Category: ~ Mexico’s Struggle for Democracy

The Murder of Mexican Journalists. With Impunity.

Taken from the CPJ:

Mexican journalist found dead with bullet wounds in San Luis Potosí
October 6, 2017 5:29 PM ET
Mexico City, October 6, 2017–Authorities in Mexico must undertake a swift and credible investigation into the murder of photographer Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
A spokesperson from the state attorney general’s office today told CPJ that state authorities found Esqueda Castro’s body this morning, near the airport in the city of San Luis Potosí. His body had three gunshot wounds, the office said.
The journalist’s wife, who CPJ has not named for safety reasons, told CPJ that armed men in police uniform who identified themselves as local police yesterday abducted Esqueda Castro from their home in San Luis Potosí.
She said the group of men, armed with pistols and at least one automatic rifle, broke the window of the front door of the couple’s home and stormed into the room where she and her husband were asleep. The attackers then collected the couple’s cellphones, and took Esqueda Castro away at gunpoint, Esqueda Castro’s wife said.
“Mexican authorities must swiftly investigate the abduction and murder of Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro, and bring all of those responsible to justice,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, CPJ’s program coordinator for North America, from New York. “Criminals, sometimes connected with state actors, know that they can get away with killing journalists in Mexico because of chronic impunity for these crimes. Until that changes, the violence will continue.”
The state’s general prosecutor said yesterday in a statement made on social media that the prosecutor’s office is investigating, and denied that state police were involved in the abduction. The prosecutor also said there was no arrest warrant against Esqueda Castro.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression, told CPJ yesterday that his agency had opened a separate investigation.
Esqueda Castro worked as a freelance photographer for the local news websites Metropoli San Luis and Vox Populi, and edited a personal website, Infórmate San Luis. According to Esqueda Castro’s editor at Vox Populi, Gerardo Guillermo Almendariz, Esqueda mostly covered society events, but would sometimes work on crime stories.
Over the past few months, local police had threatened Esqueda Castro while he was reporting, according to both the journalist’s wife and Guillermo Almendariz. On July 13, policemen threatened Esqueda Castro verbally, took pictures of his identification card, which included his address, and told him they were watching his home. Separately, several policemen on July 4 beat Esqueda Castro and threatened to take his camera while the journalist was photographing a shootout scene.
Esqueda Castro reported both incidents to the state authorities, and filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission, according to Guillermo Almendariz.
In a statement released this afternoon, the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a government body that provides protective measures to reporters under threat of violence, confirmed the threats, and stated that it had offered protective measures to Esqueda Castro. According to the protective group, Esqueda Castro refused protection, and said that he received no other threats after the two July incidents.
The journalist’s wife and Guillermo Almendariz confirmed to CPJ on Thursday that Esqueda had not been enrolled in a protection scheme.
Mexico is one the deadliest countries in the Western hemisphere for journalists. In 2017, at least four journalists have been murdered in direct retaliation for their work, according to CPJ research, and CPJ is investigating the circumstances of another killing. CPJ has documented the disappearances of 14 journalists in Mexico, excluding Esqueda Castro. In May, journalist Salvador Adame Pardo was abducted from his home in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

An Interview with the Filmmaker Ludwig Carnival

Guanajuato, Mexico, Oct.5, 2017

George Bunyan Interviews the filmmaker Ludwig Carnival on the health of Mexican film.*

GB: From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of very good films everywhere that don’t make it to the big screen. Is there anything we citizens can do about that?

LC: Yes. Stop watching mindless television. Demand art and thoughtful content.

GB: Isn’t that the argument of the artistic elite?

LC: It certainly isn’t the argument of the commercial elite. For them money, not art, is what is important.

GB: But without money, your films won’t reach the public.

LC: It depends on what you mean by public. People huddled in the flickering, blue light of their televisions, alone, hypnotized, without any questions forming in their brains as to what things mean. It’s a kind of self-selected numbing, distraction, excitement without insight, where you don’t remember what you’ve seen.

I recently went to a small movie house in Dahlem, an area in Berlin. I wanted to see whether it was still there fifty years after I had been a student there. My wife and I were the only people sitting in the theater. The movie was about raising salmon in desert in a Middle East country. That was the gimmick. That’s why it got picked up and distributed.

The movie house had endured because a series of owners loved film. There was nothing elite about the place or its activities. The billboard indicated that thoughtful films were the large part of the offering. In particular: The Thirty-Nine Steps, directed by Hitchcock. The Grande Illusion, with Erik von Stroheim. The Bicycle Thief. And the Mexican film Heli, by Amat Escalante. Criticized in some places for its violence.

GB: Violence sells, so does sex, so does white.

LC: That’s the sad part. The whiteness. So many films without cultural diversity, but revealing the racial assumptions that give cohesion to the dominant ethnicity. That is what characterizes blockbusters. Violence as the manifestation of strength and, usually, of male dominance, as in constant war and sex, as in the enticing postures of women that show thighs and breast, as if that were mainly what they are about.

I grew up in a whiteness, just south of Boston. My adolescent friends and I heard about the film Bitter Rice being played in a nearby seaport. We didn’t tell our parents what we were about to do, the three of us stealing away like plotting murderers , and hitchhiked to the town, praying the ticket booth would let us in, although we were years under-age. The crime we got to commit? We got to see nineteen-year old movie actress Silvana Mangano’s thighs and breasts. And violence. I remember thinking there must be something dirty about the whole thing because it was also Italian, and Italians, I knew, ate innocent people alive in East Boston. So many prejudices already growing like permanent cultural fungus in my young soul. At least it was international. But it had made it to the big American screen because of breasts and thighs. And probably also because of its dirtiness. Some critics called it Marxist because it dealt with labor issues.

GB: What about violence in Mexican films? Take the film Heli that you mentioned.

LC: I’ve seen the film. There is violence. But it’s not gratuitous violence. It shows unspeakable cruelty and torture, but it’s there for a reason. That is what goes on in a country with a long history of the absence of the rule of law; where educational and job-training opportunities tend to be out of the range of humble people; where the elite gather wealth and power, in their own way stealing from the rest of us with their monopolies. Anyone can join the drug cartels and become the cannon fodder for the incredibly bloody wars to control shipping and markets. The violence shows the depravity of a part of a desperate society where the only protection is neighbors looking our for neighbors.  Escalante rubs your face in it. Not to titillate and entertain, but to make you incensed that the powers at the top have allowed such a society to evolve. A society that we all in some ways help perpetuate every day. And in that way it is about Everyman and Every Country.

GB: What are you working on now?

LC: I’m writing a screen play about a corrupt federal policeman in Tampico in 1938, who looks for his angry, missing son in a city wracked by petroleum workers’ strikes. Where brutal counter measures produce limbless bodies floating in the Pánuco River, chewed on by oversized crocodiles and bumped against at night by submerged German U-boats, inching upstream. Where everything points to the coming slaughters of the Second World War, some of which is already beginning in that oil port.

GB: So the same old problems continue?

LC: The same problems exist. What sells is youth, young sexuality, young thighs and breasts, bulging muscles, guns, killing bad guys, winning the usually white beauties as if they were circus prizes.

What’s missing are the small joys, the small courtesies, I want to say, sweetness that strangers share, the fragility of unusual love. What sells is war, weapons, feats of unreal courage, blowing up things, car chases, high-tech crime fighting. A hip hollowness. Heroes wrapped in invincibility. The abundance of clichés.

Heli, the film by Amat Escalante, is slow, unrelenting. At one point, if I remember correctly, an Army pickup drives right up to the door of an innocent protagonist’s modest house, with its mounted, manned, heavy machine gun pointed right at the protagonist, what seems like centimeters away. It is a scene about menace. About the power of the State to threaten or run amok with impunity. A metaphor for what good people are up against in this country of ours. It is but one of countless brilliant scenes. Escalante’s films should be supported by patrons of the arts everywhere. As should those of countless other young filmmakers in this old and noble country.

GB: Thank you for your time.

LC: You’re very welcome.

*A reminder that this was a fictitious interview.

 

 

Returning to Mexico and Its Forgotten Prisoners

It occurred to me, while walking along through my little colonial city again, that Mexico could be described with a few words: impunity, the absence of just law, corruption, the gracefulness of its people, kindness, cordiality, and the seamless connection with history. My friend is still in prison. There were several dates that he was supposed to have committed his crime. After eight months of captivity, he finally had a hearing. The prosecution dropped all but one of the dates, because of the lack of credible evidence. The one date, for which he could serve ten years, he was off on a cabalgada. That’s when sometimes hundreds of men mount their horses and head off into the mountains on pilgrimages. They camp, talk together, tend their horses, worship at this or that shrine, enjoy each others’ company. These rides can be as large as 1,500 men. It is one reason an invader should think twice about undertaking an infantry incursion into Mexico. One of the meanings of cabalgada is cavalry raid. There are thousands of Pancho Villas and Emiliano Zapatas living in Mexico. My friend is one of them. There is nothing he loves more than to mount his horse (kept in a stall near where our car is parked) and head off with a few of his friends into the mountains that begin five minutes from our house.

The point is that there are a great many witnesses who can testify that he was with other horsemen, many of them his friends, at the time he was supposed to have committed his crime. And yet the State prosecution is reluctant to admit the testimony of these riders and friends. To save face? To keep the prisons full, their jobs necessary? Out of spite? Because they can? Because they are lazy? Because someone has gotten to the judge? The way things work, it could be another eight months before he has another hearing. Mexican judicial procedures were supposed to have been modernized by a law passed in 2008. Cases would be handled by open oral argument, and there would be the presumption of innocence. But things have not changed very much. The State prosecutor collects statements, the hands of the clock turn every so slowly, months go by, there is no speedy resolution with burden of proof on the prosecutor. In fact, over time, and because the prisoners sit in prison, the burden is perceived to have settled on him. After all, he would not be in prison if he weren’t guilty of something.

 

And so my friends is desperate, anxious, feeling trapped, forgotten and feels doomed. His daughters and grandson visit him daily, bringing him food and encouragement and love. They have become his most reliable and, in my opinion, capable lawyers.

He is one of Mexico’s many victims of corrupt law, uncaring law—law without justice.

My Friend as A Caged Animal

At the prison today, the first guards told me to leave my watch in the car and come back. I complied. As I understood it, someone might want it. That meant the other guards at the next gate. It didn’t seem plausible. I think he was just trying to be helpful. We showed our Mexican driver’s licenses, had them photographed onto “grocery receipts,” and turned to leave. “You may not be able to go in with those pockets,” said a guard wearing a helmet. I was wearing cargo pants. I slapped the pockets to show how the outside pockets could be handled. But I did smile and say, “Thanks for the warning.”

We walked across an open space that the builders had tried to make into a plaza, as pretty much all towns in Mexico have them, as if the prison were also a town. We entered the main doors. There I gave up my car keys and belt. No one mentioned my cargo pants. We stepped into our respective frisking booths, his and hers, male guard, female guard. Out the other side, we went down stairs and followed the familiar tunnel painted hospital green. At the wire cage, the guard fed out grocery receipt information into a computer, said some code words, and we climbed some stairs to the visiting area.

There was one prisoner visiting through the glass and bar wall with what looked like his mother or an aunt. He had to wait after she left. I suppose so that he and our friend wouldn’t pass each other. The visiting area guard opened her high security door and passed the mother a plastic shopping basket that I could tell was light by the way she held it. Empty plastic food containers, being given back so they could be refilled and brought back. The routine: bring in filled containers in one basket, take out empties in another.

We waited for some time for our friend. Who knows what we were interrupting: lunch, exercise and sleep. The present prisoner bowed his head, looking at the floor, chewing gum. What do you think about when you have to wait in a cage? How long will you be in that cage? Fifteen days or fifteen years? Our friend arrived and entered. The other prisoner passed by him, under the eyes of the guard and climbed stairs to an area higher up.

I went first. My friend is accused of [         ], possibly in an extortion attempt. Because of the snail-like pace of Mexico’s incorporated Napoleonic/Roman law, criminal and civil law, top-down law, he sits in prison until all the “evidence” is collected and pondered by a judge. There appears to be no right to a speedy trial, no right to a vigorous defense through cross-examination etc. Something like 30% to 50% of people in Mexican prisons have not seen a judge and don’t know if or when they will ever be released. More than 85% of those charged with a crime are sentenced, according to Mexico’s top think tank, the Center for Investigation and Development, or CIDE. Napoleonic Law does not hold that a prisoner is guilty till proven innocent. That apparently is an urban legend. I thank my friend Jürgen for bringing me up to date on that. So, the presumption of guilt and the many shades of it, is something Mexican.

My friend picked up the phone but, before talking, put his left hand up against the thick glass. I put my hand against the glass from my side. He did not look well. We had seen two of his daughters and his grandson in the parking lot. They warned us that he was feeling desperate. They said that, at a minimum, it would be another twenty days before he could leave—if a judge finds in his favor. He had already been held for three months. At that is the rub. Without accusatory, cross-examine challenge by defense lawyers, in an open court in front of a jury, all kinds of skullduggery or disaster can occur over the waiting period. By law passed in 2008, the old system was to change to be more like the U.S. system, with innocence presumed from the start. But the change has been moving slowly. Thirty-one more Mexican states have yet to enact it. And actual practice may lag long after enactment.

He looked haggard. We talked about this and that. I said we had heard he was desperate. His eyes soften as he nodded. Later, he cried during D’s turn. She led him in a breathing exercise, the two of them crying softly. I had told him to redouble his physical exercise. I think he could not really let it all out in front of another man, especially in front of a man who was on the outside. He talked about liberty, and that that was what was the most precious thing in life. He said something about twenty years. I let it slide. I didn’t want to speculate with him that he might remain caged for that length of time. I believe it was a pessimist speaking, not a guilty man. We both knew that Napoleonic law is open to corruption, error and incompetence.

When it was D’s turn, the guard wasn’t in her office. She couldn’t go to the visiting window and telephones without the guard’s permission. I held up my thumb and forefinger, as if I held an invisible centavo (penny) between them. It meant, in Mexico, that it would be a minute or so before D could visit. He got up and began pacing back and forth along the row of seats and telephones on his side of the barrier. Like a caged zoo animal.

While he and D visited, two women came in. They dropped off baskets of food with the guard. There are about ten chairs for visitors to sit in while they wait their turn to visit. One of the two women sat down right beside me. That is not what happens outside. The other woman sat on the other side of her. I do not understand this readiness to sit right next to another visitor, an older gringo, a stranger, a man. But it has something to do with the need for closeness in the context of the Inside, with the assumption that we are in this together. I don’t think we even exchanged Buenas Tardes. So that too was different.

