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Dismissal of acclaimed journalist Carmen Aristegui sparks outrage in Mexico

March 20, 2015

Widespread concern over media censorship and freedom of expression erupted across Mexico this week after the firing of Carmen Aristegui, one of the nation’s most respected journalists.

MVS Radio said it dismissed Aristegui, who hosted a hugely popular morning talk show, and her team of investigative reporters because they “compromised the name of the business” by lending their support to a new whistle-blowing platform without the company’s consent.

However, many in Mexico, including Aristegui herself, suspect the decision to fire her team was driven by pressure from a government that has been frequently embarrassed by their hard-hitting reporting.

A combative and influential reporter who also hosts a television show on CNN México, Aristegui was named the second most powerful woman in the country last year by Forbes México.

After being dismissed late on Sunday night, she gave a brief statement on Monday, affirming that her team, who work collectively under the name Aristegui Noticias, would be taking legal action to “fight for the freedom of expression” in Mexico.

Aristegui expanded upon her team’s position in a defiant press conference broadcast live on YouTube to more than 77,000 viewers on Thursday evening.

Although she admitted that she could not prove it, Aristegui said she suspects that the government intervened in a minor internal dispute that could have been resolved with a simple phone call in order to force her dismissal.

After proposing a meeting with the MVS owners on Monday and expressing her team’s desire to resume work “under the same conditions” as before, she ended the broadcast with a warning that Mexico is up against “an authoritarian machine” and is at serious risk of regression…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

Mexican reporters are in the firing line

March 17, 2015
Mexican journalist Karla Silva was brutally assaulted in her office last year.

Mexican journalist Karla Silva was brutally assaulted in her office in Guanajuato last year.

Ever since the Mexican government declared war on the nation’s drug cartels in late 2006, it has consistently been ranked among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

The constant threat of retaliatory violence against reporters who cover drug cartel activity has led many newspapers to censor themselves. This, along with the social media boom, has fuelled a wave of citizen journalism, with many Mexicans now reliant on brave but anonymous bloggers for local security news.

According to government statistics, 102 journalists were murdered in Mexico from 2000 until April 2014. At least another eight professional journalists were reportedly murdered and two more went missing since then, bringing the total number of reporters that were killed or disappeared last year to at least 14.

There is often a clear link between reporters’ work and their fates. In an investigation into the murder of 28 journalists in Mexico, non-profit organisation Committee to Protect Journalists found that 82 percent had covered crime, 32 percent had covered corruption and 18 percent had covered politics.

Although drug cartels are believed to be behind most murders, the lines between organized crime and corrupt officials are often blurred. Press-freedom watchdog Article 19 noted last year that public officials were allegedly responsible for 59.3 percent of the 330 documented acts of aggression against journalists and media outlets in Mexico in 2013.

While foreign correspondents are very rarely targeted, most victims are reporters at local or regional newspapers. The killings are heavily concentrated in five of Mexico’s most lawless states: Chihuahua, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Sinaloa.

With local outlets left with little recourse but to self-censor for their own safety, this has meant such areas become black holes for reporting. Citizen journalists have tried to cover the void through regularly updated blogs and social media accounts, but they too run huge risks.

Several bloggers have been murdered for writing about drug gangs in recent years, while “Lucy”, the mysterious female author of Mexico’s most read drug war site, Blog del Narco, has been forced into exile for her own protection.

Likewise, in late November, the anonymous administrator of Valor por Tamaulipas, a Facebook page with over 500,000 followers that provides security updates in the northern state, announced his retirement. The administrator, who had a price on his head courtesy of one of the cartels, said he was opting out for “personal reasons” although he has since resumed work on the site.

The previous month, one of his colleagues, María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, had been kidnapped and murdered. Her killers published images of her blood-splattered corpse on her Twitter account and warned others not to follow her example.

That gruesome spectacle was typical of the way that killers have sought to achieve maximum exposure in recent years, whether by hanging mutilated bodies from public bridges or posting grisly execution footage online.

Despite such horrific setbacks, Valor por Tamaulipas and many other sites keep on bravely publishing the latest gory news. But with little protection from authorities that are either unwilling or incapable of guaranteeing their safety, the future looks bleak for Mexican bloggers and journalists alike.

This paper has been published in Index on Censorship, Vol. 44, Issue 1 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All Rights Reserved. © [The Contributors]

Mexico stalls on polemic bill that critics say would privatize water

March 13, 2015
Environmentalists say the proposed bill would offer little protection against pollution of Mexico's water supply.

Environmentalists say the proposed bill would offer little protection against pollution of Mexico’s water supply.

After intense pressure from civil society, Mexico’s Congress has suspended discussion of a controversial bill that academics and NGOs say would effectively privatize the administration and distribution of water in the country.

Last week, Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, agreed to take the proposed General Water Law off the legislative agenda “until further notice” due to disagreement over the implications of the polemic bill.

Manlio Beltrones of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which proposed the new law, explained that the delay will be “for whatever time is necessary so that doubts and misinformation that certain politicians have taken up as their campaign, can be cleared up.”

Lawmakers from the PRI, its allies in the Green Party (PVEM), and the right-wing opposition National Action Party (PAN), had approved the bill at committee stage, but a coalition of leftist legislators then raised concerns that it would hand control of Mexico’s water supply over to the mining, energy and other corporate sectors.

Civil organizations and NGOs have asked lawmakers to reject the bill, with the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water slamming it as “unsustainable, unfair and discriminatory.”

Several environmental organizations have argued that the bill provides only the most minimal protection against the pollution of Mexico’s water supply, as well as enabling privatization of the resource and the use of water in fracking to extract shale gas…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

How effective is the Mexican government’s ‘kingpin strategy’?

