This article first appeared in El País on 11 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
The Story of Papa Mayito: Journalist and Kidnapping Victim
by Verónica Calderón (EL PAÍS)
– The first reporter registered under Mexico’s protective mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders denounces its malfunctioning
Mario Segura is a short man with brown hair. He smiles a lot. He is 52 years old. From the very first moment of meeting him he seems pleasant. He is a journalist but he also performs with his family as a clown. On stage they call him Papa Mayito. He is the editor of the magazine El Sol del Sur, and the muckraking blog, Alerta Oportuna, based in Tampico, Tamaulipas (in Northeast Mexico). That’s why he was kidnapped. They let him go eight days later. He is the first journalist registered under the government’s Protective Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. He is blowing the whistle on the mechanism: it didn’t help him at all. When he’s asked if he wants his photograph taken for this newspaper, he responds forcefully, “Of course. I have never been a journalist who wants to hide. I am not one to publish and then hide. I am also a person. I have a face. I exist.” Mario Segura is alive and he is a survivor of the war in Tamaulipas.
Mexico’s Congress approved the Law to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in June 2012. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico welcomed the law’s passage. But Segura complains that even though the letter of that law includes the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, it’s not effective. “It’s meant to protect me in three different ways: psychologically, legally, and take care of my safety.” He asserts that it has not fulfilled its obligations in those three areas.
Since 2012 the Mechanism’s budget has amounted to 300 million pesos (almost USD$23 million), and it has failed to process 57.8% of its cases. Of the 152 applications it has received, NGOs complain that it has not even reviewed 88 of those. People who have been threatened are meant to receive some sort of response from the government in less than ten days. Some cases have not been reviewed in more than eighteen months. These cases concern people whose life has been threatened or who have been kidnapped.
The Interior Minister, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, recognizes that the initiative is “a failure.” He has promised to restructure it, but has not provided a date when that will occur. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Since 2010, 31 journalists have been murdered.
Mario Segura – the first journalist registered by the Mechanism – explains that he quit the government’s provision of psychological assistance because the appointments were disorganized, forcing him to move through the vastness of Mexico City. The legal aid was more like “having a chat.” He says he attended talks where a lawyer explained what he had to do, but the state would never pay for legal representation. Lastly, in regards security, he comments that he was provided with a phone number that, in theory, was meant to be a “panic button” but Segura was never sure if it would function. He has not received any type of special protection, even though after the kidnapping, he has been explicitly threatened. He was also offered medical coverage, but when he went to check his sugar levels (he suffers from diabetes) he discovered that the center he was sent to did not have the means to measure glucose levels.
Segura’s via crucis began two years ago, in August 2012. The journalist had performed at a children’s birthday party with his wife and children. They called their troupe the “Family Clowns’ Show.” He was on his way to this engagement when a colleague called to tell him that he had to take down an article published on his website because “it had angered” a criminal group. They kidnapped him the next day. They pointed a gun at him and they beat him, locking him up for eight days in a room smelling of “dirt and marijuana.” They beat him with a board. They told him they were going to kill him and that “they were going to cut up [his wife and children] into little pieces.”
His kidnapping was a culminating event, but he explains that the threats began in 2010. Alerta Oportuna was a site with thousands of visits per day, consulted by users like a web of warnings and denunciations. Segura is convinced that they kidnapped him because he accused politicians of corruption and the government’s ties to drug traffickers that, he asserts, are common in Tamaulipas. Former governor Tomás Yarrington stands accused in the United States of accepting bribes from warring cartels in Tamaulipas, and of money laundering. Yarrington, who was active in the PRI – Mexico’s ruling party – before his suspension in 2012, asserts that the accusations are “political persecution.” The U.S. Justice Department and Interpol consider him a “fugitive.”
The journalist regrets “the pain that he has caused” his family and explains that he has felt guilty for a long time. But at the same time he recognizes that the spiral of violence afflicting Tamaulipas, a place that has suffered disputes between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, and also their own internal disputes, is “impossible to ignore.” He assuages whatever guilt he feels by telling himself that “being a journalist is not an excuse” and that those responsible for his loved one’s pain are those who ordered his kidnapping – a crime that remains unpunished, along with 98% of crimes committed in Mexico, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH)l
Segural left Tamaulipas with the help of the NGO, Artículo 19. They paid for his flight and his hotel for three months. He rues the “lack of solidarity” among Mexico’s journalists. “Officials think its better to buy off the media and use them to undermine our complaints,” he says. “What happened with Goyo was something exceptional. I hope it can happen again. There are so many of us…” He’s referring to Gregorio Jiménez, a humble journalist kidnapped and murdered in Coatzacoalcos (Veracruz) this February. The crimes against Gregorio provoked a wave of unexpected indignation among Mexico’s journalists. A group of independent journalists a few weeks ago presented a report that identified multiple problems in the investigation.
Does he regret publishing? Again, he replies with conviction: “No.” He explains that he is tired of having to stay quiet and that the severity of the situation in Tamaulipas demands speaking out. “I miss Tampico very much. My parents, my pals, my friends. But I can’t stay quiet. We can’t shut up.” Since he left Tamaulipas, Mario Seguro has not been able to find work as a journalist.
JournalistVerónica Calderón reports from Mexico for El País. Follow Calderón on Twitter @veronicacalderon. This story first appeared with the title, “La historia de Papa Mayito: periodista y secuestrado,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/04/11/actualidad/1397250509_404092.html.