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The Tarahumara Mountains: Migrant Death Camps (PATRICIA MAYORGA)

Proceso published this report on 14 December 2015. It has been translated in anticipation of Patricia Mayorga 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 and months so that English readers can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist. At least 8 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – Patrick Timmons 

The Tarahumara Mountains: Migrant Death Camps
Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)


Migrants at the Julio Ornelas Station (Photo: Proceso)

They make them eat rotten meat. They beat them until they lose consciousness. They watch over them so they won’t escape. They stop them from washing. They do not earn a cent. These are the forced labor campus in the Tarahumara Mountains. It’s a place where drug traffickers dump migrants and exploit them after they have stolen their freedom.

Proceso managed to interview three of the survivors of these camps: Adrián, Mauricio and Aurelio. Their stories reveal a perfectly placed hell on earth, organized and sustained by the authorities.

“Welcome to hell!”

“Welcome to hell! In a moment we are going to introduce you to the devil!” they tell the migrants who get out at the Julio Ornelas train station. While they “invite” them to “work” they beat them.

Julio Ornelas is located in Guazapares, adjacent to Urique. These two municipalities border the state of Sinaloa, near the Golden Triangle where the states of Chihuaha, Sinaloa, and Durango come together.

That’s where Adrián was recruited. He’s restless but happy and comes from Baja California. He is 22 years old and talks about what he has already lived through. “When I was deported from the U.S., the authorities told us we were going to be taken to Ciudad Acuña in Coahuila. They told us it was a new system of migratory control so that we don’t try to cross the U.S. border again: leaving us far from where we are from so that we have to battle to go back.”

They arrived at the migrant refuge in two buses full of deportees. Adrián joined five other people who had been deported and he separated himself from them along the way. He only received a quarter of what the bus trip cost because in that month, September, Coahuila had gone through a natural disaster and the state had to direct funds to the people who had been affected.

They managed to get to Torreón in vehicles. Then they walked to Durango. Later they were put on a truck bound for Chihuahua.

“On September 15th we slept by the train tracks in Chihuahua. The other two guys began to smoke marijuana. The train left early in the morning. I parted ways with them and joined up with another. There were many people by the train tracks but only three of us got on the train. One was about 30 years old and came from Chihuahua. The other was from Hermosillo.”

They fell asleep and hours later they woke up to an AK-47 in their faces. “They poked us in the ribs with another gun. It was like five in the morning. They got us up by saying terrible things: “Move it you sons of bitches.”

Three men had stopped the train. Previously they had placed colored flags to tell the engineer to stop.

“They were youngsters just like us. One was the leader’s son … they forced other people out of different boxcars. We didn’t know what they were going to do. We were seven. One old man refused to go. I thought they were soldiers but they didn’t search us. They forced me out with a bayonet and gave me a kick.”

They walked for a day and a half towards the camp. They walked through a town called Tojabó. That’s where they think the food came from for the band of criminals.

They were forced from the train. Then they were told that they were going to make a “stop” for “a marijuana break.” They would pay them 200 pesos a day. They never received the money. “They told us that when we arrived they were going to butcher a cow. They did that. But the carcass was rotten and filled with worms. There was no way to negotiate with them. Iron or lead, that’s what they told us.”

On the way to the camp they saw many ranches and camps. They saw women who were walking and who were all bloody. “It was their time of the month. We did not speak to them. We almost did not see them. They did not let anybody wash or change their clothes. Sometimes we could bathe if we passed through an arroyo but no more than that.”

“Now I’m going to introduce you to the ‘devil,’ said the son of the thug in charge. They had arrived.

He received them dressed in military fatigues and he warned them: “Whoever escapes will not find freedom. We control these hills. This is not the only camp.”

Adrián was not accustomed to fieldwork. He had to learn. But he suffered physical abuse because he would not give in like the others. “One time they almost broke my arm.”

For almost three months Adrián prepared the fields where they planted poppies and marijuana. They even grew tobacco.

“They fed us bean soup. They spooned us animal feed. Sometimes it was animal feed gruel, or milk whey, or a broth of bones. The thugs ate well. They stole livestock, mostly cows for their meals. We only smelled them grilling meat.”

After six weeks soldiers arrived in a helicopter. “We already had a plot of marijuana drying. I ran away. I did not know if they had landed or if they had arrived and established a cordon. I ran all afternoon. That was my first escape attempt. The next day I awoke after taking shelter under a boulder. I knew that I had no other option but to go back.”

“I went back frightened. I knew they were going to hit me for leaving. I saw that the soldiers had cut down several trees so the helicopter could land.” Only two of the six who had arrived with Adrián made it back. They were from Sinaloa, Honduras, Aguascalientes, Torreón and Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, a town in Chihuahua.

The soldiers did not burn all of the drugs. They left half intact. The forced labor continued.

The three interviewees say that the leader comes from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, employed by the cartel carrying that state’s name.

Mauricio arrived after the next trip to press-gang more migrants. He is 27 years old and comes from the state of Chihuahua. They also forced him to get out at the Julio Ornelas station. He was trying to get back home. He had left from the Sufragio station in Los Mochis in Sinaloa.

Target Practice

At the camp there is a cabin for the overseers. But the workers sleep under a tree with the chickens. They give some of them a blanket but others have to wrap themselves up in jackets or just the clothes they have. They take their worn out shoes or sneakers away from them during the night so they won’t escape.

At the first crow of the cock, around five in the morning, they have to be ready, with their blankets folded. When the cock crows again they can eat a spoonful of soup. With the third cockcrow, that’s when work begins.

Adrián has brushed up against death. He survived target practice. When one of the bosses became angry because somebody tried to escape he took three or four of them and put a bottle filled with water on their heads. It was target practice. He shot at them one by one. If he hit the bottle they were all saved and they deserved to live. If not, they killed them.

Sick of the insults and the beatings, Adrián tried to flee but the dogs stopped him. The punishment: target practice. When it was his turn the bullet missed. But he was saved.

Mauricio heard that one of the men who arrived with another group was killed. “They showed me where they burned him. There were some bones. They told me that the bosses threw a man off the cliff that made cheese for them. He had stolen a cheese. One of the guys told me that we were surviving thanks to the three or four tortillas they gave us each day.”

“They treated us rudely. They always hit us on the back with a club. One boss almost broke my right arm. It was swollen. I could not carry firewood or bales of marijuana,” says Mauricio.

Adrián finishes what the other was saying. “Mauricio was working in the field and it was easier for him. But all of it was humiliating. What they wanted to do was kill your self-esteem.”

Mauricio continues, “We only talked about what we were going to do when we got out of there. We all said that the person who made it out had to say where we were, to do something for the rest of us.”

The three told Proceso about their experiences in Ciudad Chihuahua. That’s where they received support from the civil society organization Uno de Siete Migrantes (One of Seven Migrants).

The Tarahumara Mountains turned into a hidden training camp for killers, a center of forced labor to plant marijuana, a hell for migrants deported from the United States and who had to ride the rails in cargo trains.

Although they seem invisible to people in the state capital, hundreds of Mexican and Central American migrants arrive in Ciudad Chihuahua to ride the cargo train that runs through the mountains towards the state of Sinaloa.

On December 4th, Chihuahua’s Attorney General received a complaint for people trafficking from Mauricio. He decided to file a complaint because that’s what he promised his still enslaved friends.

On different dates, three of the migrants mentioned climbed into boxcars at the Sufragio station in El Fuerte Municipio. They were trying to make it to Sinaloa. They were forced from the train in Julio Ornelas station in Guazapares township before they made it to Sinaloa.

Like them, dozens of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras had been held by force. Several managed to flee but fear paralyzed them and stopped them from filing a complaint.

The Escape

Near the camp were two hills that served as reference points. One was Tojabó mountain and the other El Manzano, where there is an airstrip.

Adrián and Mauricio agreed to flee when they sent them to milk the cows, an activity that took around an hour. They walked away from the Tojabó village and its five or six houses.

They walked for more than a day. They arrived at La Guáchara ranch. They asked a family for help. They gave them food and offered them work for three days in marijuana fields but with better treatment. They managed to get a ride to Cerocahui in Urique municipality.

The mining town of Cerocahui is guarded by lookouts from the Sinaloa cartel but with bosses different from those of Guazapares. “When we got out from the truck, they found us and questioned us. We told them the truth because we already knew that they came from a different group. It was like a survival instinct. They offered us work. They told us it was voluntary and that we could be there for two weeks to decide if we wanted to stay there or not. They were armed but not with long guns,” Mauricio remembers.

They took us to another hill where there were indigenous adolescents from about 14 to 17 years old. They were from the region. They just had to move the irrigation from one marijuana field to another. They gave them food and allowed them to prepare what they want. It was like a dream. They treated them well.

They soon figured out that the armed men went into the hills to recruit youngsters for their training camps. “They give them weapons and they go to attack another territory and make them shoot. The ones that can’t shoot well they leave until they learn.”

On November 20th, when there were festivals in Cerocahui and Bahuichivo (both places have cartel bosses), one indigenous person from the region said they wouldn’t let them go and it was still forced labor. He showed them how they could escape.

They left Cerocahui for Bahuichivo by walking. They hitched a ride to San Rafael and from there they got to Ciudad Chihuahua. They went to the train tracks where they found food and were interviewed by members of the organization, Mas de Siete Migrantes (More than Seven Migrants), who offered them legal, psychological and economic aid while they stayed in the city to file their complaint with the Attorney General.

On December 4th, Adrián filed his complaint and returned to where he comes from. Mauricio also went back to where is from. Aurelio has left for the United States with the intention of rejoining his family.

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. His articles have appeared in the Texas Observer, CounterPunch and NACLA. He collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a new group formed by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.


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.


Evil Commander, Javier Valdez Cárdenas

[From RíoDoce, published on October 12, 2014.]


From a distance he saw the commander abusing some farmers so he shouted at him. As he approached the officer he continued having a go at him. What are they doing to you? Don’t mistreat ordinary people! Just because you’re in a squad car and you’re armed and wearing that uniform. If you want to accuse them of something well detain them and take them to the prosecutor. But don’t go around insulting them and messing with them.

The commander looked at him, face furrowed. The deep lines appeared on his face at the moment when he reacted to the man who was stopping him from taking his anger out on the farmers. Putting heat on them wasn’t even worth the few notes in their pockets.

He saw the truck the unknown shouter got into. He felt offended, brought low. With his power interrupted in front of other police officers, in front of those lowlifes he always saw as enemies, the point men for the other narcos, the criminals with power, angry and cornered for all the security operations underway.

He took a note of the license plate and asked an officer to investigate. I want to know who that bastard is. It wasn’t a huge deal: just an honest man who delivered building materials, who sometimes had money and at other times couldn’t even afford to eat or to pay for his children’s school. A businessman and a bricklayer, a driver, freighter, seller and distributor, with two employees in his pay. He was also a brave citizen, upright and dignified.

One afternoon the man’s loader broke down. He went to a nearby city with one of his workers to replace the broken piece. In the repair shop they told him it cost five thousand pesos. Big money. He went to look for a used one and he found it for fewer than two thousand. Some guys he knew invited him for a beer: no thanks man, I don’t drink when I am working. The engine’s still running.

He moved off in the truck. He came across a roadblock. What are they going to stop me for? They’ll run their eyes over the truck, ask me for identification, papers. That’s what he thought. He said it’ll be two minutes and we’ll be off. A witness said that they made him get out. They opened the truck’s seats with knives, stripped the dashboard and beat it all up. They were looking for drugs, weapons. They did not find anything, but they took the men off. Handcuffed, hunched over, made small. That’s how they put them in the patrol car.

Two days later they found them. They were in the same truck, in an irrigation ditch. Handcuffed. Their feet tied together. There clothes were ripped. Bruises on their heads and bodies.

The witness said the man at the front of the roadblock was the same commander the man confronted for abusing the farmers. It was the same uniform, the same squad car. They called him Evil Commander.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on October 12, 2014. 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 Blog, The Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.





$$ – MxJTP for a training at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

If you’ve enjoyed reading these pro bono translations this year, perhaps you’ll consider making a donation to a crowdfunding appeal to send me on a human rights course in Washington, DC?

