By: Mark Fitzgerald
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, hundreds of journalists rallied in cities all across Mexico to kick off Ni Uno M?s, Not One More. In the declaration of The Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (Cepet), Ni Uno M?s is described as a “campa?a permanente,” a permanent campaign with the formal title Against Violence Against Journalists and For Full Freedom of Expression in Mexico.
Exactly a week later, some one threw a firebomb at the station wagon parked in front of the home of Pedro P?rez Natividad, the editorial director of the Primera Hora daily newspaper in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
This time, no one died. In April, though, Paul Gibb Guerrero, director of the newspaper La Opinion near Veracruz was shot to death in an apparent ambush. The same month, a freelance contributor to Primera Hora, Guadalupe Garc?a Escamilla, barely survived after being shot eight times as she arrived at the radio station where she also worked as a reporter.
In Mexico, the enemies of journalists are in a permanent campaign, too.
Ni Uno M?s is the latest effort by Mexican journalists — and the many U.S. and international press freedom organizations alarmed by the violent turn that Mexico has taken — to demand the federal authorities hunt down and punish the narcotics dealers and corrupt government officials who so far have been able to murder or intimidate journalists with near-absolute impunity.
“We demand that these crimes be investigated and that the full weight of the law be pressed upon those responsible so that there will not be the impunity that encourages new attacks, whether against journalists or any person,” the campaign declaration reads. “We journalists are not demanding privileges — only the security necessary to perform our work and fulfill our mission of informing (society). We contend that attacks against journalists constitute attacks against society…While these crimes go on against journalists, freedom of expression in Mexico is restricted, and authorities have not fulfilled their responsibility to guarantee that freedom.”
There has been signs the federal government is at last serious about tackling this problem, but it is also true that not much progress has been reported publicly, at least, in the investigations of the murders of journalists in northern Mexico. In one case, that Alfredo Jim?nez Mota of the Hermosilla daily El Impartial, a journalists has literally vanished from the face of the earth. Jim?nez Mota went missing April 2 and hasn’t been seen since.
The campaign’s organizing group Cepet is a non-profit center headquartered in San Miguel de Allende to promote investigative journalism and ethical standards in the press. It’s partially funded by grants from the Knight Foundation.
In an interview last month with Alejandro P?rez, an editor at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Cepet founder Leonarda Reyes said the violence against journalists is spiraling out of control. The clearest danger to the press, she said, came from narcotics traffickers, who killed five journalists in 2004, and were almost certainly involved in two attacks this year.
“But there is a situation that is even more grave,” Reyes said, “The government is unable to halt narcotrafficking, and instead, permits its growth. Self-censorship seems to be the route that the Mexican media is taking. The media cannot declare the whole situation illegitimate. They can denounce and confront. But only government power, with its policies at all levels, with its elite intelligence capabilities and high-powered weaponry, can stop narcotrafficking.”
International non-governmental organizations are also pressuring the Mexican federal government to do more to stop the violence against journalists.
In May, a delegation from the Miami-based Inter American Press Association (IAPA) met in northern Mexico with federal and state prosecutors to review the progress of investigations into the murders of four journalists and the missing Jim?nez Mota. The meetings were part of a review process in a formal agreement signed last year between IAPA and the Mexican government.
And just yesterday, June 21, another delegation of foreign journalists, this one from the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), met with Jos? Luis Vasconcelos, a prosecutor in the organized crime division of the federal Attorney General’s Office, to talk about the investigations.
That meeting took place a day before the one-year anniversary of the murder of Francisco Ortiz Franco, co-editor of the crusading Tijuana weekly newspaper Zeta. CPJ was told that the notorious Arellano F?lix drug cartel was behind the slaying, and that one of the suspected gunmen, Jorge Eduardo “El Ni?o” Ronquillo Delgado, was executed by fellow members of the gang.
The prosecutor said 107 members of the drug ring have been arrested in a crackdown, and that three have been charged with the journalist’s murder. Still at large, though, are the two suspected “intellectual authors” of the murder: Arturo Villarreal Albarr?n and Jorge Brice?o.