The other woman got up, the guard opened the door and handed her a shopping bag of empty food containers. Along with two framed pictures portrait-sized, one of which held as many as twelve photos of the same very young girl, presumable the prisoner’s daughter. The other, as I remember, a country landscape, perhaps from their village. I do not know why he had to give them up. Perhaps he had never got them.

Back at the guard station where I had left the car keys and my belt, in front of a woman of modest means, a guard was stirring a wooden spatula around in a plastic container of soup, looking for contraband or weapons. The woman did not look happy. How many times had she gone through that? And how many times would she again? There were several women, all poor, waiting to have each one of their containers probed.

The Difficulty With Mexican Crime Investigations

I have always wondered exactly how it worked. Mexican law is based on Napoleonic Law, and before that, Roman Law. It is, I have found, an urban legend that in Mexico you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. But if the Public Ministry finds there is enough evidence (and that is a big presumption in the way things work), you will sit in prison while not evidence but “testimony” (sometime coerced) is collected, so a judge can decide by himself/herself whether you are guilty, half guilty.

Or innocent.

Napoleonic Law as practiced in Mexico does not—and I am not a lawyer—does not provide enough protections for the defendant. The accuser(s) can add to existing “evidence” and that evidence in the form of statements accumulates under loose and often incompetent controls. 80 days is supposed to be the legal limit for what is called arraigo, detention without charge. There are many problems with arraigo here in Mexico, and in other countries. There is much room for mischief.

From p. 25 in the fine study done at the University of San Diego, “Detention Without Charge” https://justiceinmexico.org/detention-without-charge-now-available/#.ViQK5m6RHP8.facebook:

“Perhaps the government could not offer a clear requirement (around arraigo) because there is none to be found in either the criminal code or the (Mexican) Constitution. In the prosecution phase of criminal proceedings, the MP (Ministerio Público) has the burden of proving guilt, but with arraigo there is no mention of reasonable suspicion, probable cause, clear and convincing evidence, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This lack of a clear standard of required proof makes judicial review for reasonableness impossible.”

You can read more about my visits with my friend at sterlingbennett.com

Here is the clearest explication I’ve seen yet.

By way of Mexico Voices (http://mexicovoices.blogspot.mx/)—an English translation of the article “Mexican Judicial Institutions Don’t Know How to Investigate Crimes” from the Mexican weekly Proceso, by Sara Pantoja.

“Mexico City The Ayotzinapa case (the forced disappearance of 43 students) revealed that Mexico’s law enforcement institutions are not prepared to investigate, and legal case files* are put together not [based] on scientific evidence, but in complete dependence on formal legal statements [by detainees and witnesses].”

Footnote to the article translation by Mexico Voices’ Jane Brundage: “Mexico’s criminal justice system is very different from the U.S. system based on Common Law, where criminal cases are tried before judge and jury, with witnesses questioned and cross-examined in open court. Derived from the Napoleonic Code and Roman Law, criminal proceedings in the tradition of Civil Law are carried out primarily by means of documents submitted to the court, respectively, by the Public Ministry performing its prosecutorial and investigative functions, and (the same for) the Defense Team. The Judge reviews these documents (compiled in a formal legal file, expediente) in private, then issues a series of orders, rulings and resolutions. The Judge’s first orders ground each document in the applicable law, organized in two documents: Penal Code and Federal Code of Criminal Procedures.

When the legal file is complete, the Judge analyzes the documents in the formal legal file (which can run well in excess of 500 pages) in order to determine the Final Resolution of the case: guilt or innocence.”

My friend Don Coulter added a point I should have made (how the law is supposedly changing) in a Comment, which I quote here in full.

Don Coulter

While the footnote by Jane Brundage is accurate, I’m surprised she didn’t point out that Mexico is in a period of transition toward a criminal-justice system more similar to that of the United States. I quote from an article on insightcrime.org earlier this year:

“Mexico is in the midst of implementing criminal justice reforms passed in 2008, substituting inquisitorial court trial proceedings–in which trials are conducted mainly through paperwork and defendants have few opportunities to communicate directly with a judge–with oral-based, accusatorial proceedings more akin to those employed in the United States. The objective is to bring greater transparency to court proceedings, as well as to expand the rights of the accused and institute the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

“However, the rollout of the reforms has been slow: only four states have completely made the switch, while 25 have made partial changes. All 31 states plus the federal district are expected to implement the reforms by June 2016.” (http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/experts-warn-of-challenges-to-mexico-s-judicial-reform-rollout)

Don Coulter continues: I would add that I think it’s extremely unlikely that the reforms will be fully in place by next June. And even if they are, they will hardly put an end to the institutional incompetence and corruption that plague all levels of Mexican government. One can only hope they’ll be the start of a long-term reform effort.

