitrariness was Rubén Espinosa. Coverage that led to threats and intimidations, causing him to seek refuge in the Federal District [Mexico City], where he could feel “safe and secure.” We have seen that was not true.
State Congressmen, we have ceased to believe in institutions… show us otherwise.
To that plea in congress, they added a text written by journalists and disseminated on social networks, addressing Governor Javier Duarte:
“Thank you for the condolences. In reality, I hope that you are hurting, that you are hurting a great deal, as I am, as many are. It is ironic that the silent accomplices, those who are not seen, who take our photos, who send them to take the photos, are also feeling something. Do you feel guilt? Do you feel afraid? I hope you do, because you better than I know who is marked, you know who we are, who our are children are, who among us has not sold out, who cannot be hired, you know what time I arrived home and with who, my habits.”
Ehécatl shares the unease, the feeling of vulnerability that has become the new reality. That was why he wrote this text to calm himself, to honor Rubén:
I have had few certainties in life.
Keep taking photos,
encapsulating the soul,
and living with that phrase that resounds,
that Rubén once told me and repeated:
“Fist high, head up.”
Luis Guillermo Hernández is a freelance journalist in Mexico City. His website is: http://luisghernan.com/ This article was originally published by Emeequis under the title “La doctrina del miedo en Veracruz” and is available at: http://www.m-x.com.mx/xml/pdf/357/42.pdf
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute