Between a rock and a hard place: Mexico’s journalists face threats from cartels, the government and even each other
“I hope the government doesn’t give in to the authoritarian temptation to block internet coverage and start arresting activists,” Mexican blogger and activist Alberto Escorcia told Index on Censorship magazine.
Escorcia had just received a series of threats for writing an article about recent unrest in the country. The next day the threats against him intensified. Feeling trapped and unprotected, he began making plans to flee the country.
Many people are concerned about the state of freedom of expression in Mexico. A stagnant economy, a currency in freefall, a bloody drug war with no end in sight, a deeply unpopular president at home and the belligerent Donald Trump administration freshly installed in the USA across the border, these forces are all creating a squeeze in 2017.
One of the biggest tensions is Mexico’s own president. Enrique Peña Nieto’s four years in office have brought sluggish economic growth. There has also been resurgent violence and a string of corruption scandals. In January this year his approval ratings plummeted to 12%.
But when journalists have tried to report on the president and his policies they have come under fire…
Disinformation thrives in times of public anxiety. Soon after a series of reports on sinister clowns scaring the public in the USA in 2016, a story appeared in the Mexican press about clowns being beaten to death.
At the height of the clown hysteria, the little-known Mexican news site DenunciasMX reported that a group of youths in Ecatepec, a gritty suburb of Mexico City, had beaten two clowns to death in retaliation for intimidating passers-by. The article featured a low-resolution image of the slain clowns on a run-down street, with a crowd of onlookers gathered behind police tape.
To the trained eye, there were several telltale signs that the news was not genuine…
Despite being handcuffed at the wrists and flanked by Interpol agents, fugitive Mexican governor Javier Duarte wore a disconcerting grin moments after his arrest in Guatemala on Saturday. It was the smirk, many Mexicans observed, of a man accustomed to getting away with it.
Having allegedly embezzled 55 billion pesos ($2.97 billion) in public funds in just six years, the portly 43-year-old former governor of Veracruz state has come to personify the rampant corruption and impunity that plague Mexican politics. Yet analysts say his arrest, like that of Tomás Yarrington, another fugitive ex-governor captured in Italy six days earlier, is an example of “selective justice” that will do nothing to solve these deep-rooted problems.
Six months after fleeing the country with the alleged support of dozens of political allies, Duarte was caught at an exclusive hotel beside Lake Atitlán where he and his wife had been staying under false names and paying in cash. Duarte, who has always maintained his innocence, now faces extradition to Mexico, where he stands accused of money laundering and organized crime.
On Monday, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who had previously called Duarte his friend and lauded him as part of a “new generation” in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), called the arrests “a firm and forceful message from the Mexican state against impunity.”
Yet the Mexican public is not convinced. Both fugitives were captured in Interpol-led operations after managing to slip out of Mexico undetected. Duarte fled Veracruz in a government helicopter allegedly lent to him by his interim successor, while Yarrington reportedly had eight state police officers assigned to protect him even after five years on the lam…
The US, Mexico and Canada have submitted a joint bid to host the tournament. But is it a fair deal for fans across the three countries?
Would it have been better for Mexico to bid on its own?
It would have been a more popular move but also a riskier, more complicated path to take. Mexico would have been bidding against a formidable adversary in the US and would have been required to invest a lot more in organisation and infrastructure if it had won the bid on its own. A joint bid diminishes the risks of corruption and security problems — two major concerns in Mexico today. Co-hosting would also enable the involvement of millions of Mexicans who live north of the border, without excluding those at home.
Is it fair that the US gets most of the games?
It rankles with Mexicans that their country, which boasts a much richer footballing tradition than the US, is being treated as its junior partner. With tensions already running high between both nations during the Donald Trump era, the plans for Mexico to host just 10 out of 80 games and none from the quarter-finals onwards have come as a shock and another slap in the face to many Mexicans. Their enthusiasm dampened, some fans have even called on Mexico’s Football Federation to withdraw from the bid unless they are guaranteed more games. On the other hand, some have argued that the US could have launched a solo bid and still won, leading Mexico (and Canada) without any games…
Alongside four colleagues from Index on Censorship magazine, I took part in a panel on media censorship and freedom of expression this morning at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. I spoke about the many dangers and challenges facing journalists in Mexico today.
