No Justice and No Accountability

When Vicente Fox visited the offices of the Comite para la Proteccion de Periodistas (Committee for the Protection of Journalists, CPJ), he expressed approval of their proposal that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate crimes against freedom of expression. He stated that this would be “a strong and positive step forward”. However, five weeks after Fox’s declaration, the special prosecutor’s office still has not been established.

It is obscene, the contrast between the helplessness of the victims of Hurricanes Wilma and Stan and the ostentatious (and possibly ill-gotten) wealth of Arturo Montiel, ex- presidential candidate for the Presidency of the Republic and ex-governor of the State of Mexico1. If this were a country where political morality existed and justice practiced, the Federal Government would not beat about the bush, using legalisms as a pretext for inaction. Our lethargic authorities say they are ready to proceed with the investigation, but they claim that an accusation is required. Let us see who has the civic courage (and the legal background) to do it. If not, let us be told if a citizen’s complaint will suffice. One of the most scandalous aspects of this case is that, while Arturo Montiel, his wife Maude Versini and their offspring acquired dazzling properties here and there (those in Paris and those in Mexico being the ones we know of), thousands of indigenous Mazahuas and Otomies from the State of Mexico wander through the streets of the nation begging for alms.

Elsewhere, while the days go by and the despair of the victims of Nature’s fury increases, it seems more irresponsible and insensitive that during the recent Iberian-American summit in Madrid, Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez sought help for Guatemala and El Salvador, but not for Mexico. Clearly the Guatemalans and El Salvadorans are in need but so are Mexicans, since not all of them benefit from the country’s oil wealth. In fact most have not seen it and will not see it. Perhaps Hugo Chavez, who for political reasons was so willing and able to send assistance to the United States for Katrina, could send a ship loaded with supplies to help those affected by the hurricane winds in Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas and Veracruz.

When Vicente Fox paid a visit to the offices of the CPJ during his passing through New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this September, everyone was impressed by his friendliness (he even greeted the receptionist with a handshake). After meeting with defenders of the press, Fox expressed his approval of the CPJ’s proposal that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate crimes against the freedom of expression, and declared it to be “a strong and positive step forward”. To do this end, he agreed to quickly arrange a meeting with the Attorney General, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca. He also contemplated creating a panel of experts to determine how the federal authorities might become more involved in crimes against journalists.

As the CPJ has emphasized, after reviewing the current situation in Mexico, and the proximity of the presidential election in July 2006, that it is essential that a legal structure be established to protect the right of freedom of expression. However, five weeks after Fox’s declaration, the prosecutor’s office has yet to be established, although there is no shortage of pronouncements, such as those of Ruben Aguilar, the witty spokesman at Los Pinos2, who insists upon the President’s “total concern” for the “enormous vulnerability of journalists”, many of whom have, as Aguilar recognizes, been murdered by organized crime. The CPJ points out that the murder of journalists in Mexico has caused our country to become one of the most dangerous in Latin America for those who exercise this profession, especially those who work along the Mexico – U.S. border, who investigate and write about drug trafficking, organized crime and government corruption.

PEN Club International , whose members includes writers from 99 countries, has just written a letter to President Fox expressing their “deep concern for the lack of results in investigations relating to so many journalists who have fallen victim to assassination in your country.”.

PEN presented a list of journalists assassinated since January 1, 2000, presumably for reasons connected to their work. The victims listed by PEN are: Raul Gibb Guerrero, Alfredo Jimenez Mota (disappeared, or murdered), Francisco Arratia Saldierna, Roberto Javier Mora Garcia, Francisco Ortiz Franco, Jose Miranda Virgen, Felix Alonso Fernandez Garcia, Julio Simel Morales Ferron (Severo Miron), Saul Antonio Martinez Gutierrez, Jose Luis Ortega Mata, Hugo Sanchez Eustaquio y Pablo Pineda. The CPJ themselves are investigating several cases, like the one of Dolores Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla, who had been covering the police beat in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, for Stereo 91 since 2001. On April 6, a gunman who entered the station and shot her 14 times. She died 11 days later. Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-editor of the weekly Tijuana Zeta, was shot to death by masked men on June 22, 2004 while coming out of a clinic with his two children. That same afternoon President Fox called J. Jesus Blancornelas (survivor of a brutal attack by the Juarez cartel in November of 1997) and promised assistance in the federal investigation. The special prosecutor from the Attorney-General’s Office of the Republic in charge of the investigation, Martin Levario Reyes, told the CPJ that “Ortiz Franco was probably assassinated because of his work as a journalist”, and warned that “the Attorney-General’s Office has insufficient evidence to make an arrest”. Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a columnist for several newspapers in Tamaulips, died on August 31 of a heart attack after having been brutally beaten in the city of Matamoros. In his column “Portavoz”, Arratia often wrote about corruption, organized crime and education. His body, still alive but with broken fingers, burnt hands and chest wounds, was found outside the offices of the Red Cross. Weeks later, Raul Castelan Cruz was arrested. He admitted taking part in the killing of Arratia and said the motive was the journalist’s work. However, as the letter from PEN makes clear, “Even in cases where some progress has been made, there has been no sentencing. For example, although Raul Castelan Cruz was arrested on September 24, 2004, the judicial process appears to have come to a dead stop”. Jose Luis Ortega Mata, 37, was Director of “Semanario” in Ojinaga, Chihuahu, when on February 19, 2001, he was shot to death four days after having published a report on the PGR’s investigation into drug trafficking in the town of Aldama. One person was accused of the crime. After spending more than 70 days in prison, a court released him on grounds of insufficient evidence. Finally, the CPJ’s report stated that “the justice system in Mexico has shown itself incapable of solving all these murders, thus perpetuating a climate of impunity that leaves the media and journalists, particularly those in the north of the country, in a situation of vulnerability in the face of attacks”.

At one year from the end of Fox’s six-year term of office, there is still time to remedy the injustice and lack of accountability in Mexico. Otherwise, this government of so-called change will leave having done nothing in its promised battle against crime and corruption.

  1. Arturo Montiel was a fairly strong candidate in the PRI party’s recent primary for the the presidential elections to be held next July, 2006. His opponents produced photographs of luxurious properties belonging to him around the world. The cost of these was way beyond his official salary. The revelation was so embarrassing he withdrew his candidacy. Now there are demands for an official investigation into the sources of his wealth.
  2. Los Pinos. Residence of Mexican Presidents.