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One of Mexico’s most revered journalists was gunned down outside his office

May 16, 2017

Javier Valdez was the sixth journalist murdered in Mexico this year.

One of the most experienced and respected journalists to have covered Mexico’s brutal drug war was murdered in Sinaloa, a state plagued by narco violence, on Monday.

A brave and tireless reporter, Javier Valdez Cárdenas was shot 12 times after leaving the offices of Ríodoce, a newspaper he founded and edited in Culiacán, the state capital. He was the sixth journalist murdered this year — a seventh would follow before the day was done. Over 100 have been killed since 2000.

“The Mexican government condemns the murder of Javier Valdez. My condolences to his family and companions,” President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted. “I reiterate our commitment to freedom of expression and the press, which are fundamental to our democracy.”

The president said a special prosecutor’s office for crimes against freedom of expression would investigate the killing, but observers are doubtful the government is truly willing or able to ensure that justice is done. From 2010 to 2016 that office received 798 complaints of aggressions against journalists, securing just three jail sentences, a 99.7 percent impunity rate.

Valdez’s death occurred less than 48 hours after 100 gunmen abducted seven journalists in the lawless southern state of Guerrero. The assailants stole equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars before releasing the reporters, who were covering violence in the region.

Jonathan Rodríguez, a reporter at a weekly newspaper in western Jalisco state was also shot dead on Monday evening. His mother, Sonia Córdova, who also worked at the paper, was hit too and is in a critical condition…

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News

Click here to read my interview with Valdez from earlier this year

AQ Survey: What should be the future of the US–Mexico relationship?

May 6, 2017

Manuel Jacobo, 30, indigenous rights activist

“Economically, I think Mexico shouldn’t continue to be so dependent on the U.S. We need to look for new alternatives to make our country more sustainable. But it’s complicated because many of us have family in the U.S. I think we need more dialogue, because otherwise there are families that are going to go through what people in Germany went through with the Berlin Wall, with relatives on both sides who won’t be able to see each other.”

Francisco Lugo, 46, street food vendor

“It’s always been a relationship of ups and downs, but we’ve always been dependent on one another, like a mother and child attached by the umbilical cord. It’s better to be friends than enemies, but I think the Mexican government should show some character and take a stronger stance to defend our country. We can be self-sufficient. We have everything we need here in Mexico, but we’re too used to depending on the U.S. I think we should focus on consuming Mexican products and strengthen our ties with other countries.”

Mariela Ramirez, 24, primary school teacher

“I think the relationship should be even and consistent, with both countries working together instead of going their separate ways. But I don’t think Trump is open to dialogue. He just wants everything to be how he says it should be…”

Click here to read the rest of this survey at Americas Quarterly

Viva México Podcast Episode 4: A Wall of Protest

May 6, 2017

In this episode British author, journalist and activist Owen Jones discusses Donald Trump, Mexico, protest and the press. Women’s rights activist Sofía Virgen talks about the conviction and sentencing of the murderers of her sister Imelda and the culture of blaming female victims of violence in Mexico. And we discuss Ted Cruz’s plans to make billionaire drug lord “El Chapo” pay for Trump’s border wall.

Inside the Game of Thrones-style war to replace El Chapo in the Sinaloa Cartel

May 4, 2017

The sight of masked federal agents frog-marching Dámaso López Nuñez out of an upscale apartment block in Mexico City on Tuesday morning prompted backslapping within the Mexican government. But the celebration couldn’t mask the degree of trepidation that clouded the arrest.

The capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s former right-hand man was the latest major blow to the Sinaloa Cartel, which has been in a state of upheaval since Guzmán’s capture in January 2016. But observers fear it will have significant blowback, resulting in an intensification of the already bloody dispute over this multibillion-dollar criminal empire.

The mixture of excitement and dread was evident in the comments given by Mexico’s president and top drug war general. While President Enrique Peña Nieto applauded “the detention of another key objective in the battle against crime,” Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos struck a more cautious tone, warning that rising violence in Sinaloa state “could be sustained by the power struggle” to come.

With rival clans committing ambushes, abductions and betrayals, the fight for Guzmán’s legacy has come to resemble a gangland Game of Thrones. Now that López, his apparent successor, is out of the picture, the conflict looks set to drag on…

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News

Between a rock and a hard place: Mexico’s journalists face threats from cartels, the government and even each other

April 22, 2017

“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…

Click here to read this article in full at Index on Censorship

Debunking fake news: not a laughing matter

April 20, 2017

This account of the supposed murder of two clowns is an example of fake news in Mexico.

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…

Click here to read this article in full at Index on Censorship

Mexicans are fed up with corrupt, fugitive governors escaping justice

April 18, 2017

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…

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News