March 6, 2015
Knights Templar kingpin Servando "La Tuta" Gomez was finally captured last Friday after an eight-month manhunt.

Knights Templar kingpin Servando “La Tuta” Gomez was finally captured in Morelia last Friday.

Mexican security forces captured the heads of two of the nation’s most feared and violent drug cartels in the last week, but security experts remain unconvinced of the effectiveness of the government’s strategy in the war on drugs.

For every capo the government brings down, several more spring up in his place like the snarling heads of a Hydra, while the cartels’ finances and the shady figures that protect them remain untouched.

This week’s arrests were the latest in a string of recent detentions and killings of key figures within the pseudo-religious Knights Templar cartel and the ultraviolent paramilitary group Los Zetas.

First, just as he was preparing to tuck into a chocolate cake to celebrate his 49th birthday, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, the last remaining figurehead of the Knights Templars, was arrested in Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacán, last Friday.

Then, early on Wednesday morning, Los Zetas boss Omar Treviño Morales was captured in a wealthy suburb of the northern city of Monterrey.

The Enrique Peña Nieto administration boasts an excellent record of bringing down Mexico’s most infamous gangsters, having also arrested almost all of the most prominent leaders of the Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, Tijuana, Beltrán Leyva and Guerreros Unidos cartels.

Most notably, the government recaptured Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug lord, 13 years after he escaped from a maximum-security prison, in February 2014.

The only major figures yet to be apprehended are Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Ramos, the head of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel; and Guzmán’s former partners in the Sinaloa Cartel: Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Juan José “El Azul” Esparragoza, who is rumored to still be alive following unconfirmed reports of his death last summer…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

Human rights crisis threatens to overshadow Mexican president’s visit to UK

March 3, 2015

Mexico-en-Reino-Unido-642x222

Mexico’s beleaguered President Enrique Peña Nieto touched down in London on Monday for a three-day state visit intended to strengthen trade and cultural ties between Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Peña Nieto’s arrival came with controversy in the UK, with some outlets in the British press expressing concern over the government’s decision to roll out the red carpet for the state visit, given the level of human rights abuses reported in Mexico. The Mexican president and First Lady Angelica Rivera will stay at Buckingham Palace and meet the queen and Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Tuesday, Peña Nieto and his wife are scheduled to visit Westminster Abbey and be treated to a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

Peña Nieto has been lauded on the international stage for passing an array of market-friendly reforms and jailing some of Mexico’s top drug lords, including Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, the head of the Knights Templar cartel, who was captured on Friday after an eight-month manhunt.

However, his image has been tarred by recent corruption scandals and the likely massacre of 43 teachers college students last September, which caused the United Nations to condemn Mexico’s record on forced disappearances last month.

The president was also embarrassed recently when Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu used his Academy Awards acceptance speech to implore that Mexico “find and build the government that we deserve”…

Click here to read this feature in full at VICE News.

Mexican civil society launches anti-junk food campaign to counter diabetes crisis

February 27, 2015
The Alliance for Healthy Food warns that one in three Mexican children will suffer from diabetes in their lifetime.

The Alliance for Healthy Food warns that one in three Mexican children will suffer from diabetes in their lifetime.

With one-third of Mexican children likely to develop diabetes during their lifetime, a group of civic associations known as the Alliance for Healthy Food have called for the removal of junk food and related marketing from children’s lives.

The Alliance for Healthy Food’s mass media campaign, entitled “What did your children eat today?” aims to raise awareness of this health crisis which is being fueled by excessive consumption of junk food and sugary drinks.

The campaign is targeted at parents, to encourage them to make better dietary choices for their children, and at lawmakers, to persuade them to pass more stringent legislation against junk food and sugary drink advertising that targets Mexican children.

“Government officials and legislators have a decisive role to play everywhere in safeguarding the future of children,” said Alejandro Calvillo of the consumer rights organization El Poder del Consumidor, one of more than 20 public interest organizations and social movements that comprise the Alliance for Healthy Food.

“When children see junk food and its pervasive marketing in every corner of their environment, and when the government and educators fail to inform consumers and children of the health risks of certain foods, we are failing our children,” Calvillo added.

Full-blown health crisis

Mexico has the highest rate of adult obesity in the world, with one third of all adults obese, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. One-third of children and seventy percent of adults are overweight or obese.

Estimates for the number of Mexicans killed by diabetes each year range from 70,000 to 100,000 – roughly the same number of people killed in Mexico’s war on drugs in the last eight years…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

Gruesome murders and threats of violence stalk Mexican activists

February 20, 2015

Two activists who had campaigned for justice and searched for the victims of forced disappearances were brutally murdered in Mexico’s troubled south this month.

Last Friday, 26-year-old Norma Angélica Bruno Román was shot dead in front of her three children at a cemetery in Iguala, the same city where 43 students were abducted by corrupt police officers last September.

She was a member of a citizen-led organization combing mass graves in this troubled area of Guerrero state in search of missing relatives.

Nine days earlier, Gustavo Salgado Delgado, a 32-year-old leader of the left-wing Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), was decapitated in the neighboring state of Morelos.

He had campaigned on behalf of migrant farmers from southern Mexico and played an active role in local demonstrations demanding the safe return of the 43 students from the rural teacher training college in Ayotzinapa.

As the disappearance of the students has spurred a huge protest movement, the Mexican government has repeatedly sought to bury the case, while police officers have infiltrated marches and even threatened to rape, murder and incinerate demonstrators.

The culprits were not apprehended in either of the recent killings and it is not yet clear whether either victim was targeted because of their work. Still, the murders are further evidence of the dangers that activists face across Mexico, especially in the country’s lawless south…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

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