The Death Of Freedom In My Corrupt Mexico
A Mexican journalist's corruption investigations led to death threats and persecution against her. She has been forced to flee her country, but many of her colleagues were murdered before they could do the same.
MEXICO CITY — Mexican news photographer Ruben Espinosa said in July that "death has chosen Veracruz as his home and decided to live there." Thirty days later, death found Espinosa in his Mexico City apartment, where he was discovered with a gunshot to his head.
It seems that death doesn't want to live just in Veracruz, but everywhere in this country, invited to do so by rampant impunity and corruption, taking more than 80 journalists in the past decade. Twelve of those deaths have occurred during President Enrique Peña Nieto"s administration, four since the beginning of 2015 — and the president still has another three years left in office.
In Peña Nieto's government there are both first- and second-class citizens. The latter (students, journalists and ordinary people) can and are massacred with impunity. The former, however, are drug lords such as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, who recently escaped from a maximum-security prison. Espinosa now lies in a grave, while El Chapo is enjoying the good life.
José Moises Sanchez Cerezo was this year's first journalist victim. He was kidnapped by a commando in January and found decapitated 23 days later. The alleged murderer confessed that he had acted on the orders of Commander Martin Lopez Meneses, head of the municipal police in Medellin, in the state of Veracruz.
Armando Saldaña Morales was second. A journalist and radio announcer, he was killed on May 4 after he publicly denounced a criminal gang's theft of fuel. His body was found in a village on the border between the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, with four gunshot wounds and visible signs of torture.
Filadelfo Sanchez was third. A director and journalist on a popular radio show in Oaxaca, he was taken by surprise on the morning of July 2 as he left his office, hit by nine bullets. Press freedom abuses occur every day in Mexico. Society as a whole is the victim.
Those who kill or order the killings of Mexican journalists aim to undermine society's fundamental right to be truthfully informed. Last April, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Mexico and Pakistan as the worst countries in the world for crimes against journalists.
Government forces and radical religious groups in Pakistan, as well as corrupt officials and drug cartels in Mexico, intimidate those who exercise freedom of expression. Since 2013, dozens of Mexican journalists have suffered police beatings — for example, when they have covered protests that are violently repressed. Others have received death threats or been censored, as in the case of Carmen Aristegui, who was fired from one of Mexico's leading publishing groups as a clear reprisal for investigative work about the First Lady's luxurious villa.
My own escape
I have personally been receiving death threats since 2010 for revealing documented links between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa Cartel. My sources were killed, and my family and friends have suffered horrible attacks and acts of intimidation. In December 2013, in revenge for the fact that I continued to investigate corruption among federal police leaders, they came to my house in Mexico City and held one of my bodyguards hostage, threatening my neighbors and pointing a gun to the head of a 6-year-old girl so that they could find out where I was.
They looked for us, but neither I nor my family were there. All they retrieved was a hard disk with CCTV camera recordings. I realized that this was the last warning, so I had to leave the country. Since then, I return to Mexico every month, continuing the investigative journalism that is necessary for justice, democracy and peace.
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Journalist Anabel Hernandez in Mexico City in 2011 — Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
Ruben Espinosa had also realized that he needed to leave Veracruz after receiving threats and being persecuted by Gov. Javier Duarte's administration. He decided to leave the state June 9, taking refuge in the capital, believing it to be a safe place. Unfortunately, there is no refuge for journalists who question the status quo.
Laws that don't work
It's hard to tell who's more dangerous in Mexico, the drug traffickers or the officials. They often work side by side. Murders of Mexican journalists are becoming more commonplace because the laws that should protect us exist only to clean up the government's international image and, in fact, never actually protect us at all.
A few months ago, the foreign press tried to show that Peña Nieto's administration would bring prosperity to the country, but the facts demonstrate otherwise.
Around the world, governments have lost credibility for their lack of transparency and corruption. Organized crime — such as the drug cartels — has become stronger and infiltrated even the most developed of societies. Authoritarian or corrupt governments, as well as the mafias, detest freedom of speech and don't want a free society.
In Mexico, the loss of peace, justice and even human lives has been profound over the past few months. But we journalists are still standing. We keep going, not just for our lost colleagues but also because we know that in this terrible crisis our work is invaluable to society.
Of course, I'm afraid of dying. I'm scared of losing everything that is important to me, but my biggest fear is not being courageous enough to keep going. So I continue to work, inspired by my fellow journalists, the tireless defenders of human rights and all of the voiceless victims. We Mexican journalists are still standing.
*Anabel Hernandez is a journalist and author known for her investigations into corruption and human rights abuses.