Focus on Mexico

mexico
Photo by Daniela Rea

Mexico today is a very dangerous place for journalists and their media. It’s more than a matter of the staggering numbers: more than 60 Mexican journalists have been murdered since 2000. Fear creates an atmosphere of terror and self-censorship, or, as Alfredo Corchado so eloquently notes: it’s midnight in Mexico.

Midnight in Mexico

mexico
Elias Ramirez, 32, of Morelia, Michoacán, was killed on his motorcycle January 1, 2009. Photo by Daniela Rea

Press Challenges: A Personal Account

By Alfredo Corchado

More than 60 Mexican journalists have been murdered and dozens more have disappeared since 2000, more than 30 in the past four years.

Every journalist in Mexico—sometimes even I, an American journalist—wakes up to ask the following questions: How far should I go today, what questions should I ask, or not ask, where should I report, or what place should I avoid? And what photos should I take, or ignore. Should I wear a wig, pretend to be a taco or an ice cream vendor at the crime scene so that I can disguise myself as I try to do my job, which likely means reporting on the latest decapitated body on the streets, or a hanging from a bridge in downtown Juárez, Cuernavaca, Nuevo Laredo or Monterrey.

Should I even answer my cell phone? Because I know that if I do the person calling me is surely a man who calls himself Boots, Rooster, Chicken or Rabbit, a spokesman for the drug traffickers. And once I answer that phone I have no leverage to negotiate. It’s either follow an order or face death, or the killing of a relative, a son, or daughter because that’s the reality in Mexico for a journalist today. The intense questioning, the doubts and the anxiety and stress have many of my Mexican colleagues and us on edge.

My colleagues and I are witnessing the bloodiest period in Mexico since the 1910 Mexican revolution and the biggest threat to Mexico’s national security, its young, fragile democracy and freedom of the press.

Mexico today is among the most dangerous places to do journalism in the world, right up there with Iraq, Russia and Somalia. This is especially true for those of us who cover the U.S.-Mexico border, once a frontier for Mexicans seeking new opportunities and new beginnings.

In the border city of Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, more than 200,000 people have fled the chaos, many to the United States. Today, parts of the border region are increasingly silent. Our beloved border is now paralyzed by fear and chaos and stained by bloodshed. More than 36,400 people have been killed since Dec. 2006, nearly 8000 in Ciudad Juárez alone since January 2008.

Whatever danger we U.S. correspondents face pales in comparison to the dangers faced by our Mexican colleagues. I can call my editor, Tim Connolly, this very second and say, Tim, I don’t feel safe anymore and he’ll say, get on the next flight out. That’s not the case for Mexican journalists.

Let me explain it to you this way: the difference between my Mexican colleagues and me comes down to this: citizenship. I’m thankful and grateful to have parents who many years ago dreamed big and were determined to give my five brothers—Juan, Mario, Francisco, David, Mundo and two sisters—Monica and Linda—and me the chance to dream and achieve. We migrated from a poor community in Mexico to follow the crops in this country when I was just six years old. Along the journey, from Durango to Juárez, California to Texas and back to Mexico, I was able to obtain a little blue passport that says I am a citizen of the United States of America.

As imperfect as our judicial institutions are, I have perhaps a naïve, but unwavering belief that if something is to happen to me, there would be consequences to pay. That our newspapers, our media companies, our colleagues would stand up and demand answers and justice, that our deaths wouldn’t become just another number. Someone would seek justice.

Three years ago as I prepared to celebrate an award from Columbia University—the Maria Moors Cabot prize—I got a call from a trusted U.S. intelligence source who said “I have raw intelligence that says the cartels will kill an American journalist in 24 hours … I think it’s you. Get out of Mexico now.”

I called my U.S and Mexican colleagues who were preparing a celebration dinner for me that evening and said, there’s a death threat and I think we should cancel dinner. Dudley Althaus from the Houston Chronicle insisted, “If they’re going to kill you, he said, they will have to kill us, too. So come on over and have some tequila.” Subsequent solidarity included a protest letter from the U.S. ambassador and editorials in some U.S. newspapers.

My Mexican colleagues can’t say the same thing. They don’t have that kind of solidarity among themselves; they don’t share that trust with their own editors, less so with their own government.

Today, the vast majority of the killings in Mexico, whether you’re a woman in Ciudad Juárez, or a cop, or your average citizen, end up as crimes unsolved, unpunished—“crímenes no resueltos.” More than 95 percent of all crimes in Mexico go unresolved.

