Sunday, November 6, 2011

Veracruz Press Furious Over Prosecutor’s Comments

Resignation Demanded After Another Journalist is Murdered

By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
July 25, 2011

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Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists according to several international organizations, including the United Nations. At least 70 press corps members have been kidnapped and murdered in the past decade, most of them by presumed drug dealers or “enforcers.” The city of Veracruz, Mexico, a famous tourist port-of-call just a short flight west of Mérida, has been particularly hard hit by retaliatory violence against reporters covering the country’s five year old drug offensive which was launched by President Calderon in December 2006. In late June, a well-known Veracruz journalist was shot to death in his own home, together with his wife and 20 year old son. Now a female police-beat reporter with over 20 years experience, one of his top lieutenants, has been executed as well.

The decapitated remains of Yolanda Ordaz de Cruz, a reporter for the Veracruz daily Notiver, were found earlier this week after she disappeared Sunday afternoon. Her body was left literally on the doorstep of the paper for which she worked, her severed head casually tossed not far away. No one questions that this was the work of organize drug criminals. Near the body was a handwritten “narco-message” frequently left in such cases, with the cryptic note, “Your friends may also betray you.”

But what astounded and infuriated both the Mexican and international press were the comments made yesterday by the chief prosecutor in Veracruz, Reynaldo Escobar Perez. He claimed Yolanda’s death “had nothing whatever to do with her occupation as a journalist,” and strongly implied that she may have been connected to criminal elements. At an impromptu news conference he theorized that Yolanda was killed by a rival drug organization. The prosecutor’s curious statements were apparently based upon the message left by her body. Whatever their motive Perez’ comments quickly ignited a firestorm of protest from journalists, and particularly from Notiver, which called the prosecutor’s remarks “shameful.”

“We vigorously reject the unfounded, defamatory, irresponsible and simply stupid accusations [by] Escobar against our colleague Yolanda Ordaz, we demand that he publicly apologize and resign his position, and that he be investigated and subjected to legal process,” said Notiver in a front page editorial today (July 27). The paper added that it was “respectfully but energetically” asking the governor to hold the prosecutor accountable and to commence removal proceedings.

Notiver claims that State officials in Veracruz have adopted a “communications strategy of defaming journalists. To soil the names of victims by implicating them as suspects is revolting, and totally improper for the chief prosecutor. He has been unable to solve a single one of the major 168 crimes committed here in the last six months, nor to stop the crime wave which terrorizes the entire population.”

“It’s obvious the gentleman [prosecutor Escobar] is absolutely worthless,” said Notiver in its blazing editorial. “Walk out onto the streets [here], and just take a look at the insecurity at every level, in commerce, industry and tourism. Criminals walk our streets with impunity. The state police don’t even exist here. They don’t do anything except chase drunks and prosecute petty thieves.”

Notiver, which primarily focuses on Mexico’s drug war and organized crime, says that it must continually work “under great pressure and threats, in spite of which [it gets] out the news in the face of many risks, including kidnapping, and without the slightest help from local authorities.”

“The old saying about dealing with organized crime – ‘plata or plomo’ (gold or lead) – isn’t really true. It’s just lead, and if you dare to take the risk [as a journalist], not only may you end up dead, but on top of that the prosecutor trashes you out. It’s a miserable, cowardly thing to do,” added Notiver.

Veracruz, a major Gulf port and popular vacation destination for decades with Europeans and North Americans alike, has been hard hit by drug violence in recent years. In December 2009 Mexico’s crack naval armada forces cornered and killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva in the city, after an hours-long shootout which left multiple dead and wounded. In June several municipal police officers were arrested for kidnapping, torturing and murdering a Mexican marine in the area. Many claim that local law enforcement in Veracruz is heavily infiltrated and corrupted by organized crime elements, especially by the feared Los Zetas (the “Zs”), and journalists brave enough to cover organized crime news say they're in constant danger.

In the latest case involving Notivera reporter Yolanda Ordaz, her long-time supervising colleague and friend Miguel Ángel López, together with his wife and young son, were also murdered on June 20. An armed commando squad burst into the family home at 6:00 a.m. and executed all of them, killing the son while he was still in bed. Ángel López was an investigative reporter and columnist for the paper, and together with Ordaz worked on organized crime stories. No one has yet been arrested in connection with either case.

According to Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights, since the year 2000 some 71 journalists in the country have been murdered, another 13 have disappeared and 22 more were attacked but survived. According to the Commission, 18 of the murdered or assaulted journalists were women.

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