Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - Page 9 News List

The dangers of reporting the truth about Mexico’s bloody drug war

Scores of journalists have died in a country gripped by brutal “narco violence” that has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives since 2006, and still the death toll mounts. Now questions are being asked about who is really in charge — the cartels or the police and the politicians who have failed to respond

By Ed Vulliamy  /  The Observer, XALAPA, Mexico

However, Baez’s colleague says that he learned from the marines “that the note was not there when the body was discovered by a neighbor who found Victor’s door open — it was put there later ... by someone, for some reason.”

All of which compounds the strangeness of Baez’s death, the explanation for which anguishes his former colleague, as we sit in a cafe, shielded by the sound of the grinding of fresh coffee grown in the jungle-strewn hills beyond the city.

“He had no connection to the cartels. Victor knew how to stay independent. I was one of the last people to see him — he seemed tranquil, he had nothing to do with the government or the narcos.”

However, Baez did know some background to the most infamous murder of a reporter in Veracruz: that on April 28 this year of Regina Martinez, a friend of Baez.

Martinez was Veracruz state correspondent for Proceso magazine, by repute one of Mexico’s most prestigious. She was found dead in her lavatory, beaten and strangled.

“Others have died in worse ways than Regina,” said a friend and one-time source of Martinez in Xalapa last week.

“In some ways, I’m amazed she wasn’t killed before. She was working for some time on dirty police” — and her voice trails off. “Regina was a good friend of mine and one of the few who dared to write about what is happening here,” she said.

There has been public outrage in Veracruz over Martinez’s murder, as there has been across Mexico at the others. Martinez’s killing provoked street demonstrations demanding that the perpetrators and those who gave them orders be brought to justice. Last Friday in Xalapa, an assembly was hosted by a new student movement in Mexico, “I Am 132,” with local reporters, to discuss common cause and strategies for mutual protection.

I Am 132 is so called after 131 students appeared on YouTube to give their names and ID numbers and deny allegations that they had been paid to disrupt a meeting addressed by the incoming Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto. The skirmish had been over development of land for an airport, but the movement expanded into narco war, free speech and assaults on the press.

“At first, we thought the reporters were part of the problem,” the movement’s humblingly brave young spokesman in Veracruz says. “Then we saw the big picture, and how it must be for them, and the idea this weekend is for an assembly that can work toward a safety network of some kind.”

Into all this, last week, the Mexican branch of the Hay-on-Wye literary festival arrived — Hay Xalapa — guest of the state government. Hay had been criticized in some quarters for accepting the hospitality, but rode it out to stage an event of intellectual effervescence and allow the opening of an international window to Xalapa’s journalists. Representatives of the freedom of expression group PEN arrived to make preparations for a campaign over the murder of reporters in Mexico, to be launched on on Nov. 2, the next “Day of the Dead.”

The president of PEN America, Peter Godwin, found himself present at an unexpected photo opportunity between Duarte and the Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka. Godwin petitioned the governor “to express,” he said afterwards, “PEN’s grave concerns about the killings of journalists in Veracruz in particular and the climate of impunity in Mexico generally. I concluded my questioning of the governor by saying that I hoped that there would be no more journalists killed in Veracruz province between this Hay [festival] and the next.”

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