Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mexican journalist killed -- sixth so far this year (May 16, 2017)

Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was killed by gunman in Sinaloa state yesterday. He had covered the bloody cartel conflict in his home state and the impact of that violence on society, reports the New York Times. Cárdenas, who co-founded Ríodoce in Culiacán -- known for its coverage of the drug war -- and also worked for La Jornada, is the sixth journalist killed this year in Mexico. All of those cases remain unsolved, reports the Wall Street Journal. At least 104 journalists have been killed since 2000, and 25 have disappeared, most cases remain unsolved. (See May 3's post.)

The murder has sparked outrage in Mexico, reports the Guardian. "The murder of Javier Valdez tells us that in Mexico the life of a journalist is completely worthless to those in power," said Esteban Illades, editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos.

"Being a journalist in Mexico seems more like a death sentence than a profession," lamented Amnesty International's Mexico director Tania Reneaum. "Authorities prefer to turn a blind-eye to the ongoing bloodshed, generating a profound vacuum that affects the exercise of freedom of expression in the country."

Animal Político suspended its website and work for the day in solidarity with the assassinated journalists and their families.

President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned the killing on Twitter yesterday, and said the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression would investigate. The prosecutor was replaced earlier this month because of a terrible track record in investigating crimes. (See May 8's briefs.)

A recent report by the  Committee to Protect Journalists found that "Mexico’s press is caught in a deadly cycle of violence and impunity, with journalists in Veracruz state at particular risk of kidnap and murder. Despite authorities appointing a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against freedom of expression and establishing a protection mechanism for journalists, a lack of political will to end impunity exposes Mexico as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists."

Earlier this month Amnesty International said it was “open season” on journalists and described a “war” against the media, while Article 19 referred to a “new peak” in violence. Carlos Lauría, the CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas, told the Washington Post that even when suspects are identified in journalist killings, the authorities rarely link the crimes back to cartels or their leaders.

And several observers have noted that various levels of government add to the chilling effect -- either pressuring journalists to avoid certain topics, slamming them with lawsuits or withdrawing publicity funding, or through involvement with illegal groups. "Mexico's structural problem is impunity," wrote Zorayda Gallegos in El País earlier this month. "In this country journalist assassinations -- like those of the rest of the population -- remain unsolved. ... Blaming only organized crime can be naive when there is a Mexican political class intimately tied with drug trafficking."

In fact, harassment from politicians is a major complaint, alongside threats from organized crime, reported the Guardian recently.

Journalists are also affected by clientelistic practices of media owners, according to Marco Lara Klahr in Nueva Sociedad. He notes the unprecedented growth of excellent journalism and investigation in the country, but says most is produced outside the mainstream media. "The bulk of the the best in-depth reporting stories -- I don't mean leaks, curatorial content or circumstancial hits -- can be found, above all, in books, video or digital media created by freelancers."

The country was the third deadliest in the world for journalists last year -- after Syria and Afghanistan -- and many papers have been forced to shut down or avoid controversial topics for fear of retaliation. (See May 3's post.) Mexico ranks 147th in the world—one spot ahead of Russia—in press freedom, according to the latest ranking of press freedom by advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, notes the WSJ.

This weekend seven journalists in Guerrero state were surrounded by an estimated 100 gunmen, beaten and robbed of their equipment, an attack state authorities blamed on a drug cartel, reports Aristegui Noticias. A crew working for TV network Al Jazeera crew was held at gunpoint and robbed in Sinaloa a few weeks ago, according to the WSJ.

Yesterday, in Jalisco state gunmen opened fire on Sonia Cordova, an executive at the Semanario Costeno weekly magazine, reports Reuters. She was wounded and her son, Jonathan Rodríguez Córdova, who worked as a reporter at the family-run magazine, was reportedly killed.

"In Culiacán … to do journalism is to tread an invisible line drawn by the bad guys, who are in both drug trafficking and the government," Valdez said after being given one of the 2011 International Press Freedom Awards. Last year he published a book entitled Narcoperiodismo, on the dangers facing journalists who report honestly on the rampant crime and corruption gripping Mexico.

