President Obama, what will you do to end the torment of Mexico’s journalists?

Excellent opEd and open letter by Reporters Without Borders on the occasion of President Obama’s trip to Mexico, mentions Brad Will’s murder and urges the President act:

President Obama, what will you do to end the torment of Mexico’s journalists?
by Christophe Deloire
General Director, Reporters Without Borders

Dear President Obama,

Your official visit to Mexico on May 3 coincides with World Press Freedom Day. As the General Director of Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization that defends freedom of information, I hope the visit will result in a firm commitment by you to help restore the rule of law and civil liberties in this country.

Last Sunday, hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders staged marches in 14 Mexican states at the request of many NGOs, including ours, to demand an end to the barbarity that targets them, and an end to impunity for those responsible for the barbarity.

The date chosen, April 28, was the first anniversary of the murder of Regina Martínez, the newsweekly Proceso’s correspondent in the eastern state of Veracruz. Just four days before the marches, the dismembered body of Daniel Martínez Bazaldúa, a photographer for the newspaper Vanguardia, was found in the northern state of Coahuila.

A law approved by the Mexican congress on April 25, making it easier for crimes against freedom of information to be addressed by the federal authorities, is a step forward but is not enough. A federal protection mechanism which was set up last October and which has so far been applied to 48 people, including 13 journalists, is also praiseworthy in principle but again is far from sufficient.

In the past 10 years, Mexico has become the western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 86 killed and 17 missing. They include Brad Will, a U.S. cameraman working for the Indymedia agency, who was gunned down in Oaxaca on October 27, 2006. Justice has not been properly rendered in any of these cases.

The continuing terror and impunity has forced many journalists, bloggers and civil society activists to go into hiding, flee the region where they live and sometimes flee the country with the help of NGOs such as ours.

When Reporters Without Borders visited Mexico in March, it managed to obtain a three-month extension to the protection being provided to Anabel Hernández, an investigative journalist who is a recognized authority on drug trafficking.

But these efforts fall far short of the needs of the situation, the scale and complexity of which Mexico’s leading partner countries are taking too long to recognize. And the NGOs themselves are not immune to threats. Article 19 Mexico was recently targeted.

The collapse of the rule of law in Mexico directly concerns the United States. It affects the safety and work of U.S. journalists, who are often exposed to the same dangers as their Mexican colleagues. It forces more and more Mexican journalists and bloggers to flee to the United States. Finally, and above all, it reflects the failure of policies meant to combat drug trafficking and the reign of the cartels.

These misfortunes are part of a horrendous national tragedy that has been fueled by a six-year-old federal offensive against drug-trafficking with a toll of 80,000 dead – an offensive that has achieved none of its declared goals. Eighty per cent of the drugs transiting through Mexico end up in the United States while 80 per cent of the arms circulating in Mexico come from the United States.

In the light of this situation, we would like to put three recommendations to the U.S. federal government. We urge it to:

– Make it easier for Mexican journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders to obtain asylum in the United States.

– Use its influence within the Organization of American States, together with other governments, so that pressure is put on Mexico to render justice in the cases of journalists who have been murdered or who have disappeared.

– Press the Mexican federal government to obtain tangible results in the investigation into U.S. cameraman Brad Will’s murder, a case that is typical of the way officials are often complicit in violations of freedom of information in Mexico.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.


Christophe Deloire

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