Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

MEXICO: Murders of Reporters Heighten Despair and Shock

Daniela Pastrana

MEXICO CITY, Sep 2 2011 (IPS) - “And how do you escape this anxiety, this sensation that nothing we do does any good?” a Mexican journalist wrote on her Facebook page after the murder of two of her colleagues in Mexico City.

The brutal murders of Marcela Yarce, 48, and Rocío González, 48, rocked Mexico when their bodies were found Thursday.

Yarce was one of the founders of Contralínea, a political news magazine that regularly reports on government corruption, which has suffered constant harassment in recent years.

The two women were the first female journalists killed in the capital since the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón declared “war” on the drug trade and put the army on the streets shortly after taking office in December 2006.

“Mexican journalists are in mourning, not only because of these killings, but because of all of the murders committed against us,” the “Los Queremos Vivos” (We Want Them Alive) collective that organises protests against attacks on journalists, wrote in an open letter to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

The United Nations considers Mexico the third-most dangerous nation in the world for reporters.


The murders of Yarce and González also drew howls of outrage from other groups of reporters and women’s organisations, as well as politicians of all stripes. But, unlike in 2010, when indignation over the kidnapping of four reporters prompted the largest protest demonstration by journalists ever held in Mexico, what has prevailed this time is a sense of shock.

“Every day, something happens that is more appalling than what happened the day before,” one radio journalist wrote on Facebook. “We look at this with a sick stomach, thinking of our loved ones, of our country. Grief and rage. What do we do with this sad combination?”

By flinging the armed forces into the crackdown on drug trafficking cartels, Calderón has only worsened the spiral of violence. In the past four years, more than 40,000 people have been killed in increasingly grisly drug-related murders, 10,000 have been “disappeared”, 700,000 have been forced to flee their homes, and growing numbers of people have been injured, mutilated, widowed or orphaned.

In the last few weeks, however, the violence has spread to areas that until now had been relatively untouched by the horror.

On Aug. 20, a firefight outside a stadium in the northern state of Coahuila during the live broadcast of a football game led to a suspension of the match. On Aug. 25, 61 people were killed when the Casino Royale in the northeast city of Monterrey was set on fire by unidentified armed men. And now, two women reporters were killed in Mexico City.

Neither of the two was actually involved in reporting work at the time of their deaths. Yarce was head of public relations in Contralínea, and González, a former reporter for Televisa, Mexico’s largest television broadcaster, had a currency exchange business.

Their naked, bound and gagged bodies were found in a park in the poor neighbourhood of Iztapalapa, on the southwest side of the city, hours after their families had reported them missing. The two women had been beaten and strangled.

Clemencia Correa, a professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico City who specialises in the issue of fear management, said a “policy of terror” is being used to terrify society.

“It is very complex to talk about Mexico today. What we see is that a policy of terror is being implemented, at different levels, and that unlike in the past, when there were state policies against human rights defenders or social movements, now these things are happening to the population in general, in the context of structural impunity,” he said.

The consequences of the violence can be devastating for communities, because fear and despair cause a breakdown of the social fabric, said Verónica Martínez, who works at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and is also a member of the board at the International Organisation for Victim Assistance (IOVA).

“The logic of fear is a very powerful form of domination and social control, because it aggravates the loss of individual and social identity and causes paralysis, isolation and segregation,” she told IPS.

“This favours authoritarianism and legitimates the violation of human rights in the name of security,” she adds.

This has already started to happen. On Aug. 25, false information about members of an organised crime group allegedly shooting schoolchildren was posted on Twitter, causing panic in the Gulf of Mexico city of Veracruz and prompting 22 schools to send the children home early.

A day earlier, four women waiting to pick up their children were injured in an exchange of gunfire outside a school in Ciudad Juárez, a city on the U.S. border.

For that reason the rumour, which spread the next day on at least 17 Twitter accounts, caused chaos.

The day after the false information was spread, the authorities arrested two of the people who tweeted the rumour of possible attacks against children: Gilberto Martínez and María de Jesús Bravo.

On the same day she posted the rumour, Bravo, a journalist, clarified that the information was false.

Both are in prison accused of “terrorism and sabotage”, charges that bring sentences of between three and 30 years in jail.

On Wednesday Aug. 31, the legislature of the southern state of Tabasco followed the same route and approved a reform establishing prison sentences of six months to two years for spreading, by telephone or social networking sites, false rumours that cause panic and social chaos.

Article 19 – the International Centre Against Censorship issued a statement saying “before attacking twitterers, we encourage the governor to respect human rights, especially freedom of expression.

“The severe security crisis in Veracruz is not caused by Twitter posts, but by the incompetence of the authorities,” added the organisation, which is named after Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines collective violence as “the instrumental use of violence by people who identify themselves as members of a group – whether this group is transitory or has a more permanent identity – against another group or set of individuals, in order to achieve political, economic or social objectives.”

“The problem is that in Mexico, there are no studies yet on the social effects of this violence,” said Martínez.

Correa said the government’s position that society’s condemnation and demands for justice should be directed against criminal groups, rather than at the government, is aimed at confusing people.

“It would be absurd to demand justice from the criminals, because that would be like denying the rule of law,” he said.

“Demilitarisation doesn’t just mean pulling the army off the streets; it means dismantling a policy of terror that is causing great damage to society,” he said.

 
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