Category Archives: human rights

The War Against Drugs in the Tarahumara Mountains and the Demise of a ‘Robin Hood’ (Patricia Mayorga/PROCESO)

News magazine Proceso first published this article on October 31, 2012.

This article is about the war in the mountains of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango that has raged for years and has only become worse. Even with stories like this one by Mayorga, or this year’s knockout crónica by Marco Antonio López, “Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living Through War,” there is great reticence in the international community to annoy Mexico’s government by declaring the country’s situation a non-international armed conflict. Mexico has managed to avoid this status even with more than 100,000 deaths since Felipe Calderón widened the drug war in 2006 and even with more deaths from violent homicide in 2017 than in 2011.

And yet the experience on the ground, as Mayorga demonstrates, is indeed one of war: of people violently pushed from their homes, of men with guns, in the government and in organized crime, and of them firing from rooftops, or ambushing civilians.

It’s an intriguing article because it suggests that peace is possible, but not because Mexico’s state guarantees it, but because a drug warlord does. That’s not a term Mayorga uses, focused as she is on the way in which the region’s residents viewed the man who guaranteed their peace as a latter day “Robin Hood.”

Mayorga’s article – now five years old and still relevant — about the war without end in the Sierra Tarahumara has been translated in anticipation of her receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks so that readers who do not readily read Spanish can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist.

At least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – PT

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Uruachi Township, Tarahumara Mountains, Chihuahua


By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

CHIHUAHUA, Chihuahua. – The assassination of Sinaloa Cartel capo Antonio Erives Arduño, 39, in Uruachi last Saturday has placed the region’s residents on high alert. The leader of this criminal group installed himself in Uruachi beginning in March 2011, styling himself as “protector” of its citizens because state, federal and local authorities are unable to respect and guarantee security.

Toño Erives, as he was known, used to help people with money, with supplies. He used to defend people who left him alone. He rescued teenagers from other gangs but he also enlisted or “tricked” others into his own.

For a year Antonio Erives managed to keep the town “peaceful” but last Saturday his rival arrived – one of the leaders of La Línea known as El Vaquero – to dispute the territory. People sought refuge in their houses while the confrontation raged between the armed groups.

Several people were killed, according to local authorities, although the precise number is not known. The confrontation lasted five hours.

In the Tarahumara Mountains it seems like there’s license to kill. The authorities and society blame the same families from those communities that have mostly sown and produced marijuana and poppies for decades, even though the violence has reached whole villages and left thousands of victims, many of whose names are never known.

Confrontations between drug traffickers have gone on forever. Residents say armed people have always been around and indigenous people and mestizos have always grown drugs. And that justification extends to giving permission to kill anybody, without knowing what he did or how many should be killed. The Chihuahuan mountains are a “no man’s land.”

The Power of Toño Erives

In the last week of March and at the beginning of April 2011, the confrontation between these criminal groups – the Sinaloa Cartel and La Línea – forced a whole village to spend night after night in the mountains. For a week they slept in low temperatures and at the mercy of the elements. This happened in Jicamórachi in Uruachi municipality.

On Monday April 9, Antonio Erives’ niece, Lidia, came down from the mountains. Her mother in law came with her, along with several aunts, and a group of children. They had all fled after some men they did not know burned down five of their properties.

Toño Erives and one of his wife’s uncles (who was assassinated in 2009 at age 19) rose to important positions in La Línea, the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel. Soon he began to stand out in this organization; however, the Sinaloa Cartel convinced him to join their ranks, marking the beginning of Sinaloa Cartel power in the region.

“He was a noble man,” Lidia says, “he gave people protection and he helped them, he lent them trucks so they could go to hospitals. He is a man with attractive features, a good person.”

El Vaquero (“The Cowboy”) arrived at Jicamórachi in March 2011. He was one of the leaders of La Línea and Erives’s former boss. The village held a dance to celebrate the coronation of their queen. A fight broke out among those assembled. Residents say that one of them took a truck laden with drugs and killed one of the men. Two days later a group of armed men, dressed like federal police, burned the villagers’ houses, including that of the town’s doctor, and also several vehicles. The rebel group entered the town shooting at nothing in particular. The people – the elderly, children, and entire families – ran to the mountains. Jicamórachi is tucked between several mountains.

A few families managed to flee and more than half of the 122 families in the village have not returned, says one of the former communal land commissioners. The villagers spent a whole weekend in the mountains. Delivery trucks refused to travel to Jicamórachi because of the risks along the way. Children became sick because the weather was chilly, forcing them to return home.

Almost all the villagers who had gone to the mountain and did not flee to other cities returned, except Lidia and her family who stayed on the mountain, hiding with her aunts and uncles. The houses burned by the armed men belonged to her family. They also burned a carpenter’s shop owned by Antonio Erives’s father. The Army arrived at the beginning of April and took over Jicamórachi’s primary school. Their presence allowed the villagers to return home.

Although she was terrified Lidia came down from the mountains. She did not say a word, only nodding in agreement that she wanted to stay with her in-laws. She had lived in the village for a brief time during her marriage but she refused to abandon it, confronting the violence on a daily basis and the demands for illegal payments that had for decades been normal  in the Tarahumara Mountains.

At the time the young woman avoided anybody who asked her for details about the violence. They suggested she leave the village to return to her family but she refused. She said that she did not want to abandon her mother-in-law and her aunts.

One week later she and her in-laws left the village. The State Police offered them a helicopter so they could leave. They arrived in Sonora a few weeks later. Lidia decided to go with her family to one of the state’s large cities. She found work in a department store and that brought her some piece of mind. During a lunch break she agreed to talk about her life in Uruachi.

She accepted that she needed psychological help. She had decided to take her life back. Some weeks later she got married and now she expects to have a baby.

A Wave of Shootouts

After the gunmen took Jicamórachi from Erives in March 2011, he and his people ambushed a caravan of vehicles driven by their enemies as they moved through the township. The leader of the other group, El Vaquero, was the target. He managed to flee in an armored car, according to one of Lidia’s teenage relatives who also belongs to Erives’s group.

A few days later, and by way of revenge, the men under El Vaquero’s control seized a busload of passengers including Antonio Erives’s sister. She was a councilwoman in Uruachi. The gunmen kidnapped her and began to negotiate: control over the region in exchange for the woman.

They agreed to find a place close to Gosogachi to hand her over.

A helicopter took the councilwoman and delivered to her brother. But they had tortured her. They burned her feet. After recovering his sister, “he made war.” Both groups fought each other from different hillsides. Toño’s group won.

In that same time period another of Uruachi’s villages, Memelichi, was taken. Its villagers told people by email that nobody could leave the village. The men ran away to hide themselves, they were so afraid, but the women and children stayed behind in the village.

After “the war” Erives’s enemy arrived in the township’s main village to launch a shootout lasting five hours. Apart from Toño’s group, poorly armed police and “three or four youth” participated in the violence. The young men climbed on the rooftops so their rivals would not know where the shots came from.

By shooting from the rooftops they managed to kill several people. The residents who did manage to talk by phone confirmed that they saw how they wounded and shot several people. Each group carried the bodies away with them, making it difficult to figure out an exact number of the dead or wounded.

The women told stories about seeing teenagers invade their patios with long guns. It made them afraid. The residents confirmed that several apple pickers were forced to fight in the “war”.

The mayor, Aldo Campos Rascón, realized a day later that the town was in shock. Many houses had been shot up and car windows shattered. He confirmed that at least 10 people had been injured. The mayor asked the armed forces to stay on permanently in an attempt to constrain the violence.

“If this situation doesn’t end, the Sierra will turn into a powder keg. The people are arming themselves or they want to join those groups. Young people are mostly the ones who leave.”

“They want to join up for all sorts of reasons. People are tired of living with this fear, so they go with one side or the other. It is complicated and if we aren’t careful very shortly it’s going to explode. The people are anxious and mistrustful,” warned the mayor.

Residents in the municipality soon came to see themselves as under Toño Erives’s protection. They helped the authorities with their tasks, from protecting lives, to taking people to hospital, or supporting those who needed to be fed.

From that moment on, at the end of March and the beginning of April 2011 there were some isolated and sporadic murders. This situation changed last week when Antonio Erives’s rivals killed him. He had become Uruachi’s “Robin Hood.” Fear now centers on how both groups will adjust to each other and the decisions their leaders are going to make.

Investigative reporter Patricia Mayorga is a prize-winning Mexican journalist from Chihuahua. She works with Proceso, Mexico’s premier investigative news magazine. After the murder of her friend and colleague Miroslava Breach in March 2017 in Ciudad Chihuahua, she went into exile and is currently in hiding. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor her with its Press Freedom Award this November.

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. He collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a group formed in 2017 by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

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Lives in Danger in Veracruz: Mexican Journalist Gil Cruz and His Family (Ignacio Carvajal)

This article was first published on 26 July 2017 by Blog.Expediente.Mx. It has been translated into English with the consent of its author.

 Lives in Danger in Veracruz: Mexican Journalist Gil Cruz and His Family
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

– Reporter Gil Cruz of Álamo, Veracruz raised the alarm and demanded authorities protect him and his family from a possibly fatal attack

– Armed men broke into his parents house on Tuesday night, demanding 100,000 pesos (USD$5,800) in exchange for not killing him or his siblings.

– “They said that if my parents don’t give them the money by the weekend, they will hurt the children and they mentioned me,” said Cruz, a journalist.

– Cruz lives under precautionary measures from the Federal Protective Mechanism for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders but neither it nor the Veracruz State Commission for the Protection of Journalists wants to provide security to his family.

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Veracruz Journalist, Gil Cruz of El PeriodicoMx (courtesy of FB page).

Veracruz journalist Gil Cruz has filed a complaint about armed men breaking into his parents’ home to demand 100,000 pesos (USD$5,800). The men demanded the money in exchange for not killing him or one of his siblings. He sought help immediately from the state Commission to Protect Journalists (CEAPP) and the federal protective mechanism. But he says they have let him down because they are unable to protect the people closest to him.

Cruz reports for the online newspaper, PeriodicoMX. The attack, he said, began at 8.30pm in Citlaltepec in Álamo Temapache, about six hours from the Port of Veracruz. Four armed men burst into the house where “my parents were in the middle of something, and they started being aggressive, demanding 100,000 pesos in exchange for not harming their children.”

His parents told them they did not have that kind of money, forcing the men to leave, but not before they threatened to come back at the weekend for the money. Without the money “they would hurt our children.” They took off in the family car. Hours later it was found abandoned near the federal highway.

Gil Cruz said that he fears for his life. But he fears even more for his parents and his siblings. He is calling on the authorities to give him protection.

Gil Cruz said he been living with precautionary measures from the federal protective mechanism. He was granted federal protection because of threats he has received for publishing news about politics in the Álamo region.

He added that just this week staff from the federal protective mechanism came to his home to supervise the precautionary measures and to update their agreement to provide him protection.

“I can stand a threat against me. I’m kind of used to it. But threaten my family, they don’t know about these sorts of things,” he said in a phone call to Blog.Expediente.

He does not know where this new attack comes from. “I hate to think it is because of my work, but I don’t think I can put aside that explanation.”

It is not the first time he has been threatened for his work in this particularly unsafe region. “I have filed complaints, but they haven’ t worked. They haven’t helped at all. Yet even so my parents are committed to filing a new complaint.

“This morning I spoke with staff from the state and federal protective mechanisms. Each of them said the same thing. They can’t do much because it wasn’t a direct aggression against me but against my family members.”

The reporter, who sometimes works for newspaper Notiver said it was a shame “that I need to be shot in the foot or the stomach so that these protective mechanisms and the authorities can say that the threat was against me.”

He said that with this type of response, the perpetrators of violence against journalists find it very easy to “mess with family members since they aren’t subject to government protection, even though the threat comes from our work.”

Ana Laura Pérez is president of the Veracruz state Commission to Protect Journalists (CEAPP). She acknowledged being aware of Gil Cruz’s case and that “we are coordinating with state security services,” but, “really there is little we can do.”

“It is not because we don’t want to help, it’s that we cannot help: he is the journalist,” she said, when asked about extending the special security measures to Cruz’s family members.

She said that the state mechanism and every other institution face restrictions when “the family does not want to file a complaint. Neither can staff in the attorney general’s office act,” even though she said that they are doing everything they can to help him.

Gil Cruz works as a reporter in one of Veracruz silent zones, in the Huasteca, where the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas are ever present.

For about ten years, this region has been fought over because it is a strategic smuggling corridor to the U.S. border.

It has also been the site of vicious disputes between killers of both groups fighting for control over federal highway 180 running between Matamoros and Puerto Juárez.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal works in Verazcruz. He reports for Agence France Presse, Blog.Expediente.Mx and other outlets.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a freelance human rights investigator based in Mexico City. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project, a pro-bono translation service that showcases quality journalism from accomplished reporters.

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Protesting against impunity in the murder of Chihuahuan Journalist Miroslava Breach

This article first appeared in newspaper La Jornada on Monday 24 July 2017. It has been translated without permission.

Protesting against impunity in the murder of Journalist Miroslava Breach
By Rubén Villalpando (La Jornada)

Miroslava 4 Months

Chihuahua Journalists Recall 22 Murdered Colleagues, photo courtesy of Julio Rivera, published in La Jornada.

Chihuahua, Mexico.— The murder of journalist Miroslava Breach occurred four months ago yesterday. She was La Jornada’s correspondent based in Chihuahua, the state’s capital city, and she also wrote for El Norte of Ciudad Juárez. Activists, family members, and journalists gathered again to demand justice four months after the crime. Until now the perpetrator and mastermind behind the crime have not been detained. Impunity marks the case, the protester said.

The protest occurred in front of the statehouse. It’s also the location of the Cross of Nails, each one representing the violent death of a woman. They demanded that the state government, headed by Javier Corral, a member of the Partido de Acción Nacional, work to solve the murder and stop announcing advances in the murder when in reality none exist.

At the event, convened by journalists in the state capital, they recalled the names of the 22 journalists murdered in the state, along with those cases authorities have failed to solve since 2010, just as in the murder of Miroslava Breach.

At the protest they shouted for an end to violence, placed banners and posters with words calling for justice, emphasized that reporting is a high-risk activities for journalists, and demanded authorities guarantee freedom of expression and punishment for those responsible for murders.

They acknowledged that four months have passed since Miroslava Breach’s murder outside her home in the Loma Vallarta neighborhood of Chihuahua city. They demanded the investigation continue; above all else because Governor Javier Corral has said that the perpetrator and mastermind have been identified, along with their accomplices. Yet nobody has been arrested and charged.

Just Like Every Month

Every month journalists and activists gather in Chihuahua city to remember Miroslava Breach and call for justice. In the fourth month since her murder they remembered that in June the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Edison Lanza, called on the state to comply with its obligation to investigate and solve the crime committed against the journalist last March 23.

Governor Javier Corral said three months ago in Ciudad Juárez that the perpetrator and mastermind only needed to be arrested. The failure to do so is why journalists, activists, citizens and the family of Miroslava Breach have on many occasions protested in the center of the city to demand application of the rule of law.

Journalist Rubén Villalpando is a Ciudad Juárez based correspondent for national newspaper La Jornada.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in Mexico City. Like the MxJTP on FaceBook.

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Real Stories of Mexico’s Missing — Searching for His Sister: Carlitos Looks Among Human Remains in Mexico, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Real Stories of Mexico’s Disappeared: Carlitos and the Search Among Human Remains for His Missing Sister

By Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Correspondent (La Jornada)

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Around 60 search party members from 11 states in Mexico look for missing or disappeared people in the towns of El Quelite in Mazatlán and Sataya in Navolato. Photograph by Javier Valdez. Published in La Jornada.

Culiacán, February 8, 2017—Carlitos says that he loves his sister and that he is not going to leave her unprotected. At his tender age he already feels guilty for something he did not do, for having failed to take care of and protect Zoé Zuleika. She has been missing for a year.

Carlitos – that’s what we’ll call him – is barely eight years old and he searches for missing people: a searcher of human remains who carries a small staff and pickaxe. His grey and black striped sweater keeps him from the morning chill. He is Mexico’s youngest searcher of the disappeared.

When you ask him what he is going to say to his sister when he sees her again, the boy answers: That I love her; that I am going to protect her. Around the Navolato community of San Pedro, in the deciduous forest, the little one looks among whoever’s human remains, but really he’s searching for his sister.

With blows from his staff and still more from his pickaxe he looks for Zoe like someone who knows he will find her. His lively, black eyes light up like fireflies and he smiles when he thinks about her.

The last time he saw her, he remembers, was a year ago in his father’s truck, in Soledad, a town in San Luis Potosí.

He says that when he finds her he is going to protect her, including from his father whom he suspects took her. Carolina Gómez Rocha, 40, is mother to both children. She comes from San Luis Potosí, and she searches for missing people, even though she realizes it is unlikely she will find Zoé in the state of Sinaloa.

I do these searches to strengthen the families who are here searching, not to find my daughter. I know that she is alive. I am her mother and my heart tells me so. I am here to support the cause. It has been an immense experience, and yes it does help me, it strengthens me, she says. She’s a few yards from the Culiacán River, between the sand sifters and the cornfields.

She has four children: 8, 18, 20, and Zoé, 6. The youngest worry her and give her hope. The day Zoé disappeared Carolina’s family had gone to a party. They went at the insistence of her father in law.

The girl, who was already tired, fell asleep in her father’s truck. A few minutes after midnight they decided to leave but the young girl was not there anymore.

Safety Belt

Carolina and even Carlitos suspect his father. He does not ask about the girl. He has not joined in the searches or gone to the authorities even after they filed the criminal complaint. Her husband’s family acts just the same: indifferent. That’s why they don’t dismiss the idea that they have Zoé or know where she is.

Less than a kilometer from where the search party is looking, the prosecutor set up a roadblock. Two women police officers approach, ask questions in a friendly way, and allow or deny entry. Few get close. Further on, where they are conducting the search, there are four federal police patrol cars. They have dogs with them, dogs trained to search for human remains, and experts with their kit.

About thirty members of the Third National Search Party have come together to excavate and ask questions. This search will last two weeks. A Catholic priest is participating, as are many young women and several members of the Marabunta organization. Most of them wear white shirts with black text: Where are they?

According to statistics from the state prosecutor, around 2,200 people disappeared in Sinaloa during the last six years, the period when Mario López Valdez was governor. His term ended last December.

Some searchers look near the heavy machinery. Others go to another site in the truck belonging to the prosecutor’s forensic team. Still others seek shade under the poplars.

They laugh. They poke risqué fun at the young priest, circling in on each other. Even during the search there is time for fun yet memories still weigh heavy.

They are more than 60 searchers from 11 states. Right now they are looking for human remains in two graves: in El Quelite in Mazatlán, and in Sataya, Navolato. They have managed to unearth one body. It still has not been identified.

Some yards away, in an overgrown corner, Lucas, the police dog, digs again and again. So much so that it looks like he’s playing. The agents say he lifts his ears and his tail goes straight and he goes stiff when he finds human remains. He doesn’t do any of that today.

There’s Carlitos. With his staff and his pickaxe. Sometimes he wants to leave and attaches himself to his mother’s skirt. The two bob through the mess of dry branches, big leaves and uneven earth. It looks like they are crossing a swamp but they emerge clean.

After his sister disappeared, the boy went through a bad time at school. He enjoys math: but his grades went from 9s and 10s to 6s and 7s.

He carries himself aggressively. He locks himself in his room. He throws himself on his bed and cries, all the while clutching a photo of Zoé. He speaks to her. He cries over her. That’s why he goes to therapy. He falls down and het gets up. Here he raises his staff and plunges it into the ground.

– When you speak with your sister, what will you tell her?

– I will tell her I love her and I miss her and that I will protect her. That I can take care of her. That I won’t let my father leave her in his truck.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on May 15, 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this story in La Jornada on February 8, 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ BlogThe Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

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Lament for my friend, Javier Valdez, by Froylán Enciso

C_9cVJaUIAAlSZa[This remembrance of the murdered journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas first appeared in Horizontal.]

The death of Javier Valdez has brought Mexican journalism to a breaking point. If they can kill the best known, the winner of the most prizes, and the most protected in the profession, what about the rest of us? There’s a bull’s eye on Mexico’s press.

And if now you are going to ask me what’s to be done, the answer is I don’t know. Today, 15 May, they murdered my friend, Javier Valdez. My first hypothesis, of course, is that they killed him because of his journalism.

When Chapo Guzmán’s kids went around gossiping on Ciro Gómez Leyva’s program that Dámaso López Núñez – El Chapo’s former business partner – had ambushed them and tried to kill them, Javier interviewed one of Dámaso’s messengers for Ríodoce. He knew that the article didn’t please Chapo’s kids and their people, and he knew that they would try to silence him so that national media would believe that Dámaso was the government’s new criminal enemy. And not just silence him. They would try to silence everybody at Ríodoce. But now Dámaso is in prison, so why kill Javier? I can’t figure it out.

When I heard the news about Javier I pulled away from the table where I was eating lunch with my colleagues to celebrate Teachers’ Day in Mexico. My mother called me from Sinaloa. She said that that they are killing people like flies. She fears for my siblings. Yesterday they went to a party. My sister left early but a few minutes after that they “took” one of the friends who accompanied her. Yesterday they murdered some kids in the Colonia Alameda for no good reason and because they could, just for going out with a group of friends. The thing is that you don’t know who’s who or what’s going on. Some people aren’t caught up in anything untoward but they get killed anyway and in unfathomably cruel ways.

“Your sister was just a minute away from danger. She’s safe but just one minute more…”

We are all worried for each other.

“Around here you can’t even stop to look around,” my mother told me.

And that’s when the heavens poured from my eyes. The house collapsed around me. There’s no safe place to go back to. Maybe tomorrow things will be better. In time things improve but right now that safe place does not exist. They have snatched it from me, from us, bit by bit. Today there’s no home. Tomorrow I will return to see if there is justice, to see if trust exists between people. Today there isn’t. Death knows no bounds today. If they can kill Javier Valdez, our beloved Javier, the most well known, the winner of the most prizes, the most protected in the profession, then what about the rest of us? It’s like all of us are wearing a bull’s eye.

