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Murders of Journalists Show Mexico’s Violent Reality

Los asesinatos de periodistas exhiben la violencia en México. Imagen: Unsplash

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Homicidal violence has become a normal part of the Mexican landscape. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but it is true. So far this century more than 400,000 Mexicans have been murdered, a chilling figure, especially considering there is no full-scale invasion or civil war. It is simply routine, everyday life, the “normal.”

How terrible is that normalcy? Well, a study published in 2021 concluded that the 6 most violent cities in the world are in Mexican territory: Celaya, Tijuana, Juarez, Ciudad Obregon, Irapuato and Ensenada. They are not spaces in ruins, as we could imagine in the Syria of the civil war or the Yugoslavia of the 90s. They are normal cities, where horror stories are not limited to the buildings, but are accumulated in the memory of millions of families.

Journalists, by work and vocation, seek to record and give space to these stories. In doing so, they themselves have been exposed to reprisals from criminals. Also since 2000, and according to the NGO Article 19, at least 149 journalists have been murdered for reasons apparently related to the exercise of their profession.

Murders of journalists are piling up in Mexico

How serious are these numbers? Very. Mexico closed 2021 as the country with the most murders of journalists, surpassing Afghanistan. Yes, Afghanistan, which last year fell again into the hands of the Taliban, a group famous for its passion for violent censorship of whatever they consider impure. Mexico recorded three times as many cases as China, or even Yemen, which is in the midst of an intense civil war.

If 2021 was bad, 2022 looks to be much worse. In January alone, four journalists were murdered. One more, Marcos Ernesto Islas Flores (editor of Notiredes), was murdered in the early hours of February 6.

And the culprits? They’re enjoying full health, hidden under the warm cloak of mystery, because 90% of the murders of journalists remain unsolved, in a true reflection of the culture of impunity that covers the whole country.

In Mexico, men and women are killed, innocent people are killed, journalists are killed. They kill because the murderers feel protected. They know that: in the overwhelming majority of cases there will be no serious investigation, much less a criminal sentence.

They are killing us all, and the result is silence

Last week, in an article for the Mexican newspaper Reforma, Jorge Ramos quoted a statement by the head of analysis of the portal Animal Político, Claudia Ramos, who explained that “journalists are still being killed, basically, because nothing is being done to investigate” or “to prevent further killing… They are not only killing journalists; they are killing all of us.”

“They are killing us all” sounds like the line from some dystopian screenplay. It sounds dramatic. It sounds exaggerated. Yet it is true. Looking at those 400,000-plus murders in the last 21 years, there is no longer much room to argue otherwise.

Each of these crimes has its own story, but they all coincide in one consequence: silence. Each attack silences society, sending a clear message that it is necessary to submit in order to survive, and this effect is multiplied when the victims are journalists, not only because the public stops receiving the information they were offering, but also because hundreds of colleagues learn “the lesson” and simply stop publishing on certain uncomfortable subjects.

The result of this violence is authentic zones of silence: topics and regions of the country where officially nothing is known, nothing is published and nothing is reported. This allows criminals (inside and outside governments) to act with increasing impunity, taking advantage of a vicious circle in which violence feeds back on corruption and impunity.

To break this vicious circle, journalistic work is indispensable, because, as the American jurist Louis Brandeis said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Information is the key factor to fight the corruption that has led Mexico to the abyss of violence, and without transparency Mexico will not be able to get out of it.

Recovering that transparency implies defending freedom of expression in general, and journalistic work in particular. Without it, things will never improve.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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