Sterling continues: A good companion piece to “The Difficulty with Mexican Crime Investigations” might be the September 30, 2015 New Yorker article “Mexico’s Missing Forty-Three: One Year, Many Lies and a Theory That Might Make Sense,” by Francisco Goldman. Mexico, the author suggests, may never have seen the likes of the evidentiary narrative constructed by the team of highly respected independent foreign investigators that been looking into the case. A new forensic model Mexicans may want to adopt.

Uber vs Mexico City’s Transit Police

Recently, I had my first Uber taxi experience, as well as my first experience of police corruption in Mexico city.

We had to get to the Mexico City airport. Our AirBnB host sang Uber’s praises. He would pay the taxi through his account. I would reimburse him in pesos. We would only need to call about six minutes before an Uber came. The driver would be dressed in jacket and tie, we would know all about him before he arrived since he had been thoroughly screened by the company, we would see his photo and know the license number of his car. We would each get a free bottle of water.

We waited at the corner of Motolinía and Avenida Francisco Madero. Various taxis slowed, offering rides. We waved them on. That may have been the tip off. Finally, Luis came, in a little red car, clean, new, and with the right license number. We loaded our luggage. Luis asked what terminal. We didn’t know. I got out the piece of paper with the flight information. There was no mention of the terminal. Our host looked it up in a flash with his smart phone. Terminal 1. A good minute had gone by. We got in the car. A Transit Police pulled in in front of us with his motorcycle, boxing us in. He came to the driver’s window. We had, he said, committed an infraction and weren’t going anywhere. Our host, a rational man, began to protest. What did he mean, we had just stopped to load baggage, that’s what you do when you’re going to the airport. The policeman said we would have to wait until his commanding officer got there. Out of thin air, a Transit Police pickup pulled up next to us. A female officer got out of the passenger seat and turned to the pickup’s bed. There she had a whole tangle of wheel boots, linked by cables, to incapacitate the Uber taxi. I got out. I told her we were on our way to the airport, we had a flight to catch, clearly we were tourists. She ignored me. Our host ran down to the middle of the next block, up-traffic, to consult with other police who had gathered there with their squad cars. I could see about three different flashing police lights. I assumed their activity had to do with ours, and it looked menacing. Our host ran back. He opened the truck of the Uber.

“There, look at the bags,” he said to the woman. “See, they’re going to the airport.”

The female officer ignored him and began to fumble with her nest of cables and wheel boots.

Our host looked at me. “Get in the car!”

I opened the door. Our driver—quiet the whole time—had been saying something to the motorcycle officer. He turned back toward me and commanded, “Get in!”

He started the car and began to back away from the motorcycle that blocked us. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He pulled out and gunned it. D. turned around to wave good-bye to our host. I turned too and could see he was still arguing with the police.

“What happened?” I asked our driver.

“I told him he would have to pay for the flights if you missed them.”

After a pause, I asked, “Did they know you were going to pick us up?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So the police are with the taxi drivers and anti-Uber?”

He nodded, yes, that’s what was happening.

He held up a small bottle of water. Would I like one? I said I would. D. thanked him and said no.

While I drank my free water, I contemplated what seemed like a  dark alliance between the police and the spread of normal taxis. I didn’t understand it, especially since, according to Luis our driver, Uber paid the same amount of taxes as the regular taxis: 2%! and that, like everything else, it had to do with mafias of control and was, of course, a kind of anarchic harassment. It turns out, however, that the matter is much more complicated and that Uber actually casts a long shadow, and that our host was wrong and the Transit police, right. For an intelligent discussion, scroll down to the Laura Flanders interview with a representative of non-Uber taxi drivers in an American city. I find her remarks very persuasive: http://www.telesurtv.net/…/Mexico-City-Set-to-Regulate…

The Paris Talks

Paris

Spring 2015

How many groups in exile have met in this city (or New York or Mexico City) to discuss the salvation of their countries of origin, or to simply write what they risked their life for by saying it at home? During different periods of history, they came from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile; from the Congo and Egypt; from Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Irak; from Palestine; from Germany, Cuba and The United States; from Vietnam, China, Russia and the Soviet Union. There is a long history of “Paris talks.”

I attend a daily two-hour conversation group for foreign students wanting to improve their French. All of us come in off the street, paying a small fee. I meet bright, kind, likeable young people, roughly 25 to 35 years old from some of these countries, and from many others. Some of them hate their governments for the oppression they exercise over their people. Some of these students will not being returning home, if they can help it, at the risk of living in exile.

Last night I attended a meeting at a private venue. There were perhaps twenty people, out of all of Paris, in the room. They were Mexicans. They had come to listen to a panel of Mexican scholars and writers discuss the political situation in Mexico. Mexico is where I live and, to a great extent, the subject of my novels and essays. I listened intently. What I heard was not new to me. What was new was being witness to a kind of exile group meeting to discuss what can be done to save their country from full-blown dictatorship.

