My country, Mexico, is a country in which an attack on journalists is reported every 26 hours. Since 2000, a year of political transition, 82 journalists have been killed and 17 more have disappeared. Fear and silence have taken root in a large part of the country. Mexico, together with Honduras, is considered by all accounts as the most dangerous country in the Americas for working journalists.
The most recent report by Article 19, published this week, confirms what we already know: Half of all attacks against journalists in Mexico are carried out by agents of the state and a system of direct censorship or indirect censorship [exists] through official advertising, privileges, commercial agreements with media houses or excessive media concentration.
But Mexico is also a country of brave journalists, who, in the last few years, have rebelled against this fate of being permanently the pawns in a game that does not have transparent rules. These journalists have gone out to fight for the news, so that the people in Mexico and in the rest of the world know what is taking place in our country.
Because in Mexico it is not only journalists who have been killed, but doctors, teachers, engineers, social campaigners, peasants and human rights defenders, too.
Mexico as a country is an expert in deception. It signs and ratifies all international treaties, but it doesn’t adhere to any of them. It projects a myth of social stability, and claims that in Mexico there were no dictatorships like in the rest of Latin America . One party that ruled for 70 years preserved the image of a democratic state, in spite of the fact that the whole world knew we had an authoritarian and repressive political system.
The democratic wave that arrived from the south led, in 2000, to a transition that gave hope to many. But this transition did not fulfil the smallest of expectations. On the contrary, the new party in power led all Mexicans into a spiral of violence, whose end is not yet in sight.
Fear and death arrived at our doors, at our homes. And without knowing how, without being prepared, we journalists became war correspondents in our own country. First in the line of fire, we fell victims to a strategy that used terror to hide information, to bury it in graves, and dissolve it with acid. It is a strategy whose result has been a bacchanal of death and pain, a strategy that has led to the disappearance of more than 26,000 people and the deaths of over 100,000.
An entire country was turned into a clandestine cemetery, where torture and summary executions have become the norm, as have the plundering of rural land, inequality, environmental degradation, and the killing of women. It is a country where corruption and impunity have spread like cancer and filtered into all of our institutions.
The return to power, in 2012, of the old ruling party reactivated in the media the old instinct toward reverence and authoritarian practices. Like the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in the south of the country, who, with a pistol in hand, threatened his reporters and his news editor because they had lost “his candidate”, who was, by the way, a relative of the editor-in-chief.
Or the editor of a national media outlet, who fired the country’s best investigative unit and 20 journalists who collaborated with a critical commentator because two of the journalists in the investigative unit had participated in a media alliance to promote citizen reporting on acts of corruption and human rights violations.
But for the rest of the world, Mexico is a democracy.
A democracy in which, suddenly and without explanation or reason, Mexicans returned to the caves and began killing one another, cutting off one another’s heads and hanging one another from bridges.
That’s not the way it is. In the complex Mexican landscape, the international community also has responsibilities. Many governments and journalists only turn their eyes to Mexico when tragedies explode in their face – the Zapatista uprising in 1994, the serial killings of women in Ciudad Juarez, the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.
The rest of the time, Mexico “is not news”, in the best of cases. In other cases, it is even celebrated, such as when a magazine named President Enrique Peña Nieto “Mexico’s saviour”.
And governments, they, too, close their eyes, because they prefer to maintain economic agreements with a country that offers them advantages: a country rich in natural resources, that gives them land and labour. Because, it must be said, behind this brutal violence in which we are living in Mexico, the control of water, of electricity, of carbon, of iron, of gold, of corn, of wood and of many other resources that are vital for our people and our communities are being negotiated.
And journalists and human rights defenders are paying with their bodies for the foolishness of trying to reveal this plunder to a world that prefers to close its eyes.
Many will say that in Mexico there is progress in the area of freedom of expression and that proof of this is that I am here today, receiving a prize, and that I am not in prison for saying this.
But in order for me to come here to receive this prize, 82 colleagues have had to die.
Not one. Not two. Not five. Eighty-two.
And it is very likely that while you are sitting here today, listening to me, a colleague is receiving threats like the one a journalist passed to me before I boarded the plane. It said: “Count your days because any one might be your last…. There won’t always be someone to watch your back.”
To dismantle this machine of fear, bravery is not enough, nor is courage. To unmask the invisible web of corruption that unites political, economic, and media power we need professional journalists, collaboration, and international pressure.
That is why this prize is so important.
Periodistas de a Pie, if I may, is a collective of journalists that, at the beginning, only focused on professionalization. But then reality set in. Without setting out to do so, we became an alarm center. We became psychologists and friends. We became a space against despair. Our work has gone beyond reporting attacks. We seek to transform, with action, the respect for and trust in the media. To dignify the profession. To reconstruct a bridge with society.
Doing better work has required us, among many other things, to be professionals in a country in which nearly all of journalism has decided to yield before power, has become accustomed to reproducing the words of politicians. And reinvigorating journalism and collective work has allowed us to break the silence, to confront impunity, to fight against falling into oblivion.
We, all of us that form that of the network, have grown together, because we have grown in dialogue with others. After all, Mexico looks different from the center than it does from the states or from the north or the south.