“The discussion was productive, but the true test lies in what Mexican authorities do to stop the slayings of journalists,” Andres Oppenheimer, a CPJ board member and a columnist for The Miami Herald, said in a statement after the meeting. “The fact is that CPJ has identified Mexico as an extremely dangerous country for Latin American journalists, joining company with nations such as Colombia.”
For its own campaign, Cepet is encouraging Mexican and foreign journalists to sign its Ni Uno M?s declaration. The document, in Spanish, is posted on the group’s Web site www.cepet.org. An English-language explanation of the group’s background and goals is available at www.cepet.org/engintro.htm.
PAN AM HIGHWAY
An occasional diary of events affecting newspapers and journalists around the hemisphere
Rio de Janeiro gang leader Elias Pereira da Silva on May 25 was found guilty and sentenced to 28 years in prison for the June 2002 torture and murder of TV Globo journalist Tim Lopes, who was reporting from the city’s slums on “funk music” parties organized by drug dealers. Residents complained children were sexually abused at the parties, where drug dealing was reportedly rampant. Lopes’ ordeal was particularly brutal. CPJ reported that in depositions in the case, the murder suspects said Lopes was tied up and taken by car to Pereira da Silva. He was beaten and shot in the feet to prevent escape. The gang members held a mock trial and sentenced the reporter to death. Pereira da Silva, who was known by the nicknames “Elias the Madman” and “Crazy Elias,” killed Lopes with a sword, burned his body and buried it.
Lima, Peru-based Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) reported that unknown persons set fire to the house of Sandra Miranda, editor of the newspaper Primeira Independent in Palmas in Tocantins State on May 17. Miranda told IPYS she believes the arson, which was confined to a back room, may be connected to her reporting on nepotism among the town’s politicians and alleged corruption of local military police.
In a June 7 letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, Toronto-based Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) protested the lack of public access to public information, despite the nation’s freedom of information laws. In a test conducted by 45 newspapers and organized by the Canadian Newspaper Association, reporters acting as private citizens asked for documents from local city halls, police stations, school boards and federal government offices. “In general, they found officials unwilling to divulge information even on simple matters such as class sizes and road repairs,” the letter said. “CJFE is shocked by the dismal record of government officials in responding to access to information requests…While the public’s right to access information concerning their government has been enshrined in law in both provincial and federal law, in much of Canada this right seems to exist only on paper.”
Francisco Antonio Tabares, known as “Til?n,” and Lu?s Arley Ortiz Orozco, known as “Pereque,” were sentenced to 28 years in prison on May 16 for their role in the January 2002 of journalist Orlando Sierra, deputy director of the “La Patria” newspaper in Manizales, the Bogota-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) reported. The investigation to identify the masterminds behind Sierra’s murder continues, FLIP said. Last year the Bogota daily El Tiempo reported that at least six people under investigation for alleged ties to Sierra’s assassination had themselves been murdered.
Six men were accused in the December 2003 assassination of journalist Ivannia Mora, the San Jose newspaper La Nacion reported May 23. Among the six was Eugenio Millot Lasala, identified as a “newspaper businessman and ex-boss of the victim.”
Journalists from Poland and Italy were arrested and expelled from the island when they tried to cover the historic meeting in May of independent journalists and other dissidents. The Polish journalists were Seweryn Blumsztajn of the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Jerzy Jurecki of the regional daily Tygodnik Podhalanski, and Wojciech Rogasin of Newsweek. Their interpreter, Maciej Sarna, was also arrested and expelled. The Italian journalist expelled was Francesco Battistini, correspondent for the national daily Corriere della Sera.
Heberto Jarqu?n Manzanares, a reporter for the daily “La Prensa”, in the eastern region of Atlantico Norte, received a death threat on May 22 from Evaristo Rivas S?nchez, the former commander of a dissolved paramilitary, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported. “This is not the first time that Jarqu?n has received such threats because of his articles. We call upon the Nicaraguan authorities to guarantee his security and arrest the people who want to murder him,” RSF said in a statement. Jarqu?n linked the death threat to a recent article alleging the former paramilitary commander is connected with a criminal organization that steals valuable wood.