The whole purpose of this project is to try to advance against impunity for the murders and disappearances of Mexican journalists.

And, if you have read something about me, you’ll know that I have worked on the journalists’ murders for the last three years. I’ve been working on human rights in Mexico since at least 2000, and publishing since at least 2002. This commitment is long term.

I’m crowdfunding via Indiegogo for US$850 to send me on a two-day course about journalists and human rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Please click on the link to DONATE or spread the word!

Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

The disappearance and murder in Veracruz from February 5 through 11 of local journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz remains mired in controversy.

In mid February, after Jiménez’s murder, a group of journalists traveled to Veracruz and investigated the authorities’ response to the journalist’s killing. On March 19, the group, called Misión de Observación, published the findings of its unprecedented investigation in a report called “Gregorio: Asesinado por informar” (Gregorio: Murdered for Reporting). Their report documented Jiménez’s disappearance and murder, the state’s ineffective response, and the less-than-supportive working conditions of his newspapers in southern Veracruz.


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“We Demand the Return of the Kidnaped Mexican Journalist” (EL PAÍS)

This article was published in El País on 10 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

“We demand the return of the kidnaped Mexican journalist.”

By El País Mexico Reporters

– Colleagues from around the world show their support via social media for abducted reporter Gregorio Jiménez

Five days algo some gunmen took journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz from his home in the Mexican state of Veracruz. His whereabouts have been unknown since then. Colleagues across the world have expressed their solidarity with his situation and that of local journalists whose reporting threatens criminal groups. Using hashtag #QueremosVivoaGoyo,  thousands of messages have flooded social media, demanding his freedom and insisting that the authorities fulfil their responsibility to find him using all the means at their disposal. In the last decade, 29 reporters have been killed in Mexico. No case has resulted in a guilty sentence.

Goyo Jiménez (40) works as a freelance reporter in the city of Coatzacoalcos – in southeast Mexico – for two regional dailies, Diario Notisur and El Liberal del Sur. But the outpouring of solidarity from the media has quickly gone beyond the state’s borders. On Sunday, messages multiplied on Twitter and Facebook, many of them directed at Javier Duarte, governor of Veracruz, and Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. The messages called for colleagues to post pictures of Jiménez and videos demanding his release. Journalists have become protagonists in a news story demanding Goyo’s wherabouts, but they also want to stop the persecution and harassment of their colleagues. Pictures began to arrive from farther afield than Coatzalcoalcos: not only Juárez, Tamaulipas, and Mexico City… but also from Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, Germany, the United States and Egypt.

This Monday, the mobilization moved from the web, pushing out onto the streets, particularly in some Veracruz cities. Coatzacoalcos, Xalapa – the state capital – and Veracruz, among the most well known places. The web campaign has not stopped and the hashtag has turned into #HastaQueAparezcaGoyo (Until Goyo Reappears), a phrase that distills the reasons for the protest. Whether on the web or in the streets, the campaign will continue even when the news is part of yesterday’s paper.

Periodistas de a pie, a grass-roots association of Mexican reporters, has put its resources behind the case. The organisation has distributed the journalist’s image on a red background bearing the words, “We want Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz back alive.” Journalists from Peru, Chile, Ecuador and El Salvador, among other countries, responded to the call. They posted photos of themselves beside Goyo’s image. The lack of safety for reporters is an endemic problem throughout many Latin American countries.

Argentine reporters at Infojus Noticias posted a photo of themselves with each member holding up the Mexican reporter’s image and a message of support: “We want Goyo back alive.” Carlos Dada, an editor at El Faro; Alejandra Xanic, a Pulitzer prize-winning Mexican journalist; Jacobo García, El Mundo’s correspondent; and Peruvian journalist Jacqueline Fowks, an EL PAÍS contributor, voiced their support for the campaign. Father Alejandro Solalinde, the Mexican priest dedicated to the protection of Central American migrants crossing the country to reach the United States, is yet one more person who has put his voice to the campaign.