News Briefs
  • A very low-profile CIA career veteran has been named director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, reports Univision. Juan Cruz, who did a stint in Colombia a decade ago in a crucial period of struggle against guerrillas and cartels, was widely praised by former Obama administration officials. Cruz, who is a fluent Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico, was also stationed in Peru and Brazil before becoming the CIA director for Latin America. "Univision was unable to find a photograph of Cruz or any reference to him on the internet, a testament to his spycraft."
  • Drug trafficking is responsible for deforesting swathes of Central America, reports the Guardian. This occurs largely as cartels seek to launder profits by buying forest and using the land for agricultural production, according to a study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
  • Hundreds of people are fleeing in fear of violence in San Pedro Sula, the Norwegian Refugee Center said yesterday. Though it has long been one of the region's most violent cities, a turf war between Honduras' main gangs has intensified in recent weeks, reports Reuters.
  • A teenager was killed in a protest in Venezuela's Tachira state yesterday, bringing the protest toll up to 39 in the last six weeks, reports Reuters. Protesters staged sit-ins and roadblocks across Venezuela yesterday, part of an ongoing demand for elections. 
  • Brazilian president Michel Temer admitted he might not have the votes to pass a landmark pension reform, reports Reuters. He said yesterday that the government will only put the bill to vote when it has guaranteed the support of between 320 and 330 lawmakers to clear the 308 votes needed for approval.
  • A year after assuming office, Temer said his government is acting responsibly and avoiding populism -- a direct swipe at his impeached predecessor Dilma Rousseff, reports EFE. Investors seem happy with this approach, but the average Brazilian is not and his approval ratings are below 10 percent, notes Bloomberg. (Other reports from this month have his approval rating at just 4 percent, see May 1's post.)
  • Brazilians are angry at entrenched political corruption, and analysts say this could hand over electoral victory to a Trump-style outsider in next year's presidential race. (See May 2's briefs.) Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a far-right, military-government admiring deputy is a potential aspirant. He dedicated his vote in the impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff last year to her torturer under the dictatorship. In a recent speech in Rio de Janeiro's Club Hebraica he suggested arming the population to combat insecurity, accused civil society organizations of sapping the country's wealth, and called communities living in reserves "parasites," details Nueva Sociedad.
  • Another potential front-runner? Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The stakes are high, argues Marina Lopes in the Washington Post. He faces five trials for his alleged involvement in a $2 billion kickback scheme  -- if he is convicted before the Oct. 2018 presidential election, he would be sent to prison and disqualified from public office. But should he win the presidency before a final ruling, he'd gain presidential immunity from prosecution for the following four years.
  • Resident's of Colombia's Choco department promise to continue a civil strike demanding government investment in development projects, reports TeleSUR. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • No deal yet on sugar between the U.S. and Mexico, a bad sign for the complicated upcoming NAFTA renegotiation talks, reports Reuters.
  • Now that Mexico and Canada have taken steps towards legalizing cannabis -- Mexico in a very limited fashion for medical use, while Canada could become the second country in the world to fully legalize the plant -- the two countries could engage in significant marijuana related trade under NAFTA. It's a party the U.S. looks likely to stay out of, argues Luis Gómez Romero in the Conversation.
  • Jailed Argentine social activist Milagro Sala denounced that she and other women prisoners have been tortured and threatened to death in the Jujuy prison she's been held in for nearly a year and a half, reports TeleSUR. Sala made the same complaints to a U.N. working group on arbitrary detention that visited recently, reports Página 12.
  • The 88-year-old leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group and an ex-aide were charged yesterday with alleged misappropriation of funds meant for building homes for the poor, reports AFP.
  • A wave of financial technology growth in Brazil will likely start chipping away at the country's large bank market share (whatever that means), reports the New York Times.
  • Bolivia set out to exploit its massive lithium reserves over a decade ago. But despite booming prices thanks to tech industry demand, Bolivia has made little progress, reports Yahoo News.

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