They talked about what should resonate with almost everyone these days: living in a country where there is a long history of voter fraud, intense, unrelenting and reality-distorting propaganda, with essentially no outlet for massive grass roots discontent. Where the powerful in the country, elected or not, are disconnected from the base and answerable only to themselves and their allies and cronies. A great question looms, and that is whether, with the June 7, 2015 elections coming up, one should vote or annul one’s vote, rather than support a corrupt system. Because the voice of the people is blocked, the three speakers argued that that Mexico is essentially a dictatorship. What I thought they left out was the context: a country where there is no rule of law, where judges and prosecutors have no protection because all the police forces are corrupt; where journalists and labor leaders are murdered in great numbers (the most journalists of any country in the world); where a parallel narco government exists or merges with the regular government; where in two states at least (Michoacán and Jalisco) Army generals rule like war lords, committing more extrajudicial executions than the narcos; where auto-defense groups formed to protect their communities become the targets of Government, the narcos, the Army and other militarized groups.

During the meeting, the pendulum swung between despair, cynicism and hope. One speaker urge support for MORENA, a relatively new grassroots political group that grew out of the National Convergence and became the National Regeneration Movement (el Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), made up of many citizen initiative groups. MORENA is putting up civilian candidates: academics, writers, athletes and social activists in the up-coming congressional elections. Up to this point, in their brief history, they have won only about 2% of the national vote. But things may be changing if enough of the disenfranchised electorate can hear about them and act.

Of course, even if they could win in larger numbers, the citizen candidates would still have to contend with the reality of existing power: the separated, uninterested, entrenched, perpetually ruling political leaders (the PRI and the other parties) who have become the great masters of fraud; two television monopolies that are handmaidens to them; the Army (Marines, Navy); the corrupt police at all levels; the narco rule on the local and national level; and the legal vacuum which can offer them no protection to those who want and lobby for the rule of law.

One more Paris talk on how to save one’s home country from tyranny. Was it one of the seeds of a citizens’ non-violent revolution? We will have to wait and see.

Extremely Dangerous: Being a Journalist or Reporter in Mexico

Translated by Jane Brundage for Mexico Voices. From the newspaper Reforma, original Spanish by Denise Dresser

Stories of the country of the absurd. Stories of the country of contradiction. Mexico today, where freedom of speech and the press live under the pretense of laws that say they defend them. Where for journalists the most common words are fear, silence, death, censorship or a new euphemism: dismissal for “breach of trust”. A reality described in Article 19’s Annual Report about the violence committed against journalists in Mexico. The title says it all: “State of Censure.” A state of defenselessness for human rights defenders, bloggers, tweeters, social and student leaders who live in permanent fear. Because raising a voice to report, disagree, criticize, carries a high risk.The title is not accidental. It invites readers to play with words. State as government that censures, or the state as climate that leads communicators to fall into line, self-censor, mimic the official line. The state of fear that the reprimand can arrive at any moment. And the fear grows daily since 326 attacks were documented against the media in 2014, only four fewer than the previous year.

During the first two years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, ten journalists have been killed. During the government of Felipe Calderón, a journalist was assaulted every 48.1 hours; in the Peña Nieto administration to date an aggression occurs every 26.7 hours. In the Federal District. In Quintana Roo. In Veracruz. In Guerrero. The states where it is most dangerous to tell power what it does not want to hear.
The Internet—sanctuary for many media—has also become common place for attacks, threats, harassment. A place where contents are falsified, portals are attacked and journalists are defamed. A site where, anonymously, we are called “whores” and it is written to us:

“respect @epn, or we will hang you by the ass with a meat hook, bitch”; or we are tweeted

“respect our president @epn we are going to kill you, fucking bitch. The PRI arrives even if it hurts.”

In the last two years, assaults on women communicators and documentarians increased 20 percent. They takes a particular form. They attack the dignity, draw ghoulish attention to privacy, use gender as an excuse to trample.

The fence is deliberately closing. In this administration, the average of attacks on freedom of expression rose 80 percent. In this government, 48 percent of attacks on journalists have been committed by a public official. The State itself muzzles. What should protect freedom of expression becomes the main perpetrator of attacks against it.
Because despite laws, mechanisms and “special” prosecutors, the complete impunity of those who attack the press persists. Because Mexican democracy is dying alongside free journalism. Because Angélica Rivera will not sell her White House and Luis Videgaray [Treasury Secretary] will not explain the conditions under which he bought his own house. Because the PRI wants to win Mexico City with networks woven by Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre [former PRI head in Mexico City accused of running a prostitution ring from party offices]. Because the governor of Quintana Roo prefers to shoot the messenger than pay attention to her message.
Here was the case of Edwin Canché, tortured for photographing the crash involving the mayor’s nephew. Or Gregorio Jiménez, murdered by an armed commando. Or the Northwest Sinaloa newspaper, which has been the object of 47 incidents of theft, looting, physical assaults, threats and aggressions. Or Karla Silva, beaten by three men, in order that “she fucking stop her articles.” Or Pedro Canché, imprisoned for documenting an eviction. Or the weekly Lights of the Century, cloned 61 times, in which the covers were falsified in order to make reference to the supposed achievements of Governor Roberto Borge.Or that of Carmen Aristegui, supposedly fired for the “use of a trademark”, when the real story includes editorial guidelines—equivalent to censorship—that the company intended to force her to sign, and the role of a friendly mediator, José Woldenberg, which should have worked, whom MVS chose to ignore.
Faced with these cases, society must fight for the freedom that is being lost, murdered journalist after journalist censured. To fight for the freedom to know, declare, argue, investigate Casas Blancas [White Houses] and political leaders with black histories. To defend freedom, as Yoani Sánchez says, is the possibility of standing on a streetcorner and shouting:

“Here there is no freedom.”

Reforma only allows subscribers to access its articles online.
 

*Denise Dresser is a Mexican political analyst, writer, and university professor. After completing undergraduate work at The College of Mexico, she earned her Ph.D. in Politics at Princeton University. She is currently a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), where she teaches such courses as Comparative Politics, Political Economy and Contemporary Mexican Politics. She has taught at Georgetown University and the University of California. Twitter: @DeniseDresserG

Mexico in Crisis: Eliminating the PRI Within Us

Please forgive me, Proceso, for distributing this extremely important and hopeful article by Sara Pantoja:

Directed by citizen groups like The Loudest Scream, #Yamecansé, the Sopitas.com platform and Amnesty International, “Ya me cansé por eso propongo” [Enough, I’m Tired, For This, I Propose] is an initiative that, via the website www.poresopropongo.mx, adds to the marches and public demonstrations against the situation of “violence, justice and impunity” which Mexicans are living through.In a press conference, academics, filmmakers, writers, actors, graphic designers, activists and representatives of these groups reported that the campaign began in November last year after the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa normal school students and the now familiar phrase [Ya, me cansé] that the Attorney General Republic, Jesús Murillo Karam, said at a press conference on the case.

The campaign consists of entering the website, going to the “Send your postcard” link, uploading a picture and writing your proposal about what the country needs, accompanied by the hashtags #YaMeCansé and #PorEsoPropongo, and sending the postcard.

In the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Sophie Alexander and Daniel Giménez Cacho, members of the group The Loudest Scream, presented a video that accompanies the initiative and read a statement inviting Mexicans to participate in the campaign.

“The solution to this deep crisis will not come from the government institutions or drop down from the authorities, but will result from the organized strength we achieve to confront the owners and administrators of our country,” they said.

They criticized the decades of PRI culture, which

“have caused ignorance regarding citizen participation, and the popular organization that exists is not enough. The government institutions are closed to us; we cannot even hold popular referendums and the political parties represent only themselves. Democracy for us happens only when the National Electoral Institute asks us for whom we are going to vote.”

MV Note: The Supreme Court denied petitions by the PRD and Morena parties for a popular referendum on the energy reform. Its decision was based on the wording of the constitutional amendment that enables such referendums, which specifically excludes any issue that directly affects government revenues. This clause was designed to exempt the energy reform, which affects the government’s revenues from oil. 

They proposed promoting a cultural change because

“it is necessary not only to be against things, but to end the PRI in all of us so that we become active, informed citizens with our own opinions. We must know that no leader will get us out of this crisis.

“The PRI has gotten inside of us. It is a culture against which we have not yet triumphed. It is a way of living and doing politics to which both parties of the left and right have succumbed. It is a culture that has defeated the unions and employers, judges and the military. It is a culture that is dying but hinders us from advancing. It is a culture of subservience and depression, simulation and demagogy, self-censorship and media manipulation, of the purchase of ideals. It is an enemy of democracy and social development.”

Francisco Alanis, of Sopitas.com said that his participation is to “channel the anger as people. We all build the political and we must create a caring community.”

Perseo Rendón Quiroz, executive director of Amnesty International of Mexico, said the organization will contribute its experience in dialoguing with the government and states so that the proposals related to the human rights crisis “get to the right place and resonate.”

He added: “We have been fighting for human rights for 50 years; we can hold on for another 200. We will continue to mobilize until they listen to us, however long it takes, however long it requires.”

The organizers called on Mexicans to participate in the initiative and invite more people through social networks to do the same.

The Chronicles of a Rat in Mexico City

No one understands Mexico City, or what will happen next, since it’s sinking and leaning—it was built over a bog—and overrun with complex commercial mafias and hollowed out by inattention. It is said that eighty percent of the historical buildings in the historic center are unoccupied. That is to say, the first floor (U.S. second floor) and on up are empty, except for questionable storage and a few of us.

But how can this be, you ask, when the sidewalks and subways in the same area are teeming with Two-legs. Well, it is partly because of the rent freeze decreed in in 1948 and lifted in 1992, that scared off investors and ceded the walls to us. Earthquakes were always a possibility, but less so than owner indolence, the philosophy of doing just enough, and no more, which is to say, taking the earnings from ground floor stores and shops but not fixing everything above it.