Article 19 – an organisation that documents abuses and threats against media workers – issued a press release demanding that the Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) must take charge of investigating Jiménez’s disappearance. The organisation also asked for measures to protect reporters in the area “after signs from a group of the region’s reporters confirming that, in the aftermath of Gregorio Jiménez’s enforced disappearance, adequate conditions do not exist to practice journalism.”

EL PAÍS’s team of Mexico reporters has joined the campaign with a video in support of Gregorio Jiménez.

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.

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Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking in Michoacán, Mexico (Paula Chouza, El País)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País on 31 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking
by Paula Chouza (El País)

“Michoacán’s violence comes from shared blame”

– The pastor fights against drug trafficking in the Mexican city of Apatzingán

Father Adrián Alejandro Chávez (Tepalcatepec, Mexico, 1979) was studying law in Rome when abuses by organized crime began to wear down the population of the Tierra Caliente, in southern Mexico’s violent State of Michoacán. “When I left – in 2010 – the cartels were fighting each other.” On 24 February 2013, residents of neighboring townships decided to take up arms because of “the authorities’ inaction.” Father Adrián is the priest in the cathedral of Apatzingán, a city of 80,000 people, the economic heart of the region, and the stronghold of the Knight’s Templar, a group formed in 2011 after a split from La Familia Michoacana. “When I returned [from Rome] a few months later, the atmosphere had changed completely.” His family hails from Tepalcatepec, one of the townships that decided to take things into their own hands. “As we have said in several published letters, the Church opposes violence, from whichever side.” For this reason, the priest does not support the militia movement of armed civilians.

In a chat in his office after enjoying an uchepo (a maize tamal served with milk) from a street stall in front of the Cathedral, Father Adrián says that over the past decade Apatzingán’s people have borne the brunt of drug trafficking violence. “They’ve managed to put themselves in every institution because they resolved problems rather than the government. They have taken power everywhere but the Church. They don’t leave us alone.”

“We are suffering the consequences of shared guilt,” recognizes Alejándrez Chávez. “Blame doesn’t just rest with the government but also with the Church and civil society. We’re used to staying silent, covering things up. Many of these people were baptized and they took the catechism. They are part of the problem, yes, but they aren’t alone. For example, in the community these people helped build a basketball court and that shut the neighbors up. It’s just too easy. When the government began to negotiate, that’s when things worsened. We were all wrong,” he admits.

Apatzingán’s diocese has been threatened because it dared speak out against the violence. Some of the priests officiating at mass have for months tried to reassure themselves by wearing bulletproof vests. “I can’t really go on talking about God and about life when everything stinks of death,” he told the press a few days ago. “Yes, death is all around,” ponders the priest during our interview, “but I do believe that we must continue talking about God. Statements like the one I made to the media come from being worn out, from listening day in and day out to violent stories: disappeared family members, rapes, beheadings, or dismemberments. I don’t justify why people think like that, but I do understand it.”

This pattern of painful stories repeats itself throughout the region’s townships. Father Adrián heads up the recently created Compassion Pastoral, a 14-person group that accompanies victims’ families. The priest confirms that Michoacán’s situation has forced people to seek refuge in the institution. “The Church is packed. Our membership has increased.”

Journalist Paula Chouza reports from Mexico for El País. Follow her on Twitter @pchouza. This story first appeared in the series, “Desayuno con… Adrián Alejándrez, Vicario en lucha contra el narcotráfico,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities (Luis Pablo Beauregard, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities
by Luis Pablo Beauregard (EL PAÍS)

–       State prosecutors act on criminal complaint about 2013 allegations

The Attorney General of the State of Chiapas (in southeast Mexico, bordering Guatemala) on Tuesday ordered V.S. to give a statement about allegations of extortion. The person under investigation is the sister of Sandra de los Santos and Patricia Chandomi, two journalists critical of state authorities led by Governor Manuel Velasco of the Partido Verde and the PRI. One of the accused’s sisters has called it “an intimidating tactic” since officials have only just begun to investigate a criminal complaint dated June 2013.

Sandra de los Santos edits the webpage Chiapas Paralelo, a leftist electronic media outlet. “The page is very outspoken. The truth is that they’ve tried to buy us off, but we haven’t been bought,” the editor said. This Tuesday the website published an open letter to the governor. The text of the letter states, “there are a series of irregularities [in the judicial investigation]. The point of this action is to threaten the freedom of expression of Chiapas Paralelo’s staff.”

