Mafias, narco and censorship; risk your life daily as a journalist in Veracruz

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With deep scars from the death of 27 colleagues and six disappeared in 15 years, journalists from the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz today face new threats to their person and the right to inform, as reflected in the murder and beheading of Julio Valdivia.

Coverage of intense shootings is slowly being left behind. Those who practice this profession in a large territorial region in the Gulf of Mexico face a double obstacle similar to that of many other regions of the Mexico, considered one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism.

Abroad, reporters from Veracruz are stalked by the tentacles of drug trafficking, self-defense groups, chiefdoms, and in the union, lack of training, improvisation and brutal job insecurity abound.

80% of more than 200 journalists surveyed by the State Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists, have days of more than 8 hours a day, few breaks on weekends, only 8% are paid overtime, a 24 % enjoy vacations and 73% reported average monthly wages of about 7,500 pesos (about $ 350).

In large cities, a journalist is employed in up to four newspaper companies. In rural areas, they combine reporter activity with other trades, from taqueros to tamale vendors.

A very complex region

Six journalists from key areas share their vision and challenges in a state with more than 71,000 km2 of territory and adjacent to seven states in the country.

From the capital of Veracruz, the journalist Eirinet Gómez López recalls that the state has dimensions of Central American countries and its geography entails a particular complexity and problem, with a large number of union, political and social interests.

“It is required to have a great context and professional academic preparation that gives us basic principles of journalistic work. Veracruz has blind spots and if it is difficult for the authority to observe it, as a journalist it requires certain capacity and preparation,” insists the correspondent for La Jornada. 47% of journalists revealed that they had undergraduate studies and only 9% postgraduate.

In remote municipalities, a significant number exercise different trades and jumped into journalism such as Valdivia, who had been a municipal policeman and then fully entered the “reported”, with passion and with the same motivation that led him to sell tamales to survive , as expressed by those close to him.

From the port of Veracruz and with 17 years of photojournalist, Patricia Morales admits that for those who studied journalism or Communication Sciences the coverage is complicated, but it is even more so, and they are more dangerous, for those who have no academic preparation.

“Now it is more difficult when anyone can be a journalist or photojournalist, anyone takes a camera and takes pictures and bosses find it cheap. The professional is moving aside,” he laments.

The violence rages

The composition of drug trafficking in Veracruz has changed since 2010, when the violent Los Zetas Cartel had a territorial dominance of almost 90% in Veracruz. Subsequently, five cartels “divided” the state, which entered a strong spiral of violence, especially until 2016.

From 2010 to date, the blood quota that journalism had to pay is 27 communicators murdered (24 in Veracruz and 3 in other states) and six disappeared, the twenty-fourth was Julio Valdivia, who died a week ago.

“There has been a normalization at the social levelHe, between colleagues and the political class, and that is very bad for the rights of colleagues because they tend to minimize risks, “laments activist Israel Hernández.

Silence or bullet

The calls “silenced areas” they are imposed in municipalities and wide regions. “Maybe the murders of colleagues do not exist in a massive way or as terrible as it happened a few years ago, but now there are silenced areas, that they do not report as they should, journalists are not exercising their right to report, “accuses the journalist, who was shot in 2017 while covering a union fight in the port of Veracruz.

The red-note reporter for the daily El Buen Tono, Gerardo Luna Martínez, covers the central mountainous region. He affirms that high levels of violence related to the dispute of drug trafficking groups continue, which maintains strong risks with a meager salary. “In my case I have a base salary, but some have several jobs, even in their own portals to have an extra income “, reveals.

Poverty and mafias

In the south, they face problems in neighboring states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco, regions with high levels of poverty and a fateful kidnapping industry and migrant smuggling mafias.

“From 5 years to date, we have to take better care of ourselves and take security measures,” says Armando Serrano, with ten years of experience and who works for the newspaper Presencia.

To the coverage of disputes between cartels, the rifirrafes with the self-defense, groups of citizens, mostly cattle ranchers, heavily armed with those who have had friction. “We have tried to avoid certain direct coverage,” says Serrano.

Political censorship

In the north, The presence of organized crime and its vast tentacles represented a serious risk in the past, but today, says journalist Édgar Escamilla, the problem is local political groups.

One of the most sadly iconic cases was the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and activist Nadia Vera, in a five-fold homicide in Mexico City in 2015.

Both had fled Veracruz, alleging threats and harassment from the then state governor, Javier Duarte, currently imprisoned for corruption.

Escamilla also denounced the growing precariousness in the journalistic union. “There are companies that pay 50 pesos (two dollars) per published note or 2,000 pesos (about 95 dollars) a fortnight with delivery of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 daily notes. Without equipment to work, without vehicles, there is no benefits, it is a constant “, denounces the recent winner of the State Prize for Investigative Journalism.

79% of those surveyed by the defense agency in Veracruz have financial dependents and the majority do not have employment benefits. And 46% lack their own home.

In summary, for Eirinet López, job insecurity and extreme violence are a “deadly pairing” for journalists with little capacity to demand their rights.

Beyond Veracruz

Violence against the press in Veracruz is only a reflection of the conditions experienced by so many other reporters in the country.

A recent report by the NGO Article 19 documented 406 attacks against journalists and the media from January to June. This represents an increase of 45% compared to the 280 attacks documented during the same period in 2019.

“In other words, today the press is attacked every 10.75 hours,” said the organization. Since 2000 to date, it has documented at least 134 murders of journalists in Mexico. In 2020, with Valdivia, there are already four journalists assassinated in the country for their work.

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