~This article was originally published by SinEmbargo on August 2, 2015 ~
In an interview with SinEmbargo, Rubén Espinosa said:
–I specialized in social movements. I have a cover shot for Proceso magazine with the governor in it. That cover did a lot of damage, in fact the government bought it up in bulk [to prevent distribution].
–What is the photo?
–It is a photograph where the governor appears wearing a police hat and is walking in profile. Here in Xalapa we have always maintained that the government killed one of our colleagues. I was beaten during the removal of a teachers’ protest in 2013, in Lerdo plaza, along with other colleagues, and because of that we had to march. We forced congress to create the Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists, which has done no good. I was at the unofficial ceremony to place the plaque in Lerdo plaza, where we honored Regina Martínez—another murdered journalist. I have given courses on safety to other photographers and it has been made clear to me that I am a problem for the state government.
–How has it been made clear?
–They do not let me into official events. On one occasion there were 35 bodies found in Boca del Río at the monument to the voladores of Papantla [a commemoration of a famous local indigenous ceremony], and the prosecutor Reynaldo Escobar Pérez was going to give a press conference. A person in charge of media relations, Edwin—I don’t remember his last name—asked me what I was doing there, and told me I had no business there and that I was in the way. Then people working for the state government started to take pictures of me.
–Are they harassing you only?
–They are harassing me, and the group of journalists I am with.
This is the history of the photo, and the storm it unleashed.
Mexico City, August 2, 2015 (SinEmbargo/BlogExpediente).– Bloodshot eyes. Vacant expression. Mouth hanging open. Ears back like a dog on the hunt. Brow furrowed behind glasses and a beneath a police cap. Belly hanging over the belt. On a shirt embroidered with his name, the buttons threaten to shoot off from the strain. Rubén Espinosa Becerril’s photo was relentlessly harsh with the governor of Veracruz. A portrait of Javier Duarte from head to toe: authoritarian, vengeful, suspicious, rabid, criminal.
This is the image that the editorial staff at Proceso magazine chose for the cover of issue number 1946. Half of Duarte’s body, in all its height and breadth. An image that synthesized the content: “Veracruz, state without law,” the title read.
Inside, a report on the murders of journalists in Veracruz and the complicity of authorities in cover-ups; another for the third anniversary of the assassination of Regina Martínez, unsolved and unpunished; one more on priístas dedicated to praising Duarte’s government.
In the issue’s interior, photos from Yair Ceballos (Proceso y AVC Noticias), Félix Márquez (Cuartoscuro, AVC y AP) and Rubén Espinosa (Cuartoscuro, AVC y Proceso). Images with skillful technique and composition to illustrate the reports describing the misery, tragedy, and corruption reigning in Veracruz. But not one like Rubén Espinosa’s. That was why it won the cover.
Manuel Buendía—murdered in cold blood during the government of Miguel de la Madrid—said that criticism did not bother the powerful, what did was stripping them naked through irony and a refined sense of humor. That is what Rubén Espinosa did with his lens in Proceso 1946.
He couldn’t have been more pleased with the cover. He told all his friends. He celebrated, and, ever humble, by midday Sunday forgot about it and began working on the next photo assignment.
Proceso 1946 probably arrived in Xalapa and Veracruz on Saturday afternoon, to be readied for circulation early Sunday morning, but groups of people, mostly youths, in cars and pickups, began to buy them by the stack.
“Do you have the Proceso with Fat Duarte?” ran the question at the newspaper stands, “No, they’re gone, they took all of them,” responded the vendors. At every stand, Proceso had been “taken.” It circulated, to a lesser extent, in the chain restaurants where it was habitually sold.
The operation against the magazine was not a novelty: during the previous state administration editions were gathered by the stack when they published reports against Fidel Herrera Beltrán. It also happened when the Jalisco New Generation Cartel brought death and abandoned the bodies of more than 30 people in the street in Boca del Río.
With the cover of Proceso 1946, Rubén Espinosa was on the map. There would be other aggressions to come, harassment from the state capital by a horde of flunkies. They had orders. They took his photo at protests and at the press conferences of those who demanded justice or denounced abuses of power.
At the start of June, he was physically and verbally assaulted by hooded men during a student march protesting an attack on eight students at the University of Veracruz during the elections. Rubén Espinosa was confronted by “anarchists,” their faces covered, who insulted and shoved him.
In 2013 he had a close call when the state police force violently removed the teachers who were protesting in the Plaza Lerdo (or Plaza Regina) against the educational reform. Duarte needed the plaza cleared so he could celebrate, with rent-a-ralliers from the periphery, independence day ceremonies and a dance with the band El Recodo.
