They Come for Those Who Are Not Mouthpieces – by Carlos Acuña (emeequis)

~ This article was originally published by emeequis on August 16, 2015 ~

 

Cartoon by Rapé for emeequis

Cartoon by Rapé for emeequis

Violence against journalists is not a recent phenomenon. It has been occurring for years, across the country. Those who work in journalism have had to leave their home states and take refuge in the Federal District [Mexico City], where they have found a place to heal and lessen their fear. Today, after the mass killing in Narvarte [of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa, activist Nadia Vera, Mile Virgina Martín, Yesenia Quiroz, and Alejandra Negrete], new fears and worries have arisen. They know that the risk is latent, that no NGO can save their lives and that, in fact, it is the obligation of the state to keep them alive.

Luis Cardona, Rafael Pineda, and Mario Segura fled Chihuahua, Veracruz, and Tamaulipas, respectively, after suffering kidnappings and threats. They arrived in Mexico City seeking to preserve their lives. And they have, with ups, downs, and difficulties. This is what they have lived through since their flight.

Luis Cardona always knew that Mexico City was not a safe refuge. After a commando of masked men kidnapped him in Nuevo Casas Grandes in the state of Chihuahua, in retaliation for publishing a series about extortion and kidnapping; after they covered his eyes, bound him, and beat him until they tired; after they left him alive without any explanation, Luis Cardona arrived in the Federal District (DF).

He arrived in the capital with the support of Artículo 19 and other organizations, but for weeks the only certainty in his life was fear. Luis could not stop thinking about how the tentacles of those who threatened to kill him could reach the very hotel in which he was staying. Out of work and with few pesos in his pocket, he went to therapy, trying to calm his mind. No, he never felt safe and he thought it strange that other colleagues who had been threatened walked the streets as if it were nothing. Their arguments did not persuade him.

–I remember a meeting I had in the [neighborhood] of La Roma with people from Artículo 19 and [the journalists’ organization] Periodistas de a Pie. I told them then that the DF seemed to me to be as dangerous as other states–he says over the phone. Everyone told me: ‘No, look, the DF is very safe, because here there are a lot of people, security cameras, police units always close by. But that did not make sense to me. It is not possible that in such a big city, with so much economic activity, that the cartels are not active, that they do not run protection rackets, extort, and kill. I told them that one day something would happen, that we needed to foresee something like that, to prevent it from happening to us. You could see it coming.

He is referring to the murder of Rubén Espinosa and of Alejandra Olivia Negrete, Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, Mile Virginia Martín, and Nadia Vera, who had come to the Federal District for the same reasons as Rubén: fleeing threats she had received in Veracruz, threats received for her political activism. All the bodies had clear signs of torture, and a coup de grace in the back of the neck.

Luis Cardona sighs when he thinks about the case. Saturday, August 1, when the murder became national news, he saw how the fear took hold in other colleagues and friends who, like him, had been threatened, tortured. “They are coming for us,” they said. “The DF isn’t safe anymore.” But really, the DF never was, he says.

–When I arrived in the DF, the people from Artículo 19 put me in contact with another colleague, someone who worked with Denisse Maerker on television—Cardona remembers, and lets slip some of the fear and anger of those days. –He was a journalist who had been kidnapped and, according to what they told me, could give me a job. We arranged to meet in a cantina on Paseo de la Reforma [a major avenue in Mexico City’s center]. When I arrived, he was with someone else from TV Azteca and another person who now works in the Attorney General’s Office. “What you need is to get good and drunk,” they prescribed. That night he drank more than five bottles and the cantina did not charge him a single peso. “Everything is taken care of, don’t worry,” they told me. “Let’s go to a strip club,” they proposed later. And you know, in 4×4 pickup trucks. They were greeted by name, treated like kings.

All that pissed me off. I had fled that same sort of atmosphere in Juárez. I just wanted to go home. At one point some guys showed up, in armored trucks, narcos. They all greeted each other like old friends. That was when I couldn’t take it anymore. I told them: “I’m going to walk,” but I barely knew the city, I did not know how to get back. “No, man, wait. We’ll get someone to take you in a second.” They put me in a dark car, with tinted windows. They took me to my hotel, and that night I could not sleep from fear. I could not stop thinking about how that was how everything had started in Juárez.

* * *

It is not the first time that a journalist has been murdered in Mexico City. The cartoonist Rafael Pineda, Rapé, remembers that he met Rubén Espinosa one morning in September 2011 during a demonstration. A few days earlier, the bodies of Marcela Yarce and Rocío González were found in a park in Iztapalapa. Both worked for the magazine Contralínea. As tends to happen, the official line of investigation discarded their journalistic work as a possible cause of death.