Authorities called V.S. to appear because she could be linked to a June 2013 attempt to extort by telephone. On those calls she is supposed to have asked for amounts from 400 pesos (USD$30) to 1,500 pesos (USD$113). De Los Santos commented the allegations are “groundless” because the alleged victim has not filed a complaint. A third party, assumed to be the father of the victim, made the complaint. “The person who allegedly carried out the extortion can’t be found and bank deposits or payments to V.S. don’t even exist,” states the letter’s text.

The crime is under investigation by the Prosecutor for High Profile Matters, charged with pursuing political cases or those of great social impact. “What’s this case doing with them?” Santos has asked. The reporter says that her 34-year old sister is a domestic help, and works as a receptionist in a business: “she has nothing to do with the media” and she’s neither linked to politics nor social activism. The letter states that the prosecutor, Raciel López Salazar, told them that the investigation was just “a routine matter.”

Article XIX – an NGO that oversees global freedom of expression issues – issued an alert on 25 January for judicial “harassment” against the family of De Los Santos. “The journalist sees this action as attempt to pressure both the outlet’s and her editorial line,” read the NGO’s alert.

This case isn’t the first attempt to intimidate journalists critical of Chiapas’s government. During Juan Sabines’s governorship (2006 – 2012), officials tried to link Isaín Mandujano, a reporter for newsweekly Proceso, with an attack on another journalist. They accused him of attempted homicide. Under pressure from national media outlets and human rights organs, the state’s prosecutor had to withdraw the charges, admitting that no evidence existed to link Mandujano with the case.

In November 2010 authorities detained a young reporter named Héctor Bautista after they received an anonymous tip off naming him as author of “negative comments that attempt to undermine good government.” The public prosecutor tried to tie Bautista to thousands of images of child pornography. Bautista was in charge of the webpage, dealing with touchy subjects for state authorities: the inexplicable increase in Chiapas’s public debt – in a few years it went from USD$66million to USD$1.8billion. The young reporter spent 40 days in prison and was freed only thanks to pressure from civil society.

Bautista’s and Mandujano’s cases occurred during the preceding governor’s administration. At that time, Raciel López was chief prosecutor. In Manuel Velasco’s administration López has continued in the post despite criticism identifying him as responsible for the persecution of journalists and political adversaries during Sabines’s governorship. Among other things, he is investigating 56 former officials.

At the beginning of this month, El País questioned Manuel Velasco about this controversial person. “He’s one of my security officials. We are one of Mexico’s three safest states. He’s not there to persecute anybody. During my first year we haven’t gone after anybody,” said the young governor.

This unofficial translation has used corrected dates concerning the alleged extortion in June 2013.

Journalist Luis Pablo Beauregard reports for El País from Mexico. This story first appeared with the title, “El Gobierno de Chiapas investiga a la familia de una periodista crítica,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.


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Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist, Félix Márquez (RevistaEra.Com)

This news brief first appeared in It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s note: The significance of this story lies in the fact that it documents the third break in and robbery at the home of a Veracruz journalist during January 2014. Earlier in the month, journalists Gabriela Lira and Raymundo León experienced similar acts in different cities, suggesting a modus operandi, maybe even a strategy. As one journalist working in Veracruz told me, “Something fishy is going on.” PT

Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist
by Revista Era, 30 January 2014

– Early in the morning of 30 January 2014 photojournalist Félix Marquez´s home was robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents

Veracruz, Ver.- The home of a Veracruz photojournalist was broken into this morning, and robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents.

The robbery took place early in the morning, when the family noticed that the house had been broken into.

After reporting the robbery, the Naval Police took an hour to arrive. The Veracruz journalist already filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general, in the hope of finding out who was responsible.

This is not the first time that Veracruz media workers have been robbed in their homes of their personal equipment. The same happened to Regina Martínez, Proceso’s correspondent, who was killed in her home. The same happened to Andrés Timoteo, Notiver columnist and former correspondent for the Jornada, who currently lives out of the state.