It has not been easy. We have to use our free time, to sacrifice family. To confront our fears and our limitations.
A few days ago, at a workshop in Morelos, a state that borders Mexico City, a colleague who had been kidnapped and threatened by an armed group in Feb. 2014 was telling us that his captors did not kill him because the protests against the kidnapping of Gregorio Jiménez, a journalist from Veracruz who was killed, were so strong. The confession moved us deeply. Because we understood that although the protests did not save Goyo’s life, they did save the lives of other colleagues.
This is the network Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot), to which I am proud, very proud, to belong.
But we are not heroes. We do what we have to do in a country that bleeds every day. We know that journalism is key to defeating the fear that paralyses a society and to ensuring that hope lives on. And we do not have the right to give up now. At least, not while journalists are fighting these battles every day.
For this reason, this prize is not only for those that form the network Periodistas de a Pie. This prize is for all journalists who are fighting a great battle in Mexico to disarm the machine of death, to break censorship, to reveal corruption and human rights violations. To tell the world what the world does not want to see.
This prize is for Regina Martínez, for Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz and for Moisés Sánchez, because their deaths provoked a rebellion of journalists against fear. It is for Armando Rodríguez and for all journalists who have been killed or disappeared and whose faces and voices we miss.
But above all, it is for the journalists who are out on the streets today, sticking up for a journalism that is useful for society. Because their energy and tenacity teach us lessons in commitment. A commitment that is accompanied by vulnerability and, at times, loneliness. For these journalists, the network has been a home. For us, they have been a light.
This prize is for the brave colleagues of the Journalists’ Network of Juárez and the Free Journalism Network, in Chihuahua, which began to reproduce the collective work. It is for our colleagues at the weekly newspaper Zeta, in Riodoce in the northeast and for all those media in the north that have been pioneers in the coverage of violence.
It is for Nacho Carvajal, Rodrigo Soberanes, Félix Márquez, Norma Trujillo, Sayda Chiñas and all our colleagues from Veracruz – the champion among Mexican states in terms of attacks against the press, the state whose governor gives himself awards while his team threatens journalists.
It is a prize for Ángeles Mariscal, Isaín Mandujano, Sandra de los Santos, and those who, in Chiapas, are dealing with a new viceroy. It is for Pedro Canché, a Mayan journalist imprisoned for six months for the crime of protesting against excessive water costs. It is a prize for our colleagues at Lado B and its captain, Ernesto Aroche, who is a Quijote in the battle for transparency; for our colleagues at Págna 3, in Oaxaca.
It is a prize for the battle-hardened journalists of Guerrero, the “non aligned”, Vania Pingeaunott, Margena de la O, Arturo de Dios, all those at Trinchera, at Jornada, at El Sur; it is for Chava Cisneros and Sergio Ferrer, forever in love with the mountains, and for Jesús Benítez, the most daring journalist of the Terra Caliente, the “Hot Land” in southern Mexico.
It is a prize, of course, for Jade Ramírez Cuevas, guardian of all of us, and of the Jalisco collective, Gricelda Torres, Alejandra Guillén, Rubén Martín. A prize for our colleagues in Morelos, Nuevo León, and Morelos, and for all of the photographers who don’t look away from the tragedy of Central American migration, for Prometeo Lucero Javier García and Moysés Zúñiga.
It is for Alejandra Xanic and all those who fight for good journalism: Lydiette Carrión, Luis Guillermo Hernández, John Gibbler, Majo Siscar, Témoris Greko, Eileen Truax.
Without them and many others I cannot mention because it would take hours, the network would not be here, being awarded. Without them, who give us encouragement, who show us the glimpses of hope, the network would not have this moral force.
This prize is also for all of those mentors and allies who have generously shared their knowledge with us. There are many, but I must mention four who have help build the foundations of this network: Javier Darío Restrepo, María Teresa Ronderos, Mónica González and Rosental Alves.
And it is, of course, a deserved prize for a crazy group of people who, almost four years ago, decided to join forces and give extra time to do what we have to do in this broken country: look for a way to help save lives. To fight for the journalism in which we believe. This group, brought together by a great journalist, Marcela Turati, is formed by fighters: Daniela Rea, Margarita Torres, Elia Baltazar, María Teresa Juárez, Verónica Díaz de León, Mónica González, and our gender quotas Alberto Nájar and Pepe Jiménez. It also has a base of young journalists who push us, who force us to be better and not surrender.
Each contribution, each little bit of each one of them, has allowed us to be giving this new meaning to journalism in Mexico.
I want to finish by quoting our dear mentor Monica González, when she received the UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize: “If we allow investigative journalism to be extinguished, if we are only the trash collectors of society, then the citizens will not have maps to help them live and defend themselves against abuse. They will continue ignoring [the fact] that they do have the right to pleasure and happiness.”
In the name of all the noble journalists in my country, of all those who go out every day to make those maps and who refuse to be the trash collectors of society, and all those fighting for critical news and dedicated to society, I thank you for this prize and ask you: “Do not leave us alone.”
Thank you very much.