I met Javier Valdez in 2003 when I pitched stories to him for Ríodoce, while I was a researcher for the Los Angeles Times. Ismael Bojórquez and Alejandro Sicairos welcomed me with open arms, but the first time I met them in Culiacán, Javier sweetened the welcome with an invitation to drink beer in the Guayabo, his regular watering hole. Everybody made me feel welcome and supported but Javier called me Ríodoce’s correspondent in the country’s capital. Javier’s words made me feel proud. Ríodoce was not well known at that time. It had not won any prizes. Nobody knew if the publication would last. They were just beginning and this gave me hope that in Sinaloa things might be different. And then I began to find Javier everywhere I looked for him: in meetings of the Foundation for New Iberoamerican Journalism (FNPI), in the International Book Festival (FIL), and on his many visits to Mexico City.

I remember, Javier, when you gave me a bound copy of your Malayerba, because you wanted help spreading the manuscript around interested publishing houses. I confess that I handed almost all of them out to editors, my dear friend. But I kept one of them for myself. Forgive me. It’s just that you were quicker than I was in finding an editor and you began to publish books as if they were enchiladas. And after I’d done the rounds of publishers, they called me out for not insisting they publish you. Always some publisher would approach me to confess that they should have grabbed your first book. Isn’t that funny, my friend? And isn’t it great that one of your books just appeared in English. Now your books are going to sell. I’m reminded how you said goodbye to me in that email when I told you about one of those editors who was remorseful about not publishing you when he had the chance.

“Don’t go just anywhere to lose your virginity or leave it lying about. Big hug,” you told me.

I laughed to myself and I played along. You were frightfully naughty and you had a commanding way with words and you fell in love with your own games more than once. You could never get enough and you sometimes had the bruised heart of a big child, even though you always said Sinaloans copulated with death.

And I just want to remember that the heavens are falling from my eyes. And I want to say that whoever did this has to be shitting themselves. Soon we must stop crying. They are going to have to kill all of us, too, because the place where we want to live in peace has no master.

Author Froylán Enciso is a historian from Sinaloa who specializes in the political economy of drugs and politics in Mexico. He holds a PhD in History from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is a Senior Analyst for Mexico in the International Crisis Group and a professor in the Programa de Políticas de Drogas at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter: @elfroyenciso.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator, journalist, and lecturer in History at El Paso Community College.

They are going to kill you, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Friends, family, and colleagues warned him: Take care, man. Those guys have no limits. They are bastards. But in his column in one of the local papers he kept criticizing and complaining, using his keyboard, his words, to pelt corrupt politicians for conspiring with criminals, police at the mafia’s command.

He’d been a reporter for some time, experienced in investigative work. There was never a shortage of subjects to cover, but those paths, hidden by thorny plants, led to gunpowder or a waiting trigger, to the bosses’ glassy stares, to escape routes without exits, to streets that only led to hot smoke, wisps dancing in the wind after the gun shots.

But he wore a bulletproof vest across his chest. To him the moon looked like a lantern that could even light up the day. Pen and notebook were his escape, therapy, crucifixion, and exorcism. He wrote and wrote onto a blank page and spat it out onto the screen with his fingers, from his mouth, splattering everything. He bawled into his columns with anger and pain and sadness and wrath and consternation and fury, talking about the shit-covered governor, the mayor flush with funds, the smiling lawmaker who looked like a cash register receiving and receiving wads of cash and pinging when taking in another million.

The business dealings of the powerful were his subject. How they took advantage of everything and fucked over the common people. Destitution, like garbage, grew and spilled over sidewalks and street corners. Brothels overflowed. Hospitals never lacked sick people but neither were there beds nor doctors. That’s right, the prisons overflowed and an empire of smoke covered everything. Black clouds covered the starry skies, filling the heads of the region’s residents, making them sick yet not indignant. But he wasn’t going to give in. No way, he repeated to himself. He started to write.

A report put a lawmaker at the center of a hurricane. He joined those criticizing the lawmaker’s might and his ties to those at the top of political, economic and criminal power. Few were the legislators’ detractors and almost nobody wrote about it, but he would not shut up. On FaceBook he posted ferocious, brave words. They told him: Hey man, tone it down. Those bastards are out to get you. They will kill you. He shrugged it off with a harrumph. They won’t do anything to me. They can go fuck themselves.

Three hours after that post on social media they caught up with him and shot him point blank so as not to miss.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodoce, a newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on 27 March 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

This article was first published on 9 January 2015. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz
By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

(The first journalist abducted this year Moisés Sánchez of Veracruz, Mexico, was taken by armed men from his home in Medellín de Bravo on 2 January 2015. He has not yet been found. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release summarizing the facts of Sánchez’s disappearance, demanding his return and the prosecution of his abductors. Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the Americas to practice journalism: CPJ reports that since 2011 three journalists have disappeared and the organization has documented the murders of nine other journalists.

Prior to Moisés Sanchez’s disappearance the mayor of Medellín had threatened the journalist. Days after Sánchez’s disappearance, the Associated Press reported that the entire municipal police force of Medellín de Bravo had been brought in for questioning by the Veracruz State Prosecutor with three of those officers detained.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz on the story of the friendship and the fight between the journalist and the mayor of Medellín. – PT)

As a candidate he kissed children. He said hello to farmers and housewives. He walked the muddy streets of Medellín’s villages. He wore out his shoes and got thorns in his clothes in the rural areas. He promised that if he won he would jail his predecessors: Rubén Darío Lagunes and his putative political offspring Marcos Isleño Andrade, both of the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). And he promised one more thing. Omar Cruz Reyes offered all the directorships and executive appointments to those born in the township: “Medellín for people from Medellín,” he used to say. But he did not fulfill that promise. Most of his cabinet was filled with people who lived in the Port of Veracruz and its bordering neighbor Boca del Río.

Omar Cruz is not a dyed-in-the wool PAN-ista. He became a candidate for the PAN thanks to efforts by his sister-in-law Hilda Nava Seseña and her uncle and aunt, Salustia Nava Seseña and Maurilio Fernández Ovando. The aunt is former president of the DIF [Mexico’s Children and Families Department] and the uncle is the former PANista Mayor of Medellín. Hilda was Maurilio Fernández’s personal assistant when he served as mayor.

At the same time, Omar Cruz Reyes created an organization bearing his initials (Organizando Contigo el Rumbo – literally translated as Organizing the Future With You) to work with the residents of the new subdivisions, like Arboleda San Ramón Puente Moreno and Casa Blanca. Both places bring together thousands of voters, mostly from Veracruz and Boca del Río).

Before the 2010 local elections, and to keep himself on the lips of voters, Cruz began a media campaign demonstrating against mayors Marco Isleño Andrade (2010 – 2013) and Rubén Darío Lagunes (2007 – 2010); primary school students made fun of Lagunes at school events because he dallied when he gave speeches.

There were at least three protests where Omar Cruz attacked Marcos Isleño Andrade for absent public works, missing support and neglect by the municipality. Invariably the journalist Moisés Sánchez attended these protests. He saw Omar Cruz – when he entered politics he was just 27 – as without bad political habits, without “a tail to be tugged”, well spoken, educated, from the working middle class and a rousing speaker against Marcos Isleño and in favor of citizens. The men clicked. And Moisés Sánchez began following him through the streets and writing stories about his promises and his projects. At last a young person from El Tejar – Medellín’s most important area – was willing to fight back against the corrupt politicians.

In the spirit of “Medellín for people from Medellín,” Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he made it into the mayor’s office. That’s what Sanchez’s colleagues said; it was his big dream back in those days: to be his town’s press officer at city hall.

