Blood Spilled in Pursuit of Truth in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 12th, 2014.

This June, Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.

Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days.  In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.

The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.

And it’s not just traditional news media outlets that are under fire. In 2011, citizens were shocked by a number of cases where citizen journalists and bloggers were tortured and killed, and whose bodies were publicly displayed in cities like Nuevo Laredo—sending a message to truth-seekers and freedom of speech activists nationwide.  In 2012, I wrote about the case of the online alias 5anto, a video blogger who shut down his site after receiving numerous death threats.

While each case presents its own particular nuances, it’s undeniable that powerful forces are behind these heinous crimes to control the press. While the crimes themselves and the recent increase in their frequency are reason enough to worry, the message that they send to news media nationwide is even more troublesome.

One needn’t be an expert to understand the level of pressure that journalists face in Mexico today to self-censor out of fear of their lives. I’ve even become more careful with what I say and how I say it, after getting a threatening phone call in 2011 for reporting on the Casino Royale massacre in Monterrey and questioning the venue’s ties to a prominent political family in the city.

Even more famous are cases of prominent personalities like journalist Lydia Cacho, who has survived numerous attempts against her life, as well as physical and psychological abuse during illegal detentions after she published Los Demonios del Éden (The Demons of Eden). The book exposes the alleged involvement of important politicians in a prostitution and child pornography ring.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauría, has referred to Mexico as “one of the most dangerous places for journalists around the world.” The 570 pretrial investigations opened from 2010 to date, resulting from a variety of crimes targeting journalists, are a testament to Lauría’s claim.

Meanwhile, the 102 murders reported between 2000 and today are a lot more than just numbers on a page—there is a brave Mexican behind each one. There are families, wives, husbands and children who mourn the loss of a dedicated journalist who sought to report on the wrongs of this country because he or she believed it was the best way they could remedy them. Behind each of the numbers on the report are thousands of news stories that will never be written, and truths that Mexicans will never hear about, silenced by bullets.  This piece honors their bravery.

As long as security conditions in Mexico don’t allow for journalists to freely publish their investigations and editorial pieces—for those bold enough to directly report on dangerous subjects and expose public figures as criminals—hiding behind anonymity might be the best course of action. Permanent silence must not and cannot be the road to take. There’s too much at stake.

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As a general rule… On recliner seats

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As a general rule, recliner seats in airplanes are a joke. Unless you’re flying in first class, your damn seat will recline 10° at the most. That being the case… What’s the point of forcing people to wait 15 minutes after take-off for this shitty attempt at comfort? My theory is that it is only for the amusement of the pilot and co-pilot who are sitting comfortably in their cool, extra-padded seats, smirking at the guilty pleasure of making hundreds of people suffer.

Screw you, pilot and co-pilot. I hope you crash and die… Oh wait… bad idea. Excuse me, miss: my back is killing me right now and the pillows you have smell like stored fart and goat cheese but that’s neither here nor there. Would you please go up to the cockpit and tell those guys I think they’re awesome? Thanks.

Israel-Gaza… aquí vamos #LunesDeBlogsGV @GVenespanol

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Escribí este blogpost originalmente en inglés y lo publiqué hace unos días pero decidí traducirlo a español para buscar una mayor audiencia y someterlo a #LunesDeBlogsGV de Global Voices Español. De antemano gracias por leerlo y compartirlo.

Probablemente a ustedes les esté pasando algo similar:

Tengo la suerte de vivir en un país en el que hay una relativa situación de paz y estabilidad. Tengo acceso constante a agua corriente y vivienda segura. Durante el día, estando alejado de mis hijos y esposa, no me preocupo y en general me siento tranquilo de que ellos están bien. No tengo temores de que una bomba o misil estalle cerca de mi hogar y ninguno de mis ancestros o familiares vivos han estado inmersos en una historia de guerra alimentada por el odio, intolerancia, conflictos mal manejados ni violencia religiosa. Se podría decir que soy muy afortunado.

Veo como la violencia escala en Medio Oriente a la distancia. Leo al respecto mientras tomo mi café recién hecho, desde la comodidad de mi oficina que cuenta con aire acondicionado. Visito los distintos sitios de noticias, buscando alguna aproximación fidedigna a hechos reales, porque me queda claro que los medios internacionales tradicionales de noticias están sesgados de una manera y otra y cargan por su propia agenda política. Acto seguido, ingreso a Facebook.

Esta red social en la que normalmente mis amigos comparten fotografías de los últimos logros de sus hijos o publican los resultados de encuestas tan triviales como “¿En qué ciudad europea debería de vivir?”, ha cambiado de manera radical.