Machetes in hand, the indigenous Cocas are climbing the steep scrubby hills that overlook their territory. Young boys climb alongside elders while a trusty donkey carries their camping equipment. Other groups man outposts beside the entrances to Mezcala, the lakeside town their forefathers founded in the late 13th century, over 200 years before the Spanish arrived in Mexico.
They’re heading out on a unique voyage – bringing the community together to discuss their tactics against displacement. The men and boys will spend the night huddled around ceremonial bonfires, telling stories about their heritage, before descending upon the sacred Isle of Mezcala the next morning to discuss with a larger group how to defend their land and way of life. Based in the western state of Jalisco, the Cocas go back more than 700 years and have had to fight off waves of invaders over the centuries.
The latest threat to their land? A wave of American retirees heading south – pretty ironic, given President Donald Trump’s demonisation of Mexican immigrants. Thousands of American and Canadian retirees have settled in the neighbouring towns on Chapala and Ajijic in recent decades to take advantage of the cheap living costs, year-round sunshine and stunning views of Mexico’s biggest lake.
Now known as the “Chapala Riviera”, the area is brimming with boutique hotels and gated communities. Foreigners are driving the growth, having spent more than twice as much as locals on housing and tourism in 2015. An estimated 7,000 expats live there all year round, with up to 10,000 “snowbirds” joining them each winter. Expat community leaders say their population could double within five years.
Property developers have long coveted nearby Mezcala, the home of 5,000 Coca people. With poorly paved roads and crumbling houses, it is noticeably less developed than Chapala and Ajijic. But after witnessing what happened to the original residents of those towns, the Cocas have reason to fear outsider-led development.
Santiago Bastos, an anthropologist who has spent eight years studying Mezcala, notes that the arrival of foreign retirees and wealthy Mexicans from nearby Guadalajara saw indigenous residents ousted, often illegally, from prime plots of land, while prices shot up, making the lakeside area unaffordable for many locals…
With more than 10,000 bones lining its walls, Hueso sounds like a fairly nightmarish place to have dinner.
There is no sign outside this Guadalajara restaurant; just a single bone hanging ominously from the white tiled exterior. But once you step inside and see the animal bones artfully fixed to its whitewashed walls, any thoughts of macabre catacombs are quickly forgotten. With chunky whale bones, a whole snake skeleton, and even a tiger skull on display, it feels more like a mash-up of a natural history museum and a modern art exhibition.
“For a chef, a bone represents flavor,” 45-year-old chef Alfonso Cadena tells me. “Besides, at the end of the day this is the truth behind cooking: a lot of what we’re eating comes from bones, tissue, and nerves.”
Hueso, which unsurprisingly means “bone” in Spanish, is Cadena’s second restaurant after the acclaimed La Leche in nearby Puerto Vallarta. Since hosting an episode of Chef’s Night Out there in late 2015, he and his team have cooked for rock stars and former presidents, and even got caught up in a dramatic confrontation between cartel gunmen and the sons of the world’s most notorious drug lord. None of that seems to have fazed the man who runs two of Mexico’s best restaurants and is now preparing to launch a third.
Cadena opened Hueso in 2014 in partnership with his old friend and former bandmate Juan Manuel Monteón. Set in a converted house in Guadalajara’s leafy Lafayette neighborhood, it took nine months for their respective brothers, an interior designer and an architect, to turn their unique vision into reality.
“We wanted a unique space where we’d fall in love with coming to work every day,” Cadena tells me. “At first, when we told people about the bone concept, they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ but the challenge was to do something apparently repulsive and make it aesthetically pleasing.”
With shark, bear, deer, wild boar, and many other animal bones all competing for wall space , it is certainly “a unique space”…