A number of journalists working in the state have expressed sympathy for the photojournalist, taking to social media networks, demanding punishment for those responsible.

Félix Márquez is a photojournalist with Cuartooscuro, Associated Press, and a collaborator of various media outlets within the state, including Revista Era. He shot the photos of Tlalixcoyan that proved the existence of militia in the state. These photos provoked threats from the then head of public safety, Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, who said he wanted Márquez imprisoned.

– Tlalixcoyan joins the militia

– Urban militia, a new strategy

This news article was published by, a digital magazine from Veracruz, under the title “Asaltan casa de fotoperiodista #Veracruz,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

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Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (José Miguel Vivanco, Op-ed, El País)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
by José Miguel Vivanco (HRW / Op-Ed El País)

–        Jailing a journalist for informing about the obvious maladministration of public property sets a regrettable precedent

With the stroke of a pen, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights led by Judge Diego Garciá-Sayan has jeopardized both freedom of expression and basic guarantees in criminal procedure. Within the region, institutional weakness is the norm, so the judgment amounts to a serious reversal that will weaken rights and fundamental freedoms. But it also makes the fight against corruption more difficult, and that’s a battle we continue to lose.

In a recent judgment – decided by a narrow majority – the Court has backtracked on important precedents it has defended for years. Three of the seven judges cast valuable votes that show deep divisions exist at the Court.

The regrettable decision in Mémoli v. Argentina deals with a criminal sentence against a journalist who informed about the evident maladministration of public property. Pablo Mémoli, editor of a newspaper in a small city in the province of Buenos Aires, warned that a private society had sold public property belonging to the town. Thanks to the news, the justice system intervened. Those affected by, and who learned of, the illegitimate sale recovered their money. Surprisingly, the same judge who canceled the contracts decided that the society’s directors had acted unaware that the public property did not belong to them.

In a strange twist, the only ones tried for these facts were those who spread the news. Mémoli was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to five months in prison. His father, who belonged to the society and had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities, was sentenced to a month in prison. As if that weren’t enough, the criminal sentences imposed a lien on the Mémolis’ property and also made them liable for suit in civil jurisdiction.

In 2008 – in the case of Kimel v. Argentina – the Inter-American Court decided that its criminal defamation law was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights. For the Court, the crime’s definition was ambiguous, violating the legal principle that criminal behavior must be precisely stated. As a result of the Court’s judgment in Kimel, Argentina decriminalized slander and libel when the offensive statements referred to subjects of public interest.

In this case the Court should have required that the Mémolis – guilty for a crime now inexistent in Argentina – benefit from the principle that when one law is more favorable to the accused than another, the more favorable should apply. However, without any reasonable explanation, and going against the grain of its jurisprudence, the Court backtracked, validating the criminal sentence and its effects.

This case centered on freedom of expression, and the Court redefined that right in ways that pale in comparison to its precedents. For example, for the majority of judges, the maladministration of public property did not pass the public interest test; or, still more serious, the continent’s highest human rights court gave its blessing to criminalizing opinion. The four judges in the majority never even asked if the Mémolis’ complaints were truthful – according to its own jurisprudence truthful statements can´t be considered offensive. For the Court, the sentence against the journalist did not violate his right to freedom of expression, and he was denied relief.

In a Court hearing, Catalina Botero, the Organization of American States (OAS) Freedom of Expression Rapporteur, argued that the sentence against the Mémolis “discourages [freedom of speech] and encourages juridical uncertainty” suggesting that it affects “hundreds of journalists in the region who are now more defenseless.”

Thankfully – and perhaps because it wasn’t a part of this litigation – the Inter-American human rights jurisprudence still stands that decriminalizes insulting public officials, protecting criticism of them.

It’s very sad that García-Sayán’s Court has cast aside the established jurisprudence built on the sacrifices of those who have risked themselves to rein in official abuse about matters of public interest. In the Americas those who can regularly intimidate judges, so the Court has deprived the region of a key tool to fight against the abuse of power and corruption.

Human rights defender José Miguel Vivanco is executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013 bearing the title, “El Tribunal de las Américas Retrocede en la Libre Expresión,” available at

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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