Aparentemente, muchas personas se acaban de enterar de este conflicto milenario y cómo se ha agravado las últimas semanas y claro, TODOS tienen una opinión y una naturaleza inherente para compartirla. Una serie de videos de YouTube que resumen la historia de la región con inexactitudes, generalizaciones y juicios no fundamentados, aparentemente han dado a mis amigos suficiente desinformación para determinan “a quién le van” en el conflicto entre Israel y Palestina, como si esta terrible situación fuera una justa futbolística. Mis amigos de México, Estados Unidos y Canadá siguen compartiendo estos materiales, comentando cosas como “esto lo explica todo” y mi muro es invadido por hashtags a favor y en contra de Israel. De vez en cuando, surgen hashtags conciliadores cómo #PrayForGaza (RecenPorGaza).

Más tristeza causa ver como mis amigos de origen israelí, árabe y musulmán, quienes normalmente son personas tolerantes y que promueven la paz, han vuelto a Facebook una plataforma proselitista para atraer personas a “su causa”. Veo a mis amigos judíos decir que “sólo nos estamos defendiendo”, agrupando a todos los árabes y musulmanes bajo la etiqueta de terroristas. Del otro lado del espectro, veo a amigos árabes y musulmanes de distintas naciones decir que “nosotros estábamos aquí primero” y hablando del uso de fuerza desproporcionado y posibles crímenes de guerra por parte del gobierno Israelí en los ataques en la franja de Gaza.

Sus amigos les responden. Les dicen “estamos contigo” y “te apoyamos”, lo cual es una reacción esperada viniendo de gente que les tiene cariño y que se dan cuenta que detrás de estas expresiones está una verdad inequívoca: su gente sufre.

El problema de esta dinámica es que lo único que logra es alimentar el juego de culpas, distanciando aún más a las partes en guerra y alejándolas de cualquier posible concepción de una resolución o por lo menos asentamiento del conflicto. ¿Acaso tratar de establecer una supuesta legitimidad detrás de las terribles acciones que hoy aquejan a la región cambia el hecho de que se han perdido cientos y miles de vidas? ¿O justificaría encontrar a un culpable el sufrimiento por el que han pasado por demasiado tiempo y generaciones? ¿Publicar en Facebook estos videos supuestamente educacionales pero evidentemente nocivos les ayuda a dormir mejor por las noches?

A mis amigos de Israel, judíos, palestinos, árabes y musulmanes de distintos países: estoy con cada uno de ustedes y no estoy con ninguno de ustedes.

Estoy empáticamente con ustedes a distancia al ver como ustedes o personas a las que ustedes quieren se encuentran enfrentados a peligro inmediato y sufrimiento; cuando veo la sangre derramada de hombres, mujeres y niños inocentes, independientemente de su raza o religión.  No estoy con ninguno de ustedes al verlos buscar apoyo o justificación a la violencia por parte de cualquiera de las partes involucradas en el conflicto. Estoy con ustedes en la esperanza de cualquier paso que conlleve a la paz, tales como ceses al fuego, cumbres de paz y procesos de mediación que dirijan a una realidad en la cual todos son permitidos acceso a derechos humanos básicos. No estoy con ninguno de ustedes cuando abandonan la creencia de que la paz puede alcanzarse y cuando se orillan a una realidad en la que creen que las balas son el único medio de comunicación efectivo para sus mensajes.

A mis amigos que no están involucrados directa o indirectamente en el conflicto, pero que han sucumbido a la tentación de expresar apoyo unilateral a las acciones bélicas de alguno de los involucrados, una invitación: Los invito a tratar de obtener los hechos de fuentes confiables y hacer un poco de investigación respecto a la historia que ha llevado a la crisis en esta región antes de emitir juicios. Los invito a formar una opinión basada en una búsqueda por información objetiva y verificable. Entiendo que esto implica algo de trabajo pero si no están dispuestos a hacerlo, por lo menos los invito a entender que crear y expresar una opinión en base a videos de YouTube engañosos o sesgados no los hace verse cool o inteligentes. Adicionalmente, les invito a reflexionar sobre el hecho de que al difundir estas piezas, sólo están alimentando el juego de culpas, promoviendo posturas nocivas y empeorando la conversación al llevarla a espacios en los que la prospectiva de una solución pacífica queda distante. En lugar de buscar un culpable y decir quién está bien o mal, vean esto como una invitación para aprender y entender la complejidad detrás de los conflictos en la interacción humana, a entender sus causas de raíz y por ende, posibles soluciones. Los invito a no atraer odio a sus propias realidades, tan alejadas de las que viven las personas en Gaza.

Así que desde mi oficina con aire acondiciona, del otro lado del mundo de donde hoy sufren tantos, les digo lo que John Lennon brillantemente escribió alguna vez: lo único que estamos diciendo es que le den oportunidad a la paz.