I dreamed of being a foreign correspondent not because I wanted to live in some exotic land, but simply because I wanted to return to my homeland. I ached for my roots, language and culture. I often ask myself questions I thought I had finally resolved. Am I what I believe I am? Do I belong to the United States, this powerful country built on principles of rule of law, yet still faced with contradictions—the insatiable appetite for guns, cash and drugs, or do I belong to Mexico, the country of my roots, where my umbilical cord is buried, where we use nationalism and patriotism to more often than not mask our corruption, our poverty and inequality?

The hyphenated complexities of being Mexican-American create a confusing feeling of being in-between. For me personally, this also instills a sense of a higher responsibility to share these stories, especially now when so many reporters have been forced to censor themselves or face death.

As such I strive to understand that when you cover Mexico, particularly the U.S.-Mexico border, nothing is black or white. There are only shades of gray; that to understand these stories you must go deeper, and be able to see and distinguish between shades of gray, understand that not everything is as bad, or good, as it seems.

And that there are always, always, always many sides to this story.

Take for instance, the story of young men who no longer dream of going to the United States to toil in the fields, but who see opportunity in becoming hit men in Mexico, earning as little as 250 to 1500 pesos, the equivalent of $22 a hit to $130 a week. As the old iconic Mexican song from José Alfredo Jiménez, “la vida no vale nada” — life in Mexico is worth nothing.

We’re talking about a whole new generation of children affected—numbed by the daily violence around them and teens from both sides of the border who embrace a new lifestyle and a new saying: “Prefiero vivir cinco años como rey, que 50 años como buey.” I prefer to live five years as a king than 50 as an ox.

Or consider the young Chicano gang member who now uses the same immigration routes his grandparents used decades ago to embrace a new life, a chance at an opportunity. Today, gang members, hand in hand with powerful Mexican cartels, use the same route to distribute drugs in more than 250 U.S. communities where Mexican cartels have an influence. Their role model is a thug from Laredo, Texas, with the name Edgar Valdez Villarreal, better known as La Barbie, a Texas high school football player who rose through the ranks as a hit man to become the most notorious American in a Mexican cartel. The heroes of my time had names like César Chávez, or JFK, or Martin Luther King.

How did things get so bad in Mexico? The answers are complex. Demand for drugs in the U.S., the lure of easy cash, the widespread availability of guns, especially high-powered weapons, smuggled from the United States.

And on the Mexican side it had to do with ignoring a reality: corruption, complicity and greed. For too long, the two countries blamed each other and as they did, Mexico slowly descended into darkness. Corruption grew like a cancer within the government.

Today, Mexico’s conflict is really a war within. It’s about a country trying to redefine itself, become a nation of rule-of-law, but without a clear path, or mandate. Few can question whether President Calderón had any other choice but to take on organized crime, which had reached the upper echelons of power. But whether or not he had the right strategy and the right people is a question that will haunt him, Mexico and us for decades.

The spillover into the United States isn’t so much about violence, but about an exodus of Mexico’s most talented people. And you’re seeing that in enrollment in universities across the country. People migrating today aren’t just nannies, or people picking your blueberries in Maine, or caring for your cows in Vermont or working in restaurants in Boston. No, we’re talking about well-educated professionals, people who used to create jobs—people who now fear being kidnapped, or extorted by criminal gangs.

My biggest concern is that Mexico has yet to reach bottom and nobody yet knows where that bottom is, or what it may look like.

I stumbled onto the story seven years ago when after a brief period at our Washington, D.C. bureau I was assigned a story to investigate who was killing so many women in Juárez. There I discovered the role of organized crime with the help of police in kidnapping and killing some of these women, with no consequences.

After Juárez I discovered Nuevo Laredo, where Americans were also being kidnapped, and a new paramilitary group, the Zetas, members of the Mexican military partly trained by the U.S. government, was terrorizing society.

Suddenly, I was immersed in stories about U.S. agencies mishandling informants, or how U.S.- trained Mexican soldiers had gone rogue, or the deep corruption inside the Mexican government.

I had left Mexico for Washington in 2000, convinced by U.S. officials that the election of an opposition government, the end of 71 years of one party rule, signaled the automatic birth of democratic institutions. Far from it, organized crime took advantage of a power vacuum. With greater ease they bought off entire police forces, politicians, beginning with mayors and local governments. And then they also