How long can this go on? it is reasonable to ask. The buildings will collapse and we will be back on the streets. The Government should do what it does best. Threaten. Say they’ll give you the pesos, but then you have to bring things up to standards, preserve the heritage—wipe us out. You have five years, and if you don’t do it, we take your property and that will be that. Fortunate for us, the thin-tailed Fates smile and political indolence stands in the way. There’s money but no ideas. Or, more likely, no money and no ideas.

But there are community efforts to buy up individual buildings and restore them, so that there will be apartments, with the hope of bringing middle class families back into the historic center. Here again, the government could control rents, so tariffs rise slowly. Otherwise, young families will not be able to stay and those who can stay won’t want to share the streets with the teeming masses—which would include us.

What you have now is a strange, sprawling museum of architectural ruins that the poor stroll past and admire as theirs, passing fine restaurants they cannot afford and museums for which they have no cultural affinity. Unlike us who visit them all regularly. Hence the name rattus norvegicus intellectualis.

There are exceptions to everything, including to non-investment. Governments like to immortalize themselves and have taken ruins and changed them into breathtaking constructs. The Biblioteca de México “José Vasconcelos” used to be Spain’s royal tobacco factory, finished in 1807, became a prison in 1816, an armory 1825, a base for anti-Madero forces in 1913, a library in 1946—in short, a story of swords into books, with an ingenious over-arching, floating roof, the personal library of Carlos Monsiváis, among others, and a vast reading room for 2,000 readers—in a city and nation that are largely non-reading, and know little of oral history—a tradition sacred to us who embrace all kinds of tails.

Still, be hopeful, there are other kinds of occupations. Two and four-legged Mafias that regulate space, the flow of goods and payoffs. You can see this in places like the Avenida Donceles in the Cuauhtémoc district, just north of the Zócalo, where trucks clog the streets unloading contraband, stuffed teddy bears and pandas—for some reason no rattus norvegicus—oversized trucks for spoiled little boys, red and yellow plastic for Three Kings. Or the western end of the Alameda park, the permanent camp in front of the Hilton Hotel, the last holdout of the ambulantes, the street merchants who used to occupy the whole park. And in the short street on its northern border, mafia types in short zippered leather jackets park their cars in the middle of the street, stand like wrestlers and discuss the various kinds of rents and protections that are due.

This kind of occupation is tolerated, while another kind is not—that vast space called the Zócalo, controlled by the Government in order to preserve the appearance of control and sovereignty. A street or two back, storm-blue police buses squat like turtles sunning. They have screens over the windows to keep rocks out and prisoners in—with, I can testify to this—generous deposits of dried blood on their metal floors. No rat, Norwegian or otherwise, would be caught dead lingering in one of those traps. Men in half riot gear lounge on the benches, fighting off, confronting boredom. They are always present, the buses, because of the threat of occupation is always present. Like the huge November 20, 2014 demonstration against the unexplained murder of the 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa. As in chess, always control the center or, in this case, the Zócalo. To that end, a page out of The Brothers Karamazov, the chapter “The Grand Inquisitor,” who tells a returned Christ that the people need nothing more than authority, miracle and entertainment. Hence, in front of the Presidencia (authority), the humble wait for hours in long lines to experience skating and sledding (entertainment), on the miracle of ice and artificial snow—a Disney fairytale of sparkle and wonder that keeps the square safe from citizens unhappy with their government.

As I have said, there are different kinds of occupation. Like what occupies my mind. Images of the market San Juan, the sprawling indoor complex that offers everything, in the poorest taste, crocodiles skinned right up to their jowls, their white meat flaky like that of dead snake. But worst of all, and the most foreboding, also white piglet bodies in two or three sizes, bereft, naked, dead. Murdered. A reminder of what can happen to us if the Two-legs decide we should appear clear-wrapped in the counters of Costco. Rattus barbecue-kebabus.

There is one final occupation I feel I should mention. A certain restaurant in this historic center. Where the fine people gather with their happy, safe families, amid courtyard trees and hanging, flickering candle chandeliers. The husbands, the proud controllers of things—it is the happiness of their wives I am concerned about, women threatened by traditional foods that only fatten them and who, without a rodent’s energy, grow soft and plump and depressed, because everything is rigged against them—food, lack of a profession, fashion, religion—so they can not remain the frisky foals that originally caught their husbands’ eyes. If they could listen to me, I would tell them to get out of their cars, take a restored apartment, occupy the historic center, and themselves, invite family and husbands to visit if they really wanted to, but otherwise plunge into the chaos that I the  species Rattus norvegicus, superbus, intellectualis find so tail-quivering alive. I would say, Come join us in fat Diego Rivera’s “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” Come join Frida and—us. Because we are there too, behind the ragged newspaper boy, proudly included and carefully drawn, but only in such a way that a rat can see it.