CRUZ TURNED HIS BACK ON THE PAN

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He’d barely won but he started reneging on his promises. He gave the post promised to the journalist to a person from the port of Veracruz. The salaries weren’t what he had promised. Neither were the responsibilities, nor the secretaries and support staff. The important posts stayed in the hands of citizens from the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río and did not go to the professional activists in Medellín’s Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or, PAN). This young businessman’s promises were soon spent and many sunk. “Many people support him but it’s out of necessity, because their salaries aren’t enough,” said one city employee who commented on condition of anonymity.

On the campaign trail Omar Cruz was a different person from the one he became when mayor elect. He stood on the same platform as Julen Rementería and Oscar Lara, respectively the former mayor of Veracruz and a former PAN-ista legislator. This couple are credited with bringing Omar Cruz over to Governor Javier Duarte, to the PRI and to “red PANism” – the term, panismo rojo is a colloquial expression for a bloc of PAN-istas who fight the government of Veracruz with one hand but with the other support every move by Javier Duarte as governor. (Translator’s note: the PAN’s color is blue.)

The gap between Omar and the PAN-istas in Veracruz’s state capital, Xalapa, and with the Yunes [a political family in Veracruz with links to both the PAN and the PRI] soon widened. On one day he was seen close to Raúl Zarrabal, PRI legislator for Boca del Río on Wednesday when visiting his constituents, the next day he was with the PRI-ista side of the Yunes and the following day he was with a representative of the government of Veracruz.

Omar Cruz’s ties to Governor Duarte grew stronger because of the issues surrounding the Metropolitan Water and Sanitation System (SAS), a para-municipal organization that regulates and administers sanitation and water supply in the Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín conurbation. Its management of millions of pesos of resources has always been opaque.

In the middle of 2014, the mayor of Boca del Río, Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez threatened breaking away from the SAS so that his city could administer its own municipal infrastructure. Independently of this threat, Yunes Márquez had provided evidence of the overwhelming corruption in the SAS since Yolanda Carlín’s time as its director. There were dozens of Carlín-friendly journalists on her payroll, leaders of PRI neighborhoods, among others. But the real debacle began when José Ruiz Carmona arrived on the scene. Carmona was a PRI-ista who had held many public posts and had concluded an undergraduate degree in record time. Governor Javier Duarte modified the law so that Ruiz Carmona could manage the SAS.

Ruiz Carmona ended his time at the top of the organization with blackouts for failure to pay bills, protests over uniforms for workers and complaints made to its union by pilots, lovers, wives and family members belonging to both the PRI and the PAN, all of whom were on the payroll or well-connected. Javier Duarte ignored the financial shambles left by Ruiz Carmona and brought him into his cabinet, naming him undersecretary for Human Development in the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL).

In this context and so as to establish order in the SAS, Yunez Márquez was waiting for support from Omar Cruz against the only PRI-ista on the organization’s board, Ramón Poo, the mayor of the Port of Veracruz. Instead, he deserted Yunes Márquez to support the SAS plan to create another organization, passing over Ruiz Carmona and other former directors.

Omar Cruz attended every event in the Port of Veracruz and Boca del Río at which Duarte appeared, looking for a moment, even if just a hello, with the governor.

Around Medellín, Omar Cruz assumed a friendship with Javier Duarte. “We understand society’s problems because we are both young,” he was heard to say. Now the governor won’t even answer his phone calls.

Back in 1812, in this municipality, army officer and ex-President Nicolás Bravo spared the lives of 300 Spanish combatants who had fallen prisoner in the Wars for Independence. That’s why Medellín is called Medellín de Bravo. It doesn’t look like Omar Cruz is going to have luck similar to that of the Spanish.

In Veracruz the worst state to practice journalism in the Americas, a place toxic for reporters, Moisés Sanchez’s abduction is the first time a high profile culprit has been accused of a crime against freedom of expression. The PRI-ista state government of Veracruz sees an opportunity to strike a blow against the PAN in the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín as it prepares for the 2015 federal elections.

Today, up to press deadline, not one PAN-ista heavyweight has spoken out in support of Omar Cruz. Not at the state level and there’s not a peep from Julen Rementería or Oscar Lara. Medellín’s PAN-istas have withdrawn into themselves, mute, watching everything and letting the guillotine fall into the hands of the prosecutor, Luis Ángel Bravo, who is aiming for Omar Cruz’s neck.

THE ABARCA OF MEDELLÍN’S MANGO ORCHARDS

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Another person passed over by Omar Cruz says, “The best jobs and salaries went to his friends. He sidelined the current PAN-istas and he gave them lesser jobs with low salaries. That was the constant complaint. In my case I left because of the pay. He promised me 12,000 pesos a month as a director (US$820) but I got half that. When I complained about the shortfall to Omar Cruz he wouldn’t talk to me. He sent me to his wife, Maricela Nava Seseña, the DIF president.”

Since what happened to Moisés Sánchez, both Maricela Nava and Omar Cruz have been compared to the Abarca, the mayor and his wife from the state of Guerrero [alleged to have masterminded the disappearances of the 43 student teachers of Ayotzinapa]. In this Veracruz municipality of major mango cultivation, Cruz and Nava ruled during the day and night, and people from the state have labeled them “the Abarca of the Mango Orchards.”

Inside the municipal building, in fact, they say that Omar Cruz does not decide anything without first going through Maricela Nava and her sister, Hilda Nava Seseña. Omar Cruz made his sister in law the municipal secretary.

The three live under the same roof in the Residencial Marino in Boca del Río where the cheapest houses sell for 1.5 million pesos (US$100,000) — and that’s the price of some of the more austere properties. The upscale residential neighborhood is five minutes from Plaza El Dorado, currently one of Veracruz’s most exclusive malls, frequented by those Veracruz magnates who arrive in their yachts – it has a marina – to buy cinema tickets for a matinée or to lunch in one of its restaurants.

The neighborhood is lined with beautiful trees. It is connected to the highway with panoramic views of the beaches in Vacas-Boca del Río. There are mansions, large salons for special events, estates with country houses and staff on hand for a relaxing weekend, all lining the backwater of the River Jamapa.

Omar, Maricela and Hilda ride around in this year’s trucks. The three use bodyguards and together they attend sessions with spiritualists.

“In the first few days after taking office, several spiritualist consultants – witches – arrived to cleanse the place,” the source says.

They focused their efforts on expelling the bad vibes from the mayor’s office, occupied for six years by PRI-istas. They placed quartz, burned incense, copal and every sort of mélange making it smell like a market.

Once the bad spirits had left, the mayor ordered a giant portrait hanged: underneath the image in large letters appears the name, “Javier Duarte de Ochoa, constitutional governor of Veracruz.”

In that office, on another wall, another black and white image bearing large letters: OMAR CRUZ, PRESIDENTE MUNICIPAL.

And decorating the surrounds in his office are numerous photos of Cruz along with his wife and sister in law.

In the mayor’s office, they say, Maricela Nava Seseña – known as the Queen of Medellín – became accustomed to issuing instructions and telling off campaign workers.

“Why are you asking for so much money from my husband? Are you really so great or are you his lover?” That’s what the first lady of Medellín said to staffers who complained about the low level of their salaries to Omar Cruz.

When dealing with labor issues, the mayor did not personally deal with them. He hung up the phone, referring them to his wife or his sister-in-law.

That’s what the former DIF director, Paula Aguilar Tlaseca experienced. She was one of the first to jump ship because of the poor treatment, low salary and little professional recognition from the Abarca of Medellín de Bravo.

When dealing with complaints in citizen-related issues, the protests did not mean much to them. “Protest all you like. I am the mayor,” Cruz replied when his staff advised him that social problems such as the new annual charge for public cleaning were turning into flash points of unrest.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between the men began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

In Moisés’ last protest outside the Medellín municipal building in the middle of last December he complained about this new municipal tax and the increase in common crime. It was a bitter encounter with Omar Cruz. A strange thing, too, since the mayor never confronted his critics.

