Tag: threats

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

Gang Mothers Threaten Rape

The doorbell rang around six pm. D looked through the wooden door flap. She decided it’s okay to unlock. It was, after all, only the mostly absent president of the neighborhood committee, L the mother of the most dangerous gangbanger, and E the aunt of the next most dangerous one.

I decided to step outside, too. It was one day after the bangers mentioned above ripped down two surveillance cameras that had been attached to two other houses—and I was a little angry.

We stood outside in the callejón, just outside our front door. We had never met L before. D had tried to talk to her many times before but always got the brushoff. I introduced myself. She took my hand—almost no grip—but would not look at me. We got down to business quickly. The president, who had given up trying to get D and C to stop being co-leaders and strong women, had also, it appeared, given up being the local cacique, boss, only interested in his own power. He was now a conflict resolution expert.

“I have a proposal that might calm the situation,” he said.

“You want us to take down the cameras,” I suggested, probably with sarcasm.

D probably interrupted him at that point and continued to address L and E. No, sure, she said, she would be glad to take down the (remaining) cameras when there was no trash in the alleys, when the thick, ugly graffiti all around us was painted over, when everyone could pass through the allies without being threatened, menaced or intimidated, when illegal drinking and drug taking no longer dominated the callejón, when that activity no longer drew in all kinds of people from other barrios (attracted to the same behavior), when the revelers no longer pissed in the alley, kept the neighbors awake and fearful, when their sons and nephews behaved with respect for the Commons, the public space, when they behaved with courtesy and respect for the all the rest of us, when they no longer threatened her personally with kidnapping and rape, and, finally, when their mothers and aunts took responsibility for teaching the boys the above-mentioned civic values.

The president tried to continue with me. I cut him off.

“I’m listening to them,” I said, too forcefully. He, after all, was supposed to have been in charge of security, a role which failed to perform in any fashion. And now he was essentially representing the gang and their mothers.

L had a position. “Me ofende que las cameras están espiando a mis hijos….” Her meaning: It’s offensive that you have these cameras aimed at my innocent sons.

D lets her have it again. I let her have it. I am pissed. What in god’s name are you talking about. There would be no cameras if you had control over your sons, your nephew. E glares at me. I glare back her, too long, too pissed. D does it much better. She is clear and respectful. Still you can hear the trace of scorn in her voice.

This is a tricky situation. We are two Ph.D.’s; E and L have very little education. L lives with her husband and three sons in little more than a shack, probably with no more than two rooms, at the most. There is a class difference. They—including the president—invoke the foreigner rule: You are not from here and do not understand our ways. We are permanent residents, in fact. That doesn’t matter. There is a web of confusion, assumption, non-understanding. There is also a generational factor. Gang culture and activity is often handed down through generations, and carries with it its own assumed ethic. Such as: the public space is not public—not when we claim it. L’s husband was in prison for murder; it is said he lived with a woman who was selling herself. That may or may not have been L. He came home day and found her with another man, whom he killed. It is very possible he learned such solutions from his father, and his father before him. It is possible that L’s husband is involved in things, like our Nemesis in the privada. One could say they belong to what you could call a bandit class. Let me explain.

There is a long history of banditry (el bandido) in Mexico. It is an activity you could characterize as social/political (take from the poor, give to the rich) or professional (straight out bank robber), or shades of both.

The concept overlaps with caciquismo (el cacique), the activity of a local political boss). This type of bandit operates inside or outside of the local governmental structure. But there’s nothing like getting your hands on the people’s money, the public coffers.

Then there is caudillismo (el caudillo), the activity of a political-military leader in an authoritarian context. He (or she: Eva Perón in Argentina) is supposed to control banditry’s impact on society, but he will enlist bandits of all types to further his own political power. Mexican governors and presidents, for example, reach accommodations with the leaders of cartels.

There is a fourth category that has no word for it that I know of, and that fact says something about the challenges for women who are the mothers, aunts, wives and girlfriends of the various kinds of bandits. They are not soldaderas like the women that fought in the Mexican Revolution). It is about the women who navigate to survive in circles of banditry, caciquismo and caudillismo. They do this by being the spies, propagandists, lawyers and lobbyists for their bandit males. There used to be a word for her in the U.S. during the Twenties: the moll. Hollywood depicts her more as the plaything of the gangster, but I suspect she was, at times, also his advisor and partner in crime.

The complement to banditry is the feeling of helplessness in the face of arbitrary (usually) male claims of power and violence. Which is to say, the citizenry, even the molls, find themselves trapped in social dilemma—how to find accommodation with the local cacique and his strongmen, even the latter may be living in one’s own family.

L and E and C, I have decided, are molls. They are part of the bandit group. They had come to our front door to 1) find out what we knew about the attack on the police and the destruction of the two cameras, 2) to argue our otherness and lack of understanding in things Mexican, 3) to deny the facts (everything is fine), 4) to plead the innocence of their sons and nephews, and 5) to point out the dangerous provocations coming from us.

“Outsides can come in here, you know, and some of them are men who rape,” said L to D.

“All the more reason for cameras,” said D, without missing a beat. She had been walking past L’s house one day recently, and Y, L’s youngest son, seven or eight years old (who used to borrow children’s books from D and who D found out could not read) had said, “You know, the cameras really aren’t such a good idea. They’re thinking of kidnapping you.”

L and E and C are women who have to go along with the bandit culture and worldview. They are part of it. Thinking any differently from their men could turn out to be very dangerous for them. We do not know to what extent they have already been abused and brutalized. They are the molls of the neighborhood, and their lives cannot be easy.