Two recent reports reveal that Mexico’s institutions are simply unable or unwilling to actually protect human rights and rampant incompetence denies justice to victims
by José Luis Granados Ceja
MEXICO CITY — Thirty-one-year-old photojournalist Ruben Espinosa was murdered the first time in July of 2015, when he and four women were fatally shot, execution style, with a 9-millimeter handgun, inside an apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Mexico City. Three of the women were likely in the wrong place at the wrong time; the real targets were almost certainly the human-rights activist Nadia Vera, 31, and Espinosa, both of who were implacable foes of the corrupt governor of the state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte.
In fact, Duarte — who would go on the lam after prosecutors accused him of embezzling $35 million in taxpayer money – was so enraged by the publication of one unflattering Espinosa photograph of the portly governor wearing a police cap, accompanying an article titled “Veracruz: A Lawless State,” that he tried to buy every copy of the magazine’s print run.
Espinosa was one of 42 Mexican journalists murdered during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, more than in any other country in Latin America and rivaling war zones such as Syria. According to the annual report released last week by Article 19, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, there were 507 documented acts of aggression against journalists in Mexico; and yet in a staggering 99.6 percent of those cases no one is punished.
The reason, to most Mexicans, is clear: five years into the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, governed by narco-politics, in which a corrupt and complicit ruling party, the PRI, has no interest in protecting the citizenry because that would be tantamount to biting the hand that feeds it.
This deliberate neglect represents the second murder of Espinosa. From the beginning, police showed little interest in solving the homicide, and an independent review found that they erred at virtually every step in the investigation, from failing to preserve the crime scene to irregularities in the autopsy. Moreover, according to Espinosa’s sister, Patricia Espinosa, law-enforcement authorities have insinuated that her brother’s recklessness was to blame for his own death and have attempted to stigmatize the women who were killed alongside him, suggesting that they were sex workers and their deaths were a result of their lifestyle.
“Prosecutors do not see us as people with dignity and rights,” Patricia Espinosa told MintPress News, adding:
“They see us as yet another page in the five, 10, or 20 volumes of the dossier … They believe that the (number) of pages (in) a volume reflects the quality.”
The state’s impunity in the murders of Espinosa, Vera, her roommates and housecleaner is reminiscent of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College, who disappeared while traveling by bus from the province of Guerrero in southwest Mexico to attend a demonstration in Mexico City in September of 2014. Prosecutors maintain that a notorious drug cartel kidnapped and killed the students, and then incinerated their corpses in a local dump site, but witnesses and evidence suggest a scenario in which both local and federal police are responsible for the massacre.
A report released last week by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico found that torture was used by the state to interrogate suspects in the Ayotzinapa case, which helped to undermine the investigation’s conclusions.
For the families of the missing students, the report served to confirm what they already suspected.
“These people were forced to declare what their torturers wanted to hear and not the truth,” said Mario González, father of one of the disappeared students.
Entitled “Double Injustice,” the report identified several human rights abuses – including arbitrary detention, lack of due process, and torture – committed throughout the investigation, and even found that an investigation into human rights violations was stymied by an abrupt change in managerial personnel.
For Patricia Espinosa, the country is in the midst of a human rights crisis in which the state is “complicit” and, without the political will to enforce legally guaranteed protections, the rights of Mexicans under the current regime are “just letters on a page, without any value.”
A case in point is Congressional passage of the Law for the Protection of Defenders of Human Rights and Journalists six years ago. A fine law on paper, but attacks against journalists have continued unabated.
This year is already off to an inauspicious start. On March 21, Leobardo Vázquez Atzin, a reporter with La Opinión was shot dead, making him the third journalist slain so far in 2018. According to local reports, Vázquez had been the subject of threats from a mayor in the state of Veracruz.
Contrary to politicians’ assertions, recent trends suggest that the state, and not the drug cartels, is now the prime purveyor of violence and abuse against journalists.
According to Article 19, nearly half — about 48 percent — of the 1,986 acts of aggression against journalists since 2013 were carried out by the public officials, mostly law-enforcement and the armed forces.
Despite a number of independent investigations that debunk the government’s version of the Ayotzinapa disappearances, the government of Peña Nieto insists it played no role in the crime.
Recently, however, one of the IFAI’s six commissioners, Ximena Puente, announced her candidacy for a Congress seat as a member of the ruling PRI, raising concerns about politicization of the regulatory agency.
In its report, Article 19 also called on the state to act swiftly to bring spending on government publicity under control. The federal government, in particular, spent approximately $2 billion on publicity during a five-year period from January 2013 to December 2017.
The situation is such that the Supreme Court of Justice took the unusual step of ordering the Congress to approve a law regulating government publicity by April 30, 2018.
“The government of Enrique Peña Nieto is unwilling to shoulder the political costs of its lie,” said Mario Patron, director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, at an event addressing the psychosocial impacts on the victims in the Ayotzinapa case.
As a result, families of victims of this narco-political administration are left yearning for justice.
(José Luis Granados Ceja is a writer and photojournalist based in Mexico City).