"They are killing journalists like flies" - Mexican writer issues call for action
Mexican journalist Marcela Turati has reported on the victims of Mexico's drug wars / Photo by Julian Sher
A father walking his daughter on the street is gunned down in front of her: his crime is being a journalist.
A female reporter is strangled in her own home and the authorities never bothered to investigate it, dismissing it as a robbery.
A third journalist asks his friends to find him a pistol – not to kill the narco-traffickers he knew were coming for him but to shoot himself if they came, he explains, because he fears the inevitable torture at their hands more than death.
“We have become war reporters in our own country,” Mexican journalist Marcela Turati told a spellbound crowd of 1,200 American and foreign journalists gathered this past weekend at the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual convention in San Antonio, Texas. “On the other side of the border, they are killing journalists like flies.”
She issued a stirring call for action, urging journalists and the public in the rest of North America to take heed of war that was spreading far beyond Mexico.
“Don’t ignore us, this problems does not stop at the border,” she said. “Investigate the trafficking networks in your own country.”
A writer for the newsmagazine Proceso, Turati described how in 2007 she had set out to report on poverty and human rights, helping to create a group called Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot).
But quickly her group refocused on training and protecting journalists as the narco wars raged.
Once a group of 30 women came up to her with pictures of their missing children, victim of the spiralling drug wars between rival cartels.
Entire towns had been abandoned, she said, because of a wave of serial drug murders.
“Suddenly, we were covering massacres of young people,” she said. “Before we realized it, we were a crisis centre,” fielding phone calls from colleagues desperate for help.
“We are in the middle of war which was not about drug trafficking but for control of territory – who will hold onto the lands where the narcotics are grown and sold, who will control the business, who will appoint the mayor or the chief of police?” she explained. “In situations like this, it is central to control the press so that no one will ask the questions,” she said.
In some cases, she said, journalists are forced to attend “press conferences” held by the local cartel chief and told what to cover, even paid a salary.
“The newsrooms are infiltrated too,” she warned. “Whoever refuses has to start a new life somewhere else.”
In the past year, she said, 17 journalists have disappeared and 72 were killed – not a single one of those murders was solved.
“Too many journalists are resigned that death is our destiny,” Turati said.
Some have been forced to quit their job, reduced to working as street vendors - “penniless, broken, terrified.”
But Turati, who authored a book called Fuego Cruzado: Las Victimas Atrapadas en la Guerra del Narco,” (“Crossfire: Victims Trapped in the Narco-War, does not agree with removing journalists from the danger zone.
“In this way the silencers win the game,” she said. “The battle is not just for freedom of expression but for the right of the people to be informed.”
The Mexican journalist called on her North American colleagues to explore the tentacles of the Mexican drug cartels that extend north of the Mexican border.
“Follow the narco money on both sides of the border,” she urged.
“As your friends we need you to see that you need to face this problem as your own,” she said, noting that “drug-dealers and gangs, businessmen and money-launderers” outside of Mexico were fuelling the war.
“We must do journalism because that is what we are,” she said. “We must expose the business of drugs and the arms trafficking networks. We must expose corrupt authorities.”
Journalists are a cynical bunch by nature, trained to keep their emotions in check. But by the end of her speech, Turati had the crowd of more than a thousand standing on their feet, clapping and cheering.
“Not everything is lost. Don’t abandon us in the struggle,” she said. “In the war against silence, human life is at stake.”