Monday, 24 August 2009

I had the privilege of meeting the extraordinary Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho, at the IFEX meeting in Oslo last June.

Earlier this month, she wrote the following piece for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Cacho, a top Mexican reporter, describes a life under threat

Lydia Cacho (CPJ)

A month ago I sat next to a cop, turned on my computer, and opened my blog. The threats were there: "My dear lydia cacho get ready to be found soon with your throat slit, your pretty head will be left outside your apartment if you think you are so brave bye."

A series of similar threats and insults prompted the officer to recommend I leave Mexico. The young policeman is one of my sources and, at least for me, one of the few people in the country who can be trusted. Instead I gave him a description of the armed men who had been watching my house, of their cars, and of the license plates that, according to authorities, don't match the vehicles. The evidence is indisputable and yet I am left helpless.

Over a long 18 months, 17 other journalists have been threatened in my country. Quietly, I go over my security routines every morning, hoping only that I will not be the one to stain the numbers with blood this month. Many of my colleagues do the same thing. The best reporters in the country live every day as if they were covering the war in Iraq. But unlike foreign correspondents that go back to a safe home to tell their horror anecdotes, to talk about what happens to other people, here we record the reality of a country that has normalized violence to the point of showing off a merciless war that has cost the lives of more than 10,000 people. One Sunday, nine people were found beheaded in Tijuana, near the border with the United States. Beheadings have become a ritual for drug cartels.

I wonder which of the powerful individuals I have named in my investigations into organized crime is the author of the threats against me. Or who paid the hired gun who is threatening to behead me. I am fully aware that it is not the businessmen and politicians who have avoided prosecution and have become my enemies. They are not street crooks. They are child traffickers and users of child pornography, millionaires with tight links to the Mexican Supreme Court, who are legally untouchable. They filed a defamation suit against me, and I won the trial. I sued them for corruption and torture, and they bought off the justice system.

I don't believe in heroism. I have used all the legal resources at my reach to defend my right to investigate and reveal my country's reality. As I write these lines, I am protected in my own city, at a colleague's house. My home, for the moment, is not safe. While writing a book on global networks of human traffickers, I talk to the lawyers who are taking my case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Mexican government has denied me the right to justice, and authorities are the ones who have put me in real danger. Impunity is a criminal's best ally.

A few days ago, around midnight, my neighbor called me on the phone to warn me that, once again, a car was parked outside my apartment. A man was prowling and had walked up to my door. No one dared go outside to check if he was armed. Nobody calls the police anymore. We don't know if they are accomplices, and no one takes the time to find out.

As Barack Obama and Felipe Calderón enjoyed a typical Mexican meal this week, they both celebrated freedom in Mexico and "the protection of human rights." In the meantime, thousands of Mexican soldiers go into homes without warrants, hundreds of women and men are jailed without trial or evidence against them, 365 journalists have been intimidated, and 142 have been subject to attacks and torture.

All we have left are the international bodies, the Inter-American Commission's precautionary measures, and eventual trials in the court itself. To stay alive without fleeing the country, when there is no justice in our own land, there is nothing left but to stand up for the whole world to see us, to remind friends and foes that freedom is not gained by kneeling or in silence.

Cacho is a prominent Mexican journalist and human rights activist based in Cancún. Among many honors, she received the 2008 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

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