Killing of journalists undermines Mexico's democracy
Mexico, like the United States, enshrines freedom of expression in its Constitution. Healthy democracies need free, active, independent news media to report on issues and events so residents can discuss and debate them, cast better-informed votes, and hold politicians accountable. When violence, or threats of violence, silences reporters, democratic government falters.
Javier Valdez was killed less than two weeks after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The delegation raised concerns about violence against reporters and news organizations, and the culture of impunity that surrounds such crimes. Between 2010 and 2016, according to a federal agency in Mexico, almost 800 preliminary investigations into crimes against freedom of speech were conducted. Only two produced convictions.
Mexico has taken steps to protect freedom of expression. The Interior Ministry provides certain security measures, such as panic buttons, bodyguards and relocation, for reporters and human rights workers. This may be necessary given current levels of violence, but it shows a disheartening acceptance of the status quo. Journalists shouldn't need security guards to do their jobs.
Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression could be a better tool to protect journalists, but the office is understaffed and under-resourced. Its leadership is too willing to dismiss violence against reporters as unrelated to their work, or as a result of the reporters' own corruption. And prosecutors have been reluctant to accept that public servants, including police and elected officials, perpetrate or direct many attacks on journalists.
The federal prosecutor should have authority to investigate all crimes against journalists. The prosecutor should assume all such attacks are an attempt to silence reporters, and should develop and dispatch specially trained rapid-response units to investigate these crimes before local authorities can compromise evidence. Rising conviction rates would reassure the public and reporters that Mexico is committed to defending freedom of speech.
Last, the United States needs to accept its complicity in the crisis: Americans' craving for illegal drugs fuels much of the violence that shatters lives and communities in Mexico. This isn't the time to cut funding for drug control policy, as President Donald Trump's proposed budget does. It is time to view drug abuse as a public health problem and make effective, evidence-based treatment more accessible to both insured and uninsured Americans. That approach could decrease violence on both sides of the border.
Mexican journalists killed for their work so far this year:
March 2: Cecilio Pineda Birto, Guerrero
March 23: Miroslava Breach Velducea, Chihuahua
April 14: Maximino Rodríguez, Baja California Sur
May 15: Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Sinaloa
"I don't want to be asked: 'What were you doing in the face of so much death, ... why didn't you say what was going on?"
— Javier Valdez Cárdenas, in a television interview last year, when asked why he continued to cover crime and corruption despite the danger; he was slain May 15
SOURCES: The Committee to Protect Journalists; The Guardian