Passionate about citizen protests and social causes, Rubén had heard about the possible forced removal and went to the plaza to wait. At one in the morning, uniformed police came by the dozens and in a matter of minutes chased all the protestors away. Rubén took photos and immediately headed home to safety. On the way he was intercepted by police who demanded he erase the images he had taken. After that he disappeared for several hours, lost his telephone, and was out of contact.
His friends searched for him with determination, since he was detained in the dungeons of Arturo Bermúdez (the state director of Public Security) in San José, along with the teachers. Hours later he appeared safe and sound, and above all with various photos showing police armed with electric prods beating the teachers. Rubén Espinosa documented one of the worst nights for social movements in Veracruz, as the blows were delivered to teachers and dozens of sympathetic youth who were also part of the resistance. Duarte did not hesitate to pound two distinct generations. Rubén’s death is another hard blow for these new generations who admired his work and held him up as a symbol.
“Protest were his specialty,” comments Aarón Gaona, who recalls that Rubén Espinosa Becerril was a native of Tacubaya, in the Federal District, and had arrived in Veracruz in 2009 along with other professionals to work at the online portal Elgolfo.info, owned by José Othón González Ruiz, a news outlet whose editorial line supported the governor at the time.
In time, Rubén Espinosa left El Golfo and began to define himself with social causes and demonstrations, “I think because he came from a working class family. He did not like to follow orders. He would take them, but always tried to do what he liked, he was sort of irreverent in that way. The classic chilango (Mexico City resident) who goes to the provinces and brings their very particular vibe.”
“As a photographer, he was good. He always tried for good composition. He was never selfish with what he knew,” Gaona concludes.
There was not a protest or demand in Veracruz, or demonstration in Xalapa, that Rubén would not cover, since after he left El Golfo he went to work at outlets such as Multigráfica, AVC Noticias, and APRO.
Araceli González, from the Collective for Peace, a group that represents mothers searching for children who have gone missing during the violence, describes him as a man who, at his core values, was dedicated to the reality of Veracruz. It was rare to see him covering those in power.
Rubén Espinosa “identified with that indignation because he sought changes through the work he did; he was outraged by the insecurity, the violence, the injustices.”
“He was always friendly. At the demonstrations or press conferences we greeted each other. He would take his photos and leave,” says González, who also directs the women’s rights organization Equifonia.
Gabriela Martínez, an animal rights advocate, identifies him as “one of the most authentic people I have known. He was one of the few journalists who understood the causes, the social struggles .he was very objective and his philosophy was pure.”
“He was a pebble in the shoe,” she remarks.
Rubén Espinosa Becerril was found dead in an apartment in Colonia Narvarte. At the scene were also four other victims, women, bound at hand and feet with tape. There were signs of torture and gunshots.
Rubén Espinosa went into exile from Veracruz because he was harassed by men he did not recognize. He became fearful when he realized that suspicious individuals were tracking his work, house, and friends. It began after one of his efforts, along with other journalists, to change the name of Plaza Lerdo to Plaza Regina Martínez—another reporter for Proceso [who was murdered in 2012]. The plaque with Regina’s name was removed hours after it was placed by the group of journalists. The reporters bought another and mounted it again. Rubén Espinosa used white cement to fix the chunk of metal to the platform, but not even that was respected and a few days later it was ripped out. After that, the strangers began to follow him. That was why he left for Mexico City, where he proclaimed “Death chose Veracruz as its home and decided to live there.”
In April of 2013, the directors of Proceso, the magazine to which Rubén Espinosa contributed, denounced the existence of a plan drawn up in Veracruz for a group of state police to travel to Mexico City to take hostile action against Jorge Carrasco, who the magazine had assigned to investigate the murder of Regina Martínez. The plan involved locating Carrasco, gathering his personal information, and taking hostile actions against him. Proceso’s denunciation was taken up by international human rights organizations and brought immediate safety to the journalist. Carrasco had to go into exile from the country for a time, and remains under protection to this day.
Rubén Espinosa’s death makes many journalists wonder why that plan was not revived for the photographer murdered in Colonia Narvarte.
Ignacio Carvajal is a journalist in Veracruz. This article was originally published by SinEmbargo with the title La foto de Rubén Espinosa que encabronó al gobernador de Veracruz and is available here: http://www.sinembargo.mx/02-08-2015/1436027
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute
For more on Rubén Espinosa and Veracruz, see: