Translator’s Note: The brutal and rotten nature of the “Mexican” Drug War has affected many, including professionals such as journalists. The following translations are tragic stories about Mexican Journalists that originate from the state of Veracruz. These journalists died doing the thing they loved doing most…journalism.
Veracruz has gained the infamous reputation as being the Mexican state with the highest number of journalists murdered, this has been made possible by a combination of security and political incompetence, primarily blamed on former Governor of Veracruz Javier Duarte. Quantitative and qualitative psychological research conducted in 2012 by University of Toronto Professor Anthony Feinstein correlated the mental state of Mexican journalists to that of journalists working in war zones, solidifying our understanding of the harsh reality of Journalism in drug related violence in Mexico.
These translated stories originated from an anthology named Tú Y Yo Coincidimos en La Noche Terrible, which provides testimonials about murdered journalists throughout Mexico. To state the obvious, these accounts were not made by the journalists themselves, but by individuals who investigated and pieced together the stories of their colleagues. Ultimately, the reader may come to appreciate the daring, risky, and disturbing nature that a journalism career brings.
Throughout these stories, please keep in mind the purpose and meaning of memorialization. It promotes the preservation, remembrance, recognition, and commemoration of past experiences. These stories preserve the memories of individuals that no longer walk among us. Memorization is a form of respect and appreciation of someone’s work, and these journalists earned that honor. -Efrain Rodriguez Arzaga
Evaristo Ortega Zárate: “Three Messages Before Disappearing” – By Ricardo Garza Lau (Web editor of the magazine Gatopardo)
My name is Evaristo Ortega Zárate. I was born in Cerro del Tigre, a town of Colipa, in the central highlands of Veracruz. Today only about 300 people live there. I studied at the Pedagogical University of Veracruz and in 2004 I settled in Misantla, a city with the region’s largest population. There I soon fulfilled my dream of creating a media outlet, the weekly Espacio, with my friend ngel Cruz. Both of us were reporters in local newspapers, but with our salaries we managed to fund our weekly newspaper. ngel died of stomach cancer a year and a half later. I continued with the project, which grew thanks to our writing in depth stories about corruption and social problems in the community, among other topics. Afterwards, we started selling advertisements from the municipal authorities. These sales allowed me to buy a printing press and publish the weekly in color. Although we had many critics, in 2009 we managed our newspaper Espacio to circulate for a time in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz. I tried to distribute it over a larger area but the attempt was unsuccessful since it was very difficult to do so.
Ever since childhood I have liked to work in an environment of passion and perseverance. Journalism opened the doors to having many friends. In Mexico it is common for journalists to be popular in their communities. We are seen as public figures. In 2009, I had the idea that I should take the advantage of such a reputation to get involved in politics, since journalism can be a platform for public office. That year, I worked for the Partido de Accin Nacional (PAN) in the campaigns of the candidates Irma Chedraui and Alba Leonila Mndez for federal deputies. Since the late 1920s in Veracruz, the state has been governed by the same party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). However, some townships, like Colipa, the PAN already governs.
I like helping people in need. I would move mountains in order to change their situation. Therefore, in the following months, I created a civil association named Together We Build the Progress of Colipa; its purpose was to gather resources to benefit people with the highest poverty rate in the city. All of a sudden, I had the idea that I could be the Mayor of the place where I was born, but Alba Méndez Leonila promised me few opportunities. The political career, just like journalism, starts from the bottom. She recommended I get in touch with Francisco “Chito” Mota Uribe, who was mayor of Colipa from 1998 to 2000. There were people who distrusted him because he has a controversial past. The most controversial episode occurred in 2003, when he was arrested with six others on the boardwalk in the port of Veracruz. One of the persons arrested was Manuel Vzquez Mireles, “The Meme Loco” who, according to the Federal Attorney General’s Office, was second in command of the Gulf Cartel in the area. Francisco was acquitted, sold his ranch and moved to Baja California. There, he worked with a baseball team and became a successful entrepreneur.
In early 2010, when the violence of the ‘war on drugs’ grew in Veracruz, “Chito” returned to Colipa and we agreed that I would be a candidate for public office as Mayor of Colipa. Fernando Hernández Masegosa, another former mayor of Colipa, wanted to govern, also through the PAN. With him I had several conflicts, both personal and public. The party committee decided that Fernando would be the candidate for mayor, so “Chito” told me that I would compete with another party, known as “Nueva Alianza”.
On April 19, 2010 I went with him to the State Executive Committee of the PAN in Xalapa to make a speech. We joined Andres Morgado Anglada, a candidate for mayor of Nautla, a town adjacent to Misantla. At noon we left the meeting, in “Chito’s” white Hummer. We were heading to the state capital when a police patrol stopped us. The police asked us to get out of the truck. The officers then took us under custody in their patrol cars. I found it very strange what was happening, so I sent three messages through my phone to my sister Irene, “tell everyone”, “We are in custody headed to Veracruz”, “We have been detained.” The officers realized that I was sending messages and confiscated my cellphone. At that moment I disappeared and no one has heard from me since.
Esteban Rodríguez Rodríguez: “A Moment with Esteban” – By Wendy Selene Perez (Report Editor from the Journal Domingo, El Universal, Mexico)
Esteban Rodriguez was not comfortable that afternoon. It was August 16, 2010 and the temperature stood at a tropical 35 degrees with devilishly humid conditions: that month Hurricane Karl had reached Veracruz’s coastline. Esteban lay with his chest planted on the ground, with elbows and feet gripping the asphalt like a skinny lizard. He pushed his left wrist against the floor and took a strong grip around his old Nikon D50 on his right hand, protecting it from the wet cement. The picture he took shows the steps of the two police officers, their movements hyper energetic. Their motion led them to run up against and slam into the trunk of a vehicle belonging to a local politician.
It was Monday morning and it was raining again. Esteban woke up and began putting on his watch, black tennis shoes, blue jeans, a green cotton shirt, and his wallet. National headlines rumored of a potential attack on the mass media company of Televisa at its Monterrey headquarters. For months, Esteban had worked for the AZ newspaper, he had previously been in the Notiver agency as a night cameraman for TV Azteca. Esteban said goodbye to Claudia, his second wife, and Dieguito, his third child. His hair was combed back, drawing attention to highlighting his chiseled black eyebrows. People called Esteban “Furcio” a nickname from a cartoon with thick eye browed characteristics from an “impressionist” show hosted by Pedro Armendariz Jr. The day was progressing when Esteban was notified of a firefight in the intersection of Doblado and 16th street, very close to the Downtown area.
A güero (lightskinned) male in his twenties with black hair, camisole, and chains of chest jewelry, had killed a policeman. He was traveling in a car with plates from the state of Puebla when a traffic officer stopped him. Instead of stopping, the driver picked up a revolver and shot the officer in the face, in plain sight, leaving the surrounding civilians aghast at the act. The assailant fled. Men in blue uniforms looked, tracked, and fumbled, efforts that lead to nothing. It seemed if the assailant was swallowed up by the land or been taken by the rain. In anger, the police began to withdraw their search. Suddenly, a neighbor shouted “there is somebody there!” And pointed to a yellow truck at a construction site. Instead of hiding, people came out to see. The policemen returned quickly. The group of policemen surrounded the truck, cornered the assailant like a dog and began beating him. A nearby, adrenaline filled, uncaring cameraman yelled “Kill him, kill him!!”. His reporter colleagues looked at him and thought to themselves “what’s wrong with this bastard?”, the incident lead them to upload a video of it on YouTube.
Then, out of nowhere came a burst of bullets for five minutes. Esteban, with expectant eyes bursting from fear had accented wrinkles on the forehead, his mouth ajar and body uncomfortably positioned. After the gunshot there was silence. A space in time. Then someone shouted “Stop, stop!” from who knows where. The photographers took a picture of the güero, whose white shirt bathed in deep red, a pale face and the now darkened bloodied beard. The photographer showed me with fear perhaps the only photo that had circulated of Esteban’s as he was caught up in the event: “I took it in a shootout in the neighborhood of La Huaca, one of the toughest of the Port … The policemen with weapons and vests … Furcio just with his camera … but he is now dead.”
“There we all were,” said another reporter, remembering the shooting. “The cops with their weapons, and us with our cameras.”
That’s how his colleagues want to remember Esteban, on the move. Like the day he defended his teammate Victor Hugo, as police encircled them at a Calle 13 concert. They finished without photos, without their equipment, beaten and attended by paramedics.
A year after that, Esteban received strange calls, threats documented by the press freedom group Article 19. The letter of resignation to the AZ arrived and Esteban began to work as a welder in a mechanic shop.
In May 2012, the bullets reached him without his camera. Now he was cornered. He was the bloodied one. Maybe he screamed ‘kill me at once’, maybe he thought about it. They tortured him until he hallucinated and dismembered him like cattle. He was thrown into the sewer canal of La Zamorana in Boca del Rio. The news of his murder broke on May 3, World Press Freedom Day. Esteban was found in a black plastic bag along with the bodies of Guillermo, Gabriel, and Irasema. It was over 35 degrees with light rain. A quick burial with less than ten people in the garden cemetery, a tomb in a corner where, at last, the earth is already dry.
Irasema Becerra Jiménez: “Irasema” – by Alma Celia San Martin (Freelance journalist and Regional communication coordinator of the Universidad Veracruzana)
A native from Veracruz, Irasema Becerra Jiménez studied for a degree in Communication at the Faculty of Communication Sciences of the Universidad Veracruzana in Boca del Rio. She completed her internship at the Notiglobo news station Globo FM, where journalist Fanny Yepez was in charge. Irasema was responsible, along with a companion, for news production.
Teacher and academic faculty member Guadalupe Mar Vázquez says of her academic life “I remember her as a studious girl, dedicated, an A- student, and always completing her assignments.” She was noted for being accomplished, but nothing more. She was not a student who liked to say or convey her views to teachers and classmates. “I remember her with great affection, because she was a dedicated and accomplished young lady. Although I did not follow her trajectory as a professional, I cannot prove to you that she dabbled in the media. Moreover, she worked in the newspaper El Dictamen, but as a publicist: her work really had nothing to do with news.”
It has been difficult to find out more about her life; people close to the family Becerra Jiménez have preferred not to mention Irasema’s murder. She was just 33 years old at the time of her death.
On the day of May 2, 2012 reporters heard a rumor, that three photojournalists covering crime had mysteriously disappeared. The next day shortly after ten o’clock in the morning, it was confirmed that Mexican Marines had located four bodies at the sewage canal of Zamorana, in the vicinity of the dwelling unit Las Vegas 2, apartments in Boca Del Rio, Veracruz. The bodies of three of the victims were identified as Guillermo Luna, Gabriel Hugé and Esteban Rodriguéz Rodriguéz. Later the fourth victim’s body was identified as that of Irasema Becerra Jiménez, who was said to be dating Esteban Rodríguez. Esteban was a photojournalist for various media outlets in Veracruz. The dismembered bodies appeared in black plastic bags.
According to available information Irasema had no connection with journalistic work and had worked for the newspaper El Dictamen as a publicist for just a few months.
It is not known where the group meet before their murder. Nobody knows the place where they were going, or the identity of the abductors.
The burial of Irasema and Esteban occurred in private and separately in Veracruz’s municipal cemetery on May 4. The funeral was separate from the other two photojournalists killed with them. According to a reporter who requested anonymity, Irasema and Esteban’s families had been threatened and this stopped them from performing a public ceremony.
It is important to note from Irasema’s murder, that her family and close friends have requested journalists and friends to ask no questions about her and her death. Even with the arrest of a man who was in possession of her identification cards and thus leading to him getting convicted for the murder of Irasema, the family still had no questions about the suspect.
Translations by Efrain Rodriguez Arzaga, El Paso Community College Sophomore
Efrain Rodriguez is a native of the U.S.-Mexico border region and is currently a college student at El Paso Community college in El Paso, Texas. He is currently studying for an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice and plans to graduate in the spring of 2017 with Honors. Furthermore, Efrain plans to continue his education and pursue a Bachelor’s degree in History at The University of Texas at El Paso. His interests revolve around academic research, leadership, learning, critical thinking, and public service. His career path is still undecided, but claims that he wants a career that involves a deep and meaningful purpose towards humanity.