On November 27 2012, four days before his inauguration as Mexican president,
Enrique Pena Nieto was welcomed to the White House by a newly re-elected Barack
Obama. The former has a six-year term ahead of him and the latter one of four years,
almost two overlapping mandates for the two neighbouring leaders, each aware of
the strategic importance of his country to the one next door. So what did the two men
talk about? No doubt the trade exchanges between the two countries under the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), worth 500 billion dollars in 2011.
Did they cover the human toll of 60,000 lives lost and the collapse of the rule of law
that the six-year government offensive against the drug cartels has cost Mexican
society? The bloody toll of the Felipe Calderon's six-year presidency (2006-2012)
cemented Mexico's place among the most dangerous countries on the planet for
journalists, with nearly 1,000 attacks on news media and their employees, and also
for human rights campaigners and associated activists.
The six-year government offensive, marked by a wave of human rights abuses by
the authorities themselves, raised the total of journalists killed or missing during the
12-year rule of the National Action Party to more than 100 -- 85 murdered and 16 missing.
This state of affairs was hardly discussed during the campaign by the candidate
declared the winner on July 1, 2012 after a fiercely contested ballot. Pena Nieto
spoke merely of "insecurity", failing to mention the widespread impunity that can be
summed up in two figures: in Mexico only 8 percent of crimes are the subject of a
complaint and of these 99 percent are not investigated.
The National Human Rights Commission, a body that has no powers of enforcement,
has recorded more than 34,000 allegations of abuse on the part of public security
officials since 2005. A promise by the incoming Mexican president to call a halt to
the disastrous offensive against the cartels will not ensure the restoration of the
constitutional guarantees which citizens should enjoy.
Is this only a domestic issue for Mexico? Not entirely. The United States has
refrained from direct interference but must assume its share in this Mexican tragedy.
Not merely from the strategic position of a state fearful about its own security, but
also in accordance with the values that it claims and professes as a nation.
By refusing to re-impose a stricter weapons ban and supporting Calderon's offensive
without regard to the consequences, Washington has given its consent to the mess
across the border. On the other hand, have the American authorities demanded
justice for Brad Will, a young U.S. journalist of the Indymedia agency shot dead in
Oaxaca in 2006 by the bodyguard of the governor at the time, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a
member of the same Institutional Revolutionary Party as Pena Nieto? Have they
questioned the scandalous turn taken by the investigation, engineered to absolve the
governor of all responsibility, clearly for reasons of political expediency?
The United States would be making a great mistake if it sacrificed human rights for
such expediency. Many Mexican journalists who are at serious risk have sought
refuge on the other side of the northern border.
Emilio Gutierrez Soto, forced to flee after he was threatened by soldiers in 2008 and held for seven months by the immigration service in El Paso, is still waiting to be
Miguel Angel Lopez, the son and colleague of a journalist with the same name, was shot dead with his family in June 2011 in Veracruz State, regarded by Reporters Without Borders as one of the 10 most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
Each of these personal dramas has cross-border echoes between the two countries.
And each is an illustration of the threats to freedom of information on the doorstep of
the country of the First Amendment.