by Pat Hirschl and Lucina Kathmann
“For every 100 crimes committed in Mexico, only three are charged, fewer than two come before a judge. Perpetrators get away with murder. They get away with kidnapping and extortion. They get away with everything,” noted UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)’s searing report to the August 25 and 26 Conferencia Hemisferica Universitaria in Puebla. The UNAM report continued, “even though formal advances have been made in human rights recognition, much more must be done to establish effective means to defend those rights.”
Impunity, “getting away with it”, is rampant in Mexico, for crimes against journalists and everyone else. Seventy-four journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000—investigation into their deaths, much less prosecution, has been effectively nil.
Violence against the press threatens the fabric of democracy, reasoned IAPA, the Inter-American Press Association, organizer of the conference, which drew faculty and students from 22 universities in 13 countries.
(The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. The IAPA Impunity Project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and has the mission of combating violence against journalists and lessening the impunity surrounding the majority of such crimes. For more information, go to http://www. sipiapa.org; http://www.impunidad.com.)
As if on cue, on the first day of the meeting, the Puebla newspaper, Síntesis, headlined “Incendian Casino; Van 53 Muertos (53 Killed in Casino Fire)” under its masthead, “Sin Libre Expresión No Hay Libertad (Without freedom of expression, there is no liberty).” The same day, the murdered body of Sinaloa journalist Humberto Millán Salazár, kidnapped the day before, was found. He was the seventh journalist murdered in Mexico since January.
Faced with fresh evidence of the impunity quagmire of blood and fear, the delegates spent two packed days mining the reports for solutions. At the final session, representatives ofsix countries sat at the massive conference table in the ornate Salón Barroco of the Benemérito Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) and read their conclusions in voices charged with emotion.
The formal “Declaration of Puebla,” recommended:
***Sweeping changes to public policies: Make crimes against journalism a federal crime, which would help get the prosecution of these cases out of the jurisdiction of heavily compromised local forces; include protection of judges and public prosecutors working on cases of murdered journalists. [Early in his term, President Calderón recommended federalizing crimes against journalists; the bill has been held up in the senate since 2009, Calderón pleaded for action again recently.]
***Create special units to investigate crimes against journalists. [In Mexico, three government agencies are charged to protect journalists, none adequate, according to a study by the Autonomous Univeristy of Guadalajara. The newest one, FEADLE, created in 2006 to address the murders of journalists, has neither budget nor power. FEADLE’s head, Gustavo Salas, admitted in his conference address that his agency lacks jurisdiction in most cases. The result--in five years of operation, five prosecutions, no convictions.]
***Penalize public officials who obstruct journalists’ work. [The Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez report noted that the army, now 10,000 strong from an original 5,000, often hassle journalists. They, like the police, are sometimes in the service of the narcos.]
***Amplify protection of witnesses and judges.
***Establish working conditions and compensation for journalists commensurate with a profession indispensable to democracy.
***Set ethical standards for journalists; disseminate information about how reporters can protect themselves from violence.
***Construct and maintain a database--with the help of journalists’ unions, civic organizations and universities--of victims, denunciations and other pertinent facts. Map attacks and publish where journalists are most at risk.
***Strengthen the journalism curriculum at universities and create forums and other public measures to expose the importance of free expression and its precarious state in Mexico.
(Recommendations cited are the most pertinent to Mexico. Full text in Spanish, English and Portuguese at http://www. sipiapa.org).
Days after the conference ended, another gory bulletin: “Two Mexican female journalists have been found dead in a park in Mexico City. Marcela Yarce was the founder of a political magazine, Contralínea, and Rocio González was a freelance journalist. Their bodies were found near a cemetery in El Mirador Park, located in the poor, crowded neighbourhood of Iztapalapa. Mexico City police said their bodies had strangulation marks and their hands were tied behind their backs.” from The Guardian, September 2, 2011.
Impunity still thrives in Mexico.