Tianna Graham writes about the challenges facing freedom of speech and of the press in a country torn apart by the ‘war on drugs’, and the new publication, The Sorrows of Mexico, that’s daring to speak out.
Mexico has not seen a peaceful year in many a century and 2006 was no exception. There was an uprising and demand for justice emerging from all four corners, creating revolutionary groups such as ‘The Other Campaign’ on the 1st of January. Ironic it was that the beginning of the year would commence on a seemingly positive foot – and yet in February an explosion shook the nation.
It affected 65 miners who were suddenly now immobilised and scared for their lives, as the Mexican people demanded their rescue. Abandoned by their country, only 2 of the 65 bodies were ever recovered through the wreckage, breaking the hearts of the families and the people of Mexico. After one tragedy arose, another one was soon to follow.
On the 3rd of May, in San Salvador Atenco, more horrific acts occurred. During clashes between a group of 60 flower vendors who were prohibited from selling and the police, brutality emerged. This resulted in not only the death of two of the protesters (of which one was a child and the other an adolescent), but also the sexual assault of an estimated 26 women by the police.
This senseless violence was again to be one of many attacks that the Mexican people faced in 2006. With the tension in Mexico heightened, more protesting occurred, and on the 14th of June a rebellion broke in the city of Oaxaca, ousting its own governor and creating their own Paris Commune, which was unfortunately short lived.
On the 2nd of July Felipe Calderón secured his first presidential election win. However, what should have been a celebratory day was quickly cut short. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Calderón’s opponent during the election, decided to dismiss the results and instead organised three counter-marches, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. They went as far as to have a sit-in on one of Mexico’s main avenues, the Paseo de la Reforma.
Despite his loss, López Obrador claimed that he was now the ‘legitimate president’. But this farce soon ended and despite also trying at the presidential title in 2012, he lost yet again, this time to Enrique Peña Nieto.
Emiliano Ruiz Parra, a journalist and contributor to publication The Sorrows of Mexico, was sent out to report on the major news stories of 2006. However, in the December of the same year, he was to encounter Felipe Calderón’s ‘war on drugs’, which saw the military sent out onto the streets. Rather than creating peaceful conclusions or decreasing drug use statistics, it instead created a wave of death throughout the country. Parra wrote that “if you were captured by some drug baron’s hit squad they could make you ‘disappear’ – that is, kidnap you, kill you and bury you in an unmarked grave.”
By 2014 he found himself on the front line with another 15 journalists, sent to investigate the inconclusive death of journalist Gregorio “Goyo” Jiménez de la Cruz. The 10th reporter in the group was then found murdered after a six-day abduction – he had been tortured and decapitated. This truly highlighted the lengths taken to silence the media surrounding Goyo’s case.
There was now no telling whether crimes were committed by criminals or the authorities, something Parra calls ‘narco-politics.’ It seemed as though kidnapping had been sweeping the nation – from children, to oil engineers, from doctors, to anyone who could be seen as a ‘problem’ that needed to be removed. Goyo had been on the tail of one particular kidnapping group and reported their doings, costing him his life in the process.
Goyo was no high-flying reporter who laid down his life for a quick headline or a few extra notes. Rather, he was earning a mere 20 pesos (around a pound) per story, and his salary was under £200 a month. Taking a second job he also was a wedding and Baptist photographer. His previous accommodation to his industrial home was a wooden house in a swamp with regular flooding. Unfortunately, Goyo was just one of many reporters who lived in squalor, and died in it too. By exercising his right to express the truth he was silenced with death.
Goyo’s death was practically forgotten and the swearing in of Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency only made things worse for journalists. Despite it not costing her her life, when the journalist Carmen Aristegui penned an exposé on the $7,000,000 worth of residence owned by the newly appointed First Lady, she was sacked from her job along with her colleagues: a clear message that only certain stories are allowed to be public news.
Parra describes ‘Three Demons’ facing Mexican journalists: narco-politics, censorship and corruption. While corruption may just be a given within the journalistic world, towing the line of the government is the same as repressing the truth. The Mexican newspapers are faithful to publishing what they know the government expect – pieces against the teachers’ union, the CNTE and overall slander against their enemies. This removes them from the dangerous repercussions that reporters such as Goyo faced, and gives them access to attend parties of mayors, governors and ministers. The corruption is a two-way street.
The Sorrows of Mexico aims to liberate journalists and value democratic principles. Lydia Cacho, Anabel Hernández, Sergio González Rodríguez, Marcela Turati and Diego Osorno, to name a few, are carrying on the legacy of reporters like Goyo, who are willing to do what it takes to spread the truth. Writing about the issues that the media simply won’t pick up on, such as the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa teacher training students, they wish to paint a picture of the true Mexico in plain sight: the street children, forced prostitution and criminality that rule the streets and yet can’t be spoken of.
On July 20th of 2016 the 19th journalist to be murdered was Pedro Tamayo, a stark reminder that this brutality lives on, but there is some hope on the horizon and many journalists like Parra fight to keep this truth alive.