“Why are you protecting criminals?” Moisés dared to ask Omar. It has been forty-eight hours since the owner of a convenience store had been murdered, his truck taken.

“I am not protecting them. I am fighting them. I asked for help from the Mando Único [the unified state command of public safety agencies] and the Marines,” Omar Cruz replied. But Moisés was not satisfied and continued in a loud voice with his criticism until one of Cruz’s staff, Juanita León slapped Moisés Sanchez several times on the cheeks.

Omar Cruz did not do anything else. But he left without offering Moisés an apology and failing to scold his employee who had hit him. Instead, a friend of Moisés told his family that the mayor threatened the journalist…

“Take care. Omar says that he wants to frighten you.”

Ignacio Carvajal is a prize-winning journalist working in Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. In Latin America Carvajal is recognized as a skilled practitioner of the crónica, a form of reporting news by telling a story. Check out hisRanch of Horror” in translation for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project. This article was first published under the title, “Aliado de Duarte, cliente de “brujos”, el Alcalde del PAN puso la mira en periodista,” available at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/09-01-2015/1212468.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers (ÁNGELES MARISCAL, EN EL CAMINO)

This article and its accompanying photos were published in Spanish under a Creative Commons License by En El Camino of Periodistas de a Pie on 3 June 2014 with support from the Open Society Foundations.

The English translation of this article has been made possible by an anonymous donation, gratefully received.

The translation of this article is dedicated to Patty Kelly, author of Lydia’s Open Door: Inside Mexico’s Most Modern Brothel. PT

Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers
By Ángeles Mariscal (EN EL CAMINO, PERIODISTAS DE A PIE)

Woman and Child, Mexico's southern border

Woman and Child, Mexico’s southern border

There’s a saying in southerm Mexico: Guatemalan women will do housework, Honduran women will be slaves in the bars or cantinas and the Salvadoran women are invisible. Migrant women are trapped between the physical frontier in Soconusco, Chiapas and the all-too-real yet blurry frontier where abuse, discrimination and stigmatization exist. In southern Mexico, these women aren’t anything other than what their origins – and society – has condemned them to be.

First Stigma: The “Servant” Women

Central American Woman, Mexico's Southern Border

Central American Woman, Mexico’s Southern Border

It is Sunday. Miguel Hidalgo Park in the center of Tapachula – about 275 kilometers from the border with Guatemala – is packed. Dozens of women, most of them young, almost all adolescents, show off embroidered, multi-colored garments with designs and fabrics typical of the neighboring country’s indigenous people. Taking each other by the hand, the Central American women walk round and around the central kiosk.

Some arrive early, their belongings in a suitcase or plastic bag. They sit on the flower boxes and there they wait. Rosa together with two other young women just this morning crossed the border between Mexico and Guatemala, using the bridge at the Tecún Uman border crossing. They paid Mexico’s National Migration Institute for the local visitor’s visa, permitted those who live along Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

This visa allows them to cross with some freedom in the border townships. But it doesn’t let them work in Mexico. It doesn’t escape their notice that business and work tie the residents to both countries and these links go back generations and filter across the frontier.

Rosa is sweating and tired. She has just sat down on a bench when an older woman who got out of a car approaches her. Talking together, they make a deal: 1,200 pesos per month (US$92) plus food. Sundays are days off, after she prepares breakfast for the family.

The woman begins to cross the park. Rosa says a quick goodbye to her friends and falls in behind the woman. Both get into the car. Rosa gets in the back, shy. She does not look up, she avoids eye contact. Long workdays await her as a quasi-slave where she has to sweep, clean, take care of somebody else’s children and make as if she were transparent.

The scene repeats itself in the morning, here and there in the park. In the afternoon, only the domestic workers who already have a job remain, enjoying their only day off.

Girls work here as well as young women. The Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center carried out a survey of domestic workers from Guatemala and found that almost half of those interviewed were 22 years old (49 percent). The other half were between 13 and 17 years old.

The Fray Matías Human Rights Center documented that the for many of the young domestic workers their expectation is to obtain funds that will let them return to their countries to continue their studies. Most only come for brief spells, but many remain trapped and return only occasionally to their native country.

There is no census or estimate about how many they are. They are a floating population and their work happens mostly out of sight, without a formal contract. Since colonial times, whether on haciendas or in homes, most of these women have naturalized the role of working as servants in the Soconusco of Chiapas

Alba has been in the Miguel Hidalgo Park since morning. She and her friends haven’t moved even though it’s been raining. Alba stands out a little more than the others. She says that she is 30 years old and that at the age of 8 she came to work in Tapachula. She is happy because they pay her 2,000 pesos per month (US$147). It’s hardly minimum wage even though her workday is twice as long as the 40 hours per week established under Mexican law.

On a regular day she wakes at 6:00, prepares breakfast, cleans, makes lunch, washes clothes, does the shopping, picks up the kitchen and irons. She has worked cleaning shops or restaurants. The pay is good, but they don’t give her a place to sleep.

“I like working in homes more,” she says, although she recognizes that she doesn’t always have her own place to sleep, like now, since she is working in a house in Colonia Solidaridad (a neighborhood inhabited by lower middle class people from Tapachula). Every night she sleeps on a mattress in the space between the kitchen and the dining room.

  • What do you do on your day off?
  • I help with breakfast and then I come to the park.
  • Do you go out to the cinema or a nearby beach?
  • No.
  • Why?
  • It pains me to say… the people look at us and they don’t like us being there, probably because of how we dress.

Alba says that in her country she could earn a little more money doing the same work. She prefers to stay in Tapachula because, she says, “in Guatemala there is a lot of violence.”

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

Santiago Martínez Junco, training coordinator for the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center explains that under Mexican law the Guatemalan domestic workers are in a system of quasi-slavery.

“The worldview of society in the region – which stigmatizes how people look – puts a mark on migrant women. If you are Guatemalan your niche is domestic work, cleaning, or agriculture. Honduran, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan women are preferred in sex work, or to attract customers in snack joints and restaurants,” he says.

The work of the Guatemalan women has been made invisible because it happens in the private sphere. This situation makes them highly vulnerable.

There are no contracts. There’s no justification when somebody is fired, a strategy often used so as to not pay wages. Sometimes they are charged for food and the average salary is between 1,200 to 1,500 pesos per month (on average, around US$100), and for about 72 hours per week.

Coupled to that, he says that society encloses them or excludes them from everyday life and places where they can meet.

“Most domestic workers don’t know anywhere but Miguel Hidalgo Park and the streets that they take to get to work. For example, people from Tapachula asked the authorities to build the Bicentennial Park because the place was “filled with chapines” (a name given to people from Guatemala). And it’s not like they can go to other places, but society pushes them out, excludes them and they feel social pressure.”

At the end of the day – confirms Santiago Martínez – they have to live in the same feudal situation that’s existed and continues to exist in this region, used exclusively as servants, not allowed to develop in other areas of work.

On Sundays, when they go for a rest in the Miguel Hidalgo Park, the Fray Matías Human Rights Center tries to make them aware of, and train them in, their rights, Martínez says.

“We tell them about their labor rights. We give them workshops in some techniques that they choose. We work dynamically so as to strengthen their self-esteem, so that they can take on their rights… sometimes we go out together in the city, go for walks to nearby places so that they begin to shed their fear and so they feel safer.”

Stigma Number Two: The Fantasy Sellers

Her body gyrates on the stage against the sonic backdrop of an accordion, trumpets and drums. Rhythmic and sensual – can a sound by itself be sensual? – the sound of cumbia accompanying the dancer while she takes off her clothes.

