Documents on Mexican Politics.

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Rapport 96


Journalists : 1 killed

Population: 93.7 million
Area: 759,530 square miles
Form of government: Presidential
Per capita GDP: 3,750 dollars
Illiteracy: 10.4%
Languages: Spanish (official), 19 Indian languages

Mexico is going through a period of crisis, with the economy in recession and living standards falling. President Zedillo Ponce de Leon's decision to devalue the peso in December 1994 helped spark an exchange-rate crisis just a year after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Revelations about the murder of politicians in 1994, the discovery of corruption among associates of former president Carlos Salinas and the rebellion in Chiapas state all weakened the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has been in power for 66 years.

Mexico is second only to Brazil in Latin America in terms of the number of media. Television is the most important. Two big private groups, including Televisa, control 300 regional stations and the public network is being privatised. Although there are a lot of daily newspapers, they do not reach many parts of the country. The 1,300 or so radio stations are all local. Although the media in general are more independent than in the past, they have been hard hit by the recession.

Another journalist was killed in 1995 in Mexico, which has recorded more murders of journalists since 1970 than any other Latin American country. The latest was blamed on drug traffickers. Journalists are often prevented from doing their job, especially when they are trying to cover the fighting in Chiapas. The National Human Rights Committee devoted a chapter of its annual report to violations of press freedom.

Journalists killed

Ruperto Armenta Gerardo, editor of the weekly El Regional in Guasave, Sinaloa state, was beaten to death on 5 February 1995. The killers dumped his body in a canal. Lawyer Felipe de Jesus Lizarraga Destampes had threatened several times to "cut out his tongue" after the journalist quoted him in reports. But on 1 January 1996 it had not been possible to establish a clear connection between the murder and the journalist's work.

Freelance reporter Dante Espartaco Cortez was killed in Tijuana, Baja California, on 18 June. A police inquiry found that he had been shot dead by drug traffickers because he was taking too close an interest in their affairs. His father, Dante Cortez, also a journalist, and brother Galileo Cortez were shot and seriously injured while they were giving a press conference on 24 July about the circumstances of the murder.

Jorge Carpizo, chairman of the National Human Rights Committee and Mexico's ambassador to France, urged the committee to investigate attacks and threats against journalists. These were grouped in a chapter of the committee's annual report, which covered the year from May 1994 to May 1995 and was submitted to the Mexican president's office. The chapter lists 11 cases, five of which are still being investigated and six of which have been closed. However, the committee can only make recommendations about what cases it believes could be taken to court.

Among the cases listed by the police as "resolved" is the murder of Jorge Martin Dorantes, editor of the weekly Crucero in Cuernavaca, Morelos state, but the committee called on the state governor to prosecute the suspected killers. This murder, like those of Rolando Medina Mendez, a Televisa journalist, Enrique Peralta Torres and Jose Luis Rojas, reporters with La Union de Morelos, all killed in 1994, were still unpunished on 1 January 1996.

Journalist missing

Cuauhtemoc Ornelas Campos, editor of the magazine Alcance in Torreon, Coahuila state, was last seen on 4 October 1995.

Journalists arrested

Two American freelances, Ruben Cardosa and Robert Treinan, were arrested in Chiapas state in January and falsely accused of incitement to rebellion. They were released shortly afterwards.

Carola del Rio, a Chilean journalist working for the daily La Nacion in Santiago, was arrested and kept in custody for several hours in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas state, on 22 November. She had been covering clashes between small farmers and police forcing them to leave a house they were occupying. A policeman threatened to shoot the journalist to make her hand over her film. Later she and five French and Belgian tourists who had also witnessed the incident were taken to the immigration office and held for seven hours before being released.

Journalists attacked

Political activists threw stones at the offices of the daily La Manana in San Luis Potosi and burned 5,000 copies of the newspaper on 26 January. They were protesting about the newspaper's post-election reporting.

Journalists in Tabasco state were attacked and threatened during demonstrations in February.

Juan Popoca, a photographer with the daily Excelsior, was set upon by demonstrators in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas state, on 20 February.

A journalist with Nucleo Radio Mil, Lourdes de la Torre, was assaulted by police in Nacucalpan, Mexico City state, on 8 March. She wanted to interview them about complaints from people who said they had been victims of extortion.