–I met Rubén at the demonstration, in front of the DF Prosecutor’s Office. I thought it strange to find him there. I scarcely knew him, but I recognized him from his activity on social networks—Rapé relates. –He explained to me that he had been sent as a correspondent. I had spent a time outside of the country, because I was also threatened in Veracruz, and only recently had arrived to the Federal District. I met him there, in the morning, and we spent the entire day talking. Since then we became good friends. Later I learned that he was dating one of my ex-girlfriends in Xalapa.

Rapé also thinks that something changed with the murders in Narvarte. Up until recently, Mexico City was recognized as a safe place for refugees. The political tendencies of the city’s governors, the diverse groups of activists and human rights defenders, the millions of people who traveled through the city daily, it all created a certain air of safety. The city’s residents, accustomed to hear about mass graves, executions, and forced disappearances as news from elsewhere would soon find that death could also knock on their door.

Almost four years after taking refuge in the Federal District, Rapé has gained a bit of tranquility. His work in El Chamuco, Milenio, his participation in Rompeviento TV and colelctives such as Periodistas de a Pie and Ojos de Perro have kept him busy. Now, though, the anxiety and the fear have returned. And Rapé thinks that there is nothing more dangerous than fear. He knows he has to again take preventive measures, to be cautious. To be even more careful. “I’m afraid for my life and the lives of those close to me, again.”

–Something has happened in Mexico City. There is a change of attitude from the government. We saw it from the first day, when Peña Nieto took office. The way in which they treated the press was brutal. We worry, especially, that those most affected by this treatment were photojournalists like Rubén. At marches and demonstrations they are working at full bore and they are hit from all sides.

One day before this interview, the governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, offered a press conference to talk about the Narvarte case and the accusations against him. He highlighted the healthy condition of journalism in his state, where there are more than 500 print outlets, 500 digital outlets, 159 radio broadcasters, 65 cable channels, and three broadcast channels. Nevertheless, according to denunciations from local journalists, only 27 reporters, photographers, and cameramen were invited to the conference—all of them supporters of the government.

–Yesterday I listened to Duarte say all that and fill up with pride. According to him, things are good because there are few journalists who leave, compared with those who come to the state. The problem is that many people think, seriously, that journalism is just that: replicating the press releases sent out by officials. To be at their service, as mouthpieces, as textoservidores. Veracruz makes me sad. Because it is the same as it was when I left. Worse.

Photo from emeequis

Photo from emeequis

* * *

After being kidnapped for seven days [see emeequis #315], Mario Segura arrived in the Federal District thanks to the support of Artículo 19, which also provided psychological treatment for him and his family. He was the first journalist to enroll in the National Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders. And since then he has realized that not only was the state incapable of repairing the damage, but that many times it just made things worse.

Back then, at the beginning of 2013, he did not receive any support to treat the diabetes that he has suffered from for years, nobody could do anything to prevent his three children from losing a year of school, nor change any of what happened when he had to leave his house, his friends, his job. Tired of living in hotels and shelters, for months he tried to get a place to live. Only by establishing a home somewhere could he think about rebuilding his life. The officials offered him houses under construction, occupied, vandalized, or in places just as dangerous as his native Tamaulipas. In the end, he took a house in Mexico State, without bathrooms, that owed payments on its electricity and water.

–The mechanism [for protection of journalists] does not work—he said in an interview with emeequis at the end of that horrible year. But I understand that I am a guinea pig, I am the first journalist who enrolled in the mechanism. I understand that there will be failures, but it is part of my responsibility to make it work.

Today, Mario Segura seems more calm. He has become accustomed to his new home, even though the house has not yet been paid for by the mechanism. There were so many difficulities in getting the small residence that now the mechanism immediately declines to provide a property for threatened journalists. Even though his work situation is unstable, Mario trusts that things have changed, at least for him. But the contradictions and clumsiness of officials and authorities does not seem to have an end.

–The mechanism for protection is all we have. It works, but not efficiently. Moreover, every time the subsecretary of Human Rights changes, we start from zero, from the beginning—Mario Segura observes. After a pause, before beginning with a long list of complaints. –There are a lot of contradictions. For example, they set up four security cameras outside of my house, as well as lighting… that increased my consumption of electricity. Before I had an electricity bill of 200 pesos, now it is 1,200 or more. And I have to pay that. And I still do not have a steady job. How do they want me to pay that? I got a job in Tamaulipas, with El Sol del Sur. In the last evaluation that they did, my level of risk went up 53 percent, of course, because I am working in Tamaulipas and they think I should not do that. But how else am I supposed to pay the costs of being in this position if they will not?

* * *

Overcoming a threat, a “taking”, or a kidnapping is only possible if the victimized journalist can, in one way or another, keep working. That is what Luis Cardona thinks, three years after the afternoon when they threw him, after four hours of nonstop beatings, next to the highway running from Nuevo Casas Grandes to Chihuahua City.

Luis had to leave his house and his family in Juarez. He spent a great deal of time unemployed and became a journalist without a fixed home. He has changed residence and phone number more than three times. The reports he still publishes, he rarely includes a byline. He has focused on creating a means for compensating colleagues who, like him, had to leave everything. Two years ago, along with Rapé, Polo Hernández, and Rodrigo Soberanes, he founded Diario 19, an outlet that seeks to provide a workplace for displaced journalists.

–It has been very difficult. From the moment it was founded Diario 19 has been sustained thanks to grants from Connectas, which finances our investigations—Cardona explains—but it’s not enough. Now I’ve managed to found a small magazine, which is distributed in Mazatlán and in Juárez. A few months ago I took a prize from [online news site] Animal Político and that supported me for three months. The bad part was that I had to go back to Juárez.

–You returned to Juárez, despite the threats against you?

–I did not have a choice—Cardona explains. –Our funds were running out and so I joined the project with the Animal Político prize. My project was to do something about the lives of the children of those who disappeared in Ciudad Juárez. I was there three months. I worked with a low profile and everything. But the fear was incredible. I found a deserted city, five of every eight houses was abandoned. I did not dare go out. So I dedicated myself to writing, stuck behind the computer, I only went out to do interviews. I started getting fat, real, real fat. And the anxiety made me thirsty, made me hungry. I got diabetes. I got hypertension. When I went to the doctor, my glucose was 452 when a normal level should be between 80 and 110. I was at the point of entering a diabetic coma.

Now Cardona is part of the federal mechanism for the protection of journalists. He says that thanks to it, he feels safer, but he admits it is inefficient and insufficient. Although he has declined to be escorted by bodyguards, in order to be able to work with a low profile, it has helped to know that his family’s house in Juárez is monitored with regularity and that there is a security perimeter around it. Now he, his wife, and his children all have panic buttons on their cellphones.

–The panic button is very important. What happened with Rubén is an example. If he had enrolled in the mechanism, things would have been different. Whether or not the panic button functions depends on the reaction of the authorities who have a margin of between 15 and 30 minutes. But beyond that, in the moment you press it, your phone begins to record everything that is happening. That would have been very important. Rubén had the option of having that panic button and he rejected it, because he was against the state. It makes me sad. Because it is necessary to make this sort of protocol function. This is going to sound like a sellout, but it is important to work from inside. I honestly believe that. The support an organization can give you is always insufficient. No organization can save your life. And it is not their responsibility, but it is the state’s.

–You honestly believe the mechanism works? Has it worked for you?

–No. The mechanism does not function at 100%. Perhaps it is 10% functional. That’s how I see it. They took six months to give me security protocols. That is the problem with bureaucracy. The flow of money for programs is insufficient. The money barely covers salaries, but there isn’t a clear budget. The mechanism has 191 million pesos allotted, but the payments do not always arrive. Where is all that money going and why is it not spent on protecting, in a serious way, the journalists?

* * *

Despite its supposed advantages, Rapé does not trust any of the options that offer protection for at-risk journalists and activists. Recently he was invited to form part of the council overseeing the Mechanism for Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, a group made up of human rights activists, journalists, and citizens. “But I am thinking it over slowly. I do not want to waste my time.”

–A lot of journalists have said that the mechanism is a tremendous, multimillion peso joke. It does not actually work. Just to begin, the delayed manner with which they accept or decline your case seems absurd to me. It is an institutional display of cynicism, of indifference to the situation of journalists in Mexico.

A few days ago, the journalist Jade Ramírez quit her post as a member of the mechanism’s governing council. She felt that the mechanism was inefficient in carrying out the task it was assigned. “Owing to the problems with the Mechanism of Protection it remains an ineffective tool for guaranteeing the security of people who seek assistance from the federal government. Because it has not fully attended to the technical and administrative flaws in the institution, they have not been resolved.”

Neither did Rubén trust the options offered by the state, as Rapé recalls. Weeks before he was killed, Rubén had sent several messages to his phone. He wanted to talk to him. Tell him how he felt. “He was very afraid. He felt insecure. We had agreed to see each other soon, but he told me it was hard for him to get around because he didn’t have a cent. I told him I’d come to him, but he did not want to tell me where he was nor where we could meet, at least not by phone. I understood, and respected it.”

–Even though there were few times we could actually meet, Rubén and I saw each other at a lot of events. We could have been good friends, but because of the distance we could not cultivate the friendship. What has happened makes me furious, me and many others. They think we are stupid. I do not know what their game is. They are trying to fool a society that is hurt and worried.

The same thing happens with the other outlets that dare to dehumanize, publishing leaked photos of the crime scene. Rubén was on the other team; he was convinced that you should not submit. He knew that in Veracruz there had been critical journalism, done well by a few people.

We could have been great friends, he and I. But not now. Now we will never see each other.

Carlos Acuña writes for emeequis in Mexico City. This article was originally published by emeequis under the title “Vienen por los que no somos textoservidores” and is available at: http://www.m-x.com.mx/xml/pdf/357/36.pdf

Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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