Under the stage at low tables, other women press their bodies to the punters, drink with them, some dance fending off the hands of those who have paid, telling them they are here “just to dance”, keeping them away from sex. In a different space on the same stage, some play billiards with the locals, exaggerating how they play to accentuate the curves of their bodies.

The owner of the place, a fifty-year old woman originally from the southern Mexican border lets us look around and speak with the dancers in their dressing rooms. She insists: in this nightclub there is no sex trade “here we just sell fantasies.”

“Many men only want to see them undress, dance with them. Mostly they speak with the catrachas (Hondurans) because they say they are the prettiest. But we also have dancers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Most don’t even have sex. They just want to spend some time distracted from their daily lives.”

For sex, she says, other places exist.

I go to stage rear. Pinned to the door of the room filled with mirrors where the women arrange themselves are the house rules: how many times one has to dance and strip on stage; the number of beers the women need to drink with the punters (200 per week minimum). This activity is called fichar (literally, to sign up). The owner argues from each “sign up” or beer, half of the earnings goes to the women.

Inside the dressing rooms the fantasy for sale outside crumbles. Before going on stage Melani rushes down some beef soup and a soft drink. She says that she has not eaten all day because she’s having problems with her partner, who is jealous of her. And because he doesn’t get along well with her kids, all of whom are under eighteen.

She is 23 and she has three children. She says that she had to leave her country in 2009 because of “problems” with her previous partner. “He got involved with the Maras and well, you know, there’s a lot of violence in my country… I had to leave.” Melani left her children with her mother for a while. But when she got established in Tapachula, she brought them to live with her.

Her front teeth look decayed. She has visible scars on her calves, some of them recent. When she sees me notice them she pulls on her skin color Lycra, and on top of that she puts the clothes she will take off, piece by piece, on stage.

“He hits me because he is jealous of the clients who look at me. (He worked for a spell as a barman in the nightclub where she works.) But this is how I support my kids, how I support him. What does he want? That I work depending on a shop? They don’t even give us jobs in shops because they say we steal. And when they do give us jobs in stores the pay is miserable. I said to him, you hooked up with a Honduran. This is the life of a Honduran woman. It’s just that there they treat us well and pay us better.”

Everyday Melani confronts the stigma of being a “catracha”, a pejorative term tagged to the women who come from her country, who are seen as expert lovers. Her physique gives her away – broad hips, long legs, svelte waist – and does not let her fade into the background. “If I get into a taxi, the driver wants to grab my legs. If I work in a store, the owner wants to mess with me,” she laments.

In the dressing room’s neon light, the dancers put on their make-up, their long wigs, struggle into Lycra and clothes adjusted for cellulitis, a fat stomach, scars and stretch marks left by motherhood. Once on stage, its semi-darkness helps them.

Luis Rey García Villagrán, activist and defender of the rights of sex workers, confirms that in Tapachula alone – the largest city of the border region known as the Soconusco – there are more than 15 tolerance zones and around 200 centers where they can practice prostitution openly and in private: voluntarily or through networks of people involved in sexual exploitation.

Villagrán represents the Centro de Dignificación Humana and he thinks that this activity is taking place with the permission of society and government. “Here in this region any 5 year old child has seen that in front of her house, at her school, on her daily walk that there’s a snack joint, a bar, a brothel and a cabaret. I have seen Central American women enter and leave these places. This situation has become natural and has enslaved women in this activity.

Migrant women have become part of daily life in Soconusco. The population lives with them. Locals, including public servants visit the places where they work. As to their migratory status, they are only asked about it when there is an attempt to extort them.

Stigma Number Three: The Women Who Will Do Anything

Aidé runs a rooming house located 10 streets from the center of Tapachula. This means she charges rent or lets out rooms with a plastic roof for those who request her services. Most of the residents are migrants without legal status in Mexico.

On arriving at the meeting with Aidé, I bump into a dozen migrants and their guide who are stuffed into one of the rooms. She is not intimidated. She says the migrants will leave the place in one or two days. Someone will come to pick them up so they can continue on their way.

She has been in jail accused of trafficking in people for the purposes of sexual exploitation. After three years inside she managed to get out.

“I had just been deported from the United States and I needed to continue sending money to my two kids who were still in El Salvador. A friend contracted me to manage a bar. The place wasn’t mine and the only thing I saw was that the servers did not get their money. If the girls want to mess with the clients in the rooms that’s their problem. It’s their way of earning a living. Nobody forces them.”

Aidé – instead of the bar’s owner – was arrested during a crackdown. Some of the women working in this bar located in Ciudad Hidalgo were minors. However, after a few days they were deported to their country of origin and nobody faced criminal charges for people trafficking. That’s how Aidé regained her freedom.

“When I got out I tried to cross to the United States again. But I couldn’t. They returned me again and that’s where you find me now, trapped in this place, without the power to move forward and without the power to return to my country,” she narrates with a grim countenance and brusque gestures that contrast against her clear, lovable eyes, her curly hair and petite figure.

A table, two chairs, an individual bed and a booming television sat on a little piece of furniture barely fit in the room. A 10-year old child does not take her eyes off the television. She is the daughter of a friend who is staying with her while she is looking for somewhere to live.

“I am resigned to living here in Tapachula or in Cacahoatán or whatever’s nearby. It’s all the same. But working as what? Here, Salvadorans can’t work as domestics because the woman thinks we are going to steal her husband. We look for work as employees and the boss wants to mess with us. In the bars they think we are going to rob or kill the clients,” she says while she readies a small case filled with varnishes and instruments to do nails, a service she provides at home and also at a small beauty salon in the area. She thinks this job is one of the few she can do where they don’t discriminate.

The migrant women who live in southern Mexico live lives trapped between a physical frontier that stops them from moving freely and a real border produced by discrimination, abuse, and social stigma that erases them as people.

Angeles Mariscal

Text: Ángeles Mariscal, for Periodistas de A Pie

I am an independent journalist, founder of the Chiapas Paralelo website. I contribute to CNN México and El Financiero. I run the Colegio de Comunicadores y Periodistas de Chiapas (CCOPECH). To have the conditions necessary for a dignified life in the places we come from is a right, and to migrate when they don’t exist is also a right. It’s from that perspective that I cover the subject of migration.

Moyses

Images: Moysés Zuñiga Santiago, for Periodistas de a Píe
A photojournalist from Chiapas interested in the struggle of indigenous communities and migration across Mexico’s southern border. I work with La Jornada, AP, Reuters and AFP. My work has been shown in New York University in 2010 and 2013. I traveled with young people like myself crossing the border in search of opportunity, taking personal stories with me that let me journey beside them. I do this work because of that; I want to make extreme situations of violence visible so that these situations don’t occur and people don’t die.

Translation: Patrick Timmons, for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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SILENCING DISSENT IN MEXICO: Atilano Román Slain, Leader of the Picachos Community (Miriam Ramírez, Riodoce)

Recently Murdered Octavio Atilo Román, Picachos Reservoir community leader.

Recently Murdered Octavio Atilo Román, Picachos Reservoir community leader.

This article was first published on 11 October 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s Note: Atilo Román led the communities displaced by the construction of the Picachos reservoir in Sinaloa. He was imprisoned on trumped up charges by State Police in 2012 and 2013 when the Picachos communities were in ongoing protest against the government of Mario López Valdez of the PRI concerning the development, construction, and effects of the Picachos reservoir in Sinaloa. This summer he opened and promoted the new 750-person Picachos ecotourism community to a security-conscious clientele of Mexican and U.S. fishermen, stressing that the Picachos region was unscathed by violence between organized crime and government forces. Recently Atilo Román had returned to protesting corruption in the state government’s fisheries agency because it had failed to issue commercial fishing licenses to Picachos community members.