On 14 May Javier Pedraza Reyes, editor of the daily Diario de Casas Grandes, Chihuahua state, was shot at as he was driving in the town. Javier Quiroz Torres of La Manana de Nuevo Laredo and photographer Reynaldo Garcia Nunez were assaulted by police in Nuevo Laredo, near the border with the United States, on 24 May. The photographer's camera was smashed. He had been taking pictures of police violence against another journalist, Santiago Palmeros, who intervened when customs officers tried to confiscate his wife's clothes.

Two cameramen from the TV news programme Hoy, broadcast on Televisa's Canal 12, were violently beaten by three policemen, including the local superintendent, in the El Treinta neighbourhood of Acapulco on 2 July. Jose Luis Bautista Bazan and Gerardo Torres had been filming the police firing into the air. Their videocassettes were confiscated and the police threatened to kill them if they reported the incident.

On 1 August Leandro Dzib Reyes, a reporter with the daily Tribuna, was assaulted by the Campeche state governor's bodyguards. They also seized his microphone. Lorenzo Chim, correspondent of the daily La Jornada, was roughly pushed by the bodyguards. The journalists had been putting probing questions to the national leader of a small farmers' organisation.

Photographers Carlos Perez Mendoza of La Verdad del Sureste and Ramon Hernandez of Avance were assaulted by traffic police in Villahermosa on 3 November. They had caught the officers molesting a motorist. Seferino Hernandez Vargas, correspondent of the daily La Prensa in Tulancingo, Hidalgo, was attacked on 17 November by the head of the municipal police, who threatened to kill him. The reporter was interviewing him about allegations that he had misused his authority.

Journalists threatened and harassed

Rene Alberto Lopez of the daily La Jornada and Armando Guaman of the magazine Proceso were threatened on 8 January in connection with their investigations in Tabasco state.

A journalist with the daily El Ciudadano in San Luis Potosi filed a complaint on 22 June about a federal police officer, Oscar Benjamin Garcia, who had threatened him. Tomas Perez Mediano had been reporting on disputes within the police.

On 2 August Roberto Hernandez Torres, editor of the weekly El Pinero de la Cuenca, was taking pictures of a municipal councillor firing into the air with a pistol and a rifle in Soyaltepec, Oaxaca state. The councillor turned on him and threatened to shoot him.

An armed man and a woman burst into the offices of the Agencia Estatal de Informacion in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas state, on 10 August, threatening to kill journalist Yolanda Lopez Ordaz. Failing to find her, they called the agency's office in Tapachula, offering to exchange her for another journalist they claimed to have captured.

Francisco Tijerina Gonzalez, editor of the daily La Razon, said on 20 September that he had received death threats from Jesus Humberto Gonzalez, managing director of the Port company, because of the newspaper's allegations that he had won contracts through bribery.

On 27 December Jesus Lopez Tapia, editor of La Manana de Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, was threatened by a gang. Journalists from the daily complained that they were being refused access to public information sources, including the municipal offices. The newspaper had reported allegations of election fraud by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in the 12 November municipal elections.

Administrative, legal and economic pressure

The broadcasting law, which dates from 1960, gives the government far-reaching powers to control radio and TV schedules.

The family of Roberto Garduno, correspondent of the daily La Jornada in Tabasco state, received threatening phone calls on 5 January.

In February the daily Tribuna in Campeche complained about discrimination by the Campeche state government in placing official advertisements. This type of pressure is still widespread in Mexico.

All the phone lines of La Gazeta de Xalapa, a newspaper in Veracruz state that is critical of governor Patricio Chirinos' policies, were cut for several days in April. The management said no other phone subscribers in the neighbourhood had problems and they felt the cuts were a way of intimidating journalists.

Obstacles to the domestic free flow of information

Journalists and human rights workers were barred from going to conflict zones in Chiapas state after Zapatist guerrillas were captured by the Mexican army on 10 February.

Obstacles to the international free flow of information

The army prevented Mexican and foreign journalists and observers from going to Aguascalientes, Chiapas, on 29 March. A military headquarters had been set up there, despite orders from the president that the army should leave the conflict zones.