Journalists in exile: The other victims of drugs war in Mexico

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Photograph courtesy of Luis Horacio Nájera
About the author: Luis Horacio Nájera, a Mexican journalist now living in British Colombia, wrote the following article for CJFE about the growing problem of Mexican journalists being forced into exile. Luis is a veteran journalist who reported for Reforma media group in Ciudad Juarez and other hotspot areas along the Mexican-US border. Throughout his career he has dedicated himself to investigating politically sensitive issues ranging from government corruption to the trafficking of drugs, people and weapons, until fears for his life and his family's safety forced him to seek asylum in Canada. While waiting for approval of his permanent residency status, Luis has taken part in many speaking engagements both in Canada and abroad about the situation in Mexico and being a journalist in exile. He has also used his skills and experience to help train journalists in other countries. In 2010, Luis was a co-winner of CJFE’s International Press Freedom Award, along with fellow Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto. On June 7, it was announced that Luis would receive the Scotiabank/CJFE Journalism Fellowship, hosted by Massey College. The eight-month program provides an opportunity to enhance inter-American understanding and promote dialogue through an exploration of current issues in journalism and free expression. CJFE is thrilled that Luis was selected for the Fellowship, and hopes that this opportunity will help further Luis’ career in Canada. For more information, please read our press release.
The war on drugs in México has claimed more than 35,000 lives, including several journalists - some of them my close friends. Actually, while I was writing this piece, news agencies reported the location of a clandestine grave which concealed a body. The body was later identified as missing journalist Noel López Holguín. This murder, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, raises to 33 the number of journalist assassinations during the conservative government of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), and confirms the country as one of the world`s most dangerous for reporters. In a report released by PEN Canada about Mexico’s war on journalists, they stated the number of Mexican journalists murdered could be as high as 66. However, those scary figures reflect only just one of the many faces this conflict has as a whole. The other side of this story, which is covered less, even by the media, is the high number of displaced people within the country and outside. People are being forced into exile due to their fear of being killed, having been attacked, or because they lost their jobs due to violence. Again, journalists are among those most affected by this issue. These - the exiled - are the other victims of drugs war in Mexico. A report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre citing independent surveys states that 230,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. It is estimated at least half of those crossed the border into US, and the other half fled to other cities within Mexico. But, as with other statistics relating to violence in Mexico, the exact number of media workers living in exile is unknown. From the state of Chihuahua alone, it is known that two reporters are now living in Spain, three in US and two in Canada, as well as others who have moved into cities inside Mexico. There are similar reports from the states of Morelos, Coahuila, Guerrero and Tamaulipas; they each have a high number of displaced journalists after receiving death threats or suffering some kind of aggression. I am just one of those hundreds of thousands of Mexicans forced into exile. I am a journalist and unfortunately, as others colleagues have done, I had to leave everything behind to keep myself and my family alive. The Other Exile Leaving the country or the city is not the only type of exile that journalists face in Mexico. Unemployment is another form of exile. Due to the violence against reporters, local and national media groups are using outsourcing companies to subcontract journalists. This allows them to avoid legal responsibilities such as medical, legal or even funeral benefits if an attack or an assassination occurs. An example is Karla Tinoco-Santillán, who, after receiving death threats for her job as a reporter in the northern state of Durango, was fired by the newspaper where she worked as a subcontractor without any benefits. Once she left the company, none of the local media would hire her. It seems that no one wanted to take any risk. Sadly, Karla's case is quite common among journalists, as well as the voluntary resignations of journalists after being exposed to any kind of violence. With no job, psychological support or protection these experienced and talented media workers face an uncertain future, in an uncertain country. Yes, we the exiled journalists have a new chance, but the price that we have to pay in such countries as Canada and the United States, or within the Mexican borders, is high in terms of sweat and tears. Especially tears.
Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, the co-recipient of CJFE’s 2010 International Press Freedom Award, also wrote about his experience as a journalist in exile. Emilio was a correspondent for the Ascension bureau of El Diario, a daily newspaper based in Ciudad Juarez in the North-Western border state of Chihuahua. After writing a number of stories that offended the Mexican military he was forced to flee Mexico in June 2008 with his son and requested asylum in the United States. He spent seven months in an immigration and customs detention center before being released on bond. He is currently awaiting his asylum hearing.
De pronto, la aspiración de preservar la vida se convirtió en rejas. Aun así, la ola genocida calderonista no llego contra nosotros como hubiesen querido, Adan y Eva, tuvimos que caminar después de ser desterrados aunque ante la posibilidad de ser blanco del Estado Mexicano, en uno mas de sus crimenes contra personas. La separación obligada por autoridades migratorias, entre mi hijo yo, fue el preámbulo del testimonio diario de la impunidad, premisa de las ejecuciones sumarias que se dan por parte del Estado mexicano, sin importar edades, clases, posiciones políticas, y con la anuencia de quienes dicen preservar el Derecho universal de la vida en el país de las libertades. A casi tres anos de abandonar la Patria, negándonos a ser mártires de una estupidez convertida en "guerra contra el narco", somos parte de los miles de agraviados de un gobierno fallido, de una entidad carente de vergüenza. El derramamiento de la sangre de mas de 45 mil personas, no ha sido motivo de preocupacion oficial. Al contrario los embates del Estado mexicano se han ido acrecentando en contra de los periodistas, al grado de que un colega ha sido asesinado cada mes en los últimos 4 anos, y 15 mas, están desaparecidos; la impunidad reina de manera campante y promovida por el mismo gobierno. Ahora, con las vidas transformadas y en busca de la supervivencia, las autoridades migratorias obligan a un panorama incierto. Las solicitudes de Asilo Político, se regatean en los Juzgados Migratorios buscándose de ante mano, no otorgarse la posibilidad de la certidumbre y propiciando un limbo que desgasta diariamente el cuerpo, pero que ido fortaleciendo el alma y la aspiración de la vida. Por los colegas perdidos, ya se que no basta un minuto de silencio al ano por ellos; se merece una vida de lucha en búsqueda de la justicia, aunque esta sea esquiva. El Asilo a quienes hemos huido de la violencia mexicana generada por un gobierno ilegitimo y ansioso de tener poder se resiste, aunque la razón nos acompaña; las complicidades de los gobiernos de México y Estados Unidos prefieren los caudales de muertos a aceptar su fracaso en una insensata guerra. Mientras, la solicitud de Asilo Político, duerme plácidamente.
Read our alert to the Mexican government here. Photo above: Luis Horacio Nájera Photo below: Emilio Gutiérrez Soto

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.