Newspaper El Sol de Mazatlán –- which has yet to report Atilo Román’s death in its radio station — is one of 70 newspapers in Mexico owned by Organización Editorial Mexicana. PT

SILENCING DISSENT IN MEXICO: Atilano Román Slain, Leader of the Picachos Community
By Miriam Ramírez (RIODOCE.COM)

A shot to the face from two armed men killed Atilano Román, leader of the Picachos community. The men burst into the station belonging to newspaper El Sol de Maztlán.

The attack took place at 10:40 in the morning just as he was being interviewed in a studio in the station. The two men came in carrying handguns; one of them shot Atilo Román point blank.

Seriously wounded, Atilo Román was taken to a hospital in Rafael Buelna Avenue where he died.

Local investigative agents of the Attorney General’s Office are currently in the southern region. They are investigating and questioning witnesses to the murder including reception area workers who allowed the alleged attackers to enter.

Recently the members of the Picachos Reservoir community, led by Atilo Román, had returned to demonstrations because of delays in licensing commercial fishing in the reservoir. CONAPESCA failed to deliver these licenses.

Atilano Román had complained about the interests of CONAPESCA officials for granting licenses to people outside the Picachos community.

In February 2013 the community’s leader and several of its members were arrested and arbitrarily imprisoned by officers of the State Prosecutor’s Police. They had announced they would enter the Carnival procession to stage a parody of Governor Mario López Valdez. They accused the governor — who belongs to the PRI, Mexico’s ruling party — of not fulfilling promises towards those communities displaced by the reservoir.

After those arrests the Human Rights Commission of the state of Sinaloa warned that the State Attorney General had abused the community members’ rights by detaining them without legitimate reasons and only to stop their demonstration during the Carnival.

But this wasn’t even the first time they had been arrested. In May 2012, the leader of thirty community members –- men, women, elderly people –- were detained by officers from the State Prosecutor’s Police as they walked down the Culiacán to Mazatlán highway in protest against the Governor of Sinaloa, López Valdez.

The community members have been fighting for more than five years, ever since construction began on the Picachos Reservoir. It displaced six towns in the Mazatlán and Concordia mountains.

The communities’ members have staged countless demonstrations. They have been imprisoned for demanding the state government provide compensation and fulfilling its promises.

 

Journalist Miriam Ramírez reports for Riodoce in Culiacán, Sinaloa. This article first appeared under the title, “Asesinan a Atilo Román, Líder de los Picachos,” available at: http://riodoce.mx/gob-politica/asesinan-a-atilano-roman-lider-de-los-picachos.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ´Cuco´(Galia García Palafox, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared originally in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible, a collection of essays about murdered or disappeared Mexican journalists, by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’
By Galia García Palafox (Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Cuco is the story about a boy who wanted to be a journalist.

He hadn’t finished secondary school but Manuel Gabriel needed to work to take money home. He got a job cleaning the house of Araceli Shimabuko, a journalist in his town.

Araceli stopped him from cleaning and set him to hand out the magazine she edited, Paisajes. He took a taxi every day from his neighborhood to the center of town. While she reported he distributed the magazine to government offices. It was the closest he had been to these two worlds: inside and behind the scenes at the town hall, a view from afar of its mayor, some press conference or other when he went with Araceli. Her secretary, that’s what some officials and journalists called him.

After work they ate something or met with other reporters. Manuel Gabriel was fascinated. He became friends with journalists in Acayucan, a town of 83,000 residents in the south of the state of Veracruz. He didn’t skip the opportunity of going with somebody covering an accident, a fire or a fight. Manuel Gabriel knew immediately what the news world wanted, especially when it came to the police blotter.

He started helping journalist friends collect information, making visits to the public prosecutor, taking photos. One day he came home with a newspaper in his hands. His parents and his brother, Ricardo, could hardly believe it: at home Manuel Gabriel was known as José and in the news world somebody nicknamed him ‘Cuco,’ and he had published a story. He was a sixteen-year old reporter.

From that moment on his parents asked him to take care with what he published. He mustn’t get himself in trouble.

Somehow he got hold of an old, roll camera. He took photos and he took the roll to be developed. From a cybercafé he sent photos and news to magazines where he had begun to work.

One day he went to El Diario of Acayucan. He asked to speak with its owner. He didn’t want to talk with anybody else. Marcos Fonrouge, chief editor, dealt with him. He had heard talk about him. He had read him. Cuco wanted work and there was a position open for a reporter covering the crime beat. The job was his.

Fights between drunkards, men who beat people, car crashes. Cuco covered those stories. “They all made him proud,” Fonrouge says. Night and day he looked for an exclusive. He took it for granted he would get it. “Hey, I have the exclusive,” that’s what he said to reporter colleagues when he met them. He spent nights in police stations or in the public prosecutor’s office to get the scoop. He got home early in the morning.

Don Juan, his father, remembers that some days he only used to come home to change clothes after a visit to the morgue, to get rid of the smell of a body. Other times they didn’t used to see him at home until dawn. “He used to get home when we were all asleep, at one a.m., two in the morning. He used to bring us memelas [akin to a tostada (hard tortilla) with savory toppings] and empanadas and he got us all up to eat,” says Ricardo, his little brother. “He used to tell us that he had seen dead people or accidents.” He used to tell, he tells. He used to arrive, he arrives. He was, he is. Everybody who talks about Cuco changes verb tenses. Not Cuco used to be, no: Cuco is.

Cuco liked the dead. On one occasion his boss sent him to cover a social meeting of lawyers. Cuco returned with photos so bad that Fonrouge knew that it was his way of telling him that he did not want to be sent to cover events that weren’t part of the crime beat.

After a spell at El Diario of Acayucan, Cuco went to El Mañanero, a new daily with five reporters and a circulation of three thousand issues. He graduated from film to a digital camera. He used to show it off to people who wanted to see. And he showed it off to those who did not want to see it, too.

Saturday 17 September 2011 was his day off. In the morning he played cards with his brother. Five peso hands. He didn’t have any luck at the cards. He lost.

Ricardo went to play football. Cuco went to El Mañanero’s offices to collect his pay. He spoke with his boss for a few minutes. He told him he was going to eat some tamales nearby. Cuco was always ready to party.

That night he didn’t return home to sleep. His father went to look for him. He did not find him. In the newspaper they were waiting for his Sunday stories. They never arrived. His phone went straight to voicemail.

On Monday his father went to ask at the newspaper. The journalists had begun to mobilize. A group went to look for him in a neighboring town where a party was rumored to have taken place. There was no sign of Cuco. Another group met in an ice cream parlor to decide what to do. One of them called a deputy prosecutor and they filed a complaint. They started to investigate: did anybody see him in the park with a friend on Saturday night? Another said that he had been at the morgue. Did a witness see him get into a car with a sandwich seller? It wasn’t a sandwich seller but the hotdog seller. Rumors and rumors. Criminal investigations. More rumors. Nothing convincing.

El Mañanero has a policy of not publishing news about criminal groups who might endanger its workers. Cuco had not published anything compromising. Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Maybe they weren’t going for him. Maybe he opened his mouth too much. Maybe he fell in with bad company. More rumors.

 

Journalist Galia García Palafox is editor in chief at Milenio Digital. She has reported for news outlets in the United States and Mexico and graduated with a Master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism. This article was first published under the title, “Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’,” and is available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=84:manuel-gabriel-fonseca-hernandez#.VANQzWSwLBw.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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