 

 

 

 

ISRAEL-GAZA… Here we go

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This is probably happening to you as well.

I am lucky enough to live in a country of relative peace and stability. I have constant access to running water, food and shelter. Throughout the day when I am not with them, I have a general feeling that my kids and wife are ok. I don’t fear a bomb or missile will hit anywhere near my home and neither my immediate ancestors nor current relatives have been immersed in a history of war fueled by hatred, intolerance, mismanaged conflict and religious bigotry. I am lucky that way.

I see the current escalation of the Middle East conflict from afar. I read about it while I sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee in an air-conditioned office. I browse through the different news outlets unsuccessfully trying to get some sort of approximation of the facts because it is safe to say that international news media is biased one way or the other and has its own political agenda.  Then, I go into Facebook.

What is normally a social media website where my friends gather to publish pictures of their kids’ latest accomplishments, share the results of trivia such as “Which European City I should live in” and the like, has changed.

For some reason, it seems that a lot of people just recently found out about this age-old conflict and escalation and of course, EVERYONE has an opinion they feel the need to share. A series of YouTube videos which summarize the history of the region since its inception in a couple of poorly constructed minutes of animation, have apparently given all of my friends the means to determine if they root for Israel or the Palestinians in this conflict, as if this horrible situation were a soccer match. Friends in Mexico, U.S., Canada and elsewhere keep sharing these videos saying “this explains it all” and I’m invaded by hashtags pro and anti-Israel. Every so often, a hopeful #PrayForGaza line pops up.

Even sadder to see are some my friends of Israeli, Arab and Muslim origin, who are usually peace-loving and tolerant people, turned into soapbox salespeople for “their cause.” I see Jewish friends talking about how “we are just defending ourselves” and grouping all Arabs and Muslims under the label of “terrorist”. On the other side of the spectrum, my Arab and Muslim friends from different nations talk about “we were here first” and the disproportionate use of force and possible war crimes of the current Israeli government attacking Gaza.

Their friends in turn comment on their posts. They tell them “We are with you” and “we support you,” which is an expected reaction from people who love them and see that behind their outbursts is an unequivocal truth: their people are hurting.

The problem with this dynamic is that it only heightens the blame game and draws conflicting sides even further away from a conception of conflict resolution or at the very least, conflict settlement. Do posturing and trying to establish that one of the warring parties is supposedly right or wrong, change the fact that innocent lives are being lost by the hundreds and have been suffering for too many years? Does it do anything else than by some twisted manner create a virtual reality of self-justification for killing others? Does posting these highly biased but supposedly educational videos make you sleep better at night?

To my Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim friends from different countries: I AM WITH ALL OF YOU AND NOT WITH ANY OF YOU.

I am with you in empathy while from a distance I see you and/or people you hold dear in the way of immediate danger and suffering; when I see blood-splattered bodies of innocent men, women and children regardless of their color or creed. I am NOT with any of you when I see you seeking support or justification for violence from any of the parties involved in conflict. I am with you in the hope for steps forward and toward peace, such as cease-fires, peace talks, and a brokered process towards a reality in which all are allowed basic rights. I am not with you when you falter from the belief that this peace is attainable and when you corner yourselves to a reality where bullets are the only vehicle for getting your message across.

To my friends who are not directly or indirectly linked to this conflict, but who’ve succumbed to the temptation of expressing support or sponsorship of one of the warring sides, an invitation. I invite you to try to get the facts and do a little bit of research on the historical conflict that has brought the region to the crisis it faces today. I invite you to create your opinion based on an attempt to obtain objective and verifiable facts. I understand this means a lot of work but if you are not willing to do it, then I at least invite you to understand that by forming an opinion based solely on a biased YouTube video, you don’t look cool or intelligent or “in-the-know”. Moreover, by supporting and sharing these videos which only feed the blame game and promote positioning and posturing, you are actually worsening the conversation by skewing it away from the prospectus of a peaceful solution. Instead of trying to form an opinion about who is right or wrong, see this as an invitation to learn and understand complex conflict in human interaction, to identify its root causes and thus its possible solutions and to make sure you don’t bring hatred into your OWN realities.

So from my air-conditioned office half-way across the world, I say to all of you what John Lennon so brilliantly wrote once: All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

Global Majority – Statement on the Middle East

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Dear friends,

I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read and support the joint Statement drafted and approved by the International Advisory Board of Global Majority on the current Crisis in the Middle East.

Global Majority is an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution through education, training, and advocacy.

Please disseminate the message among your network by reposting / sharing these links:

I can’t thank you enough for your support and for investing a bit of your valuable time in making sure that international silence or even worse, uninformed or destructive dialogue hinders possibilities to promote peace in the region. I continue to believe it is attainable and hope you do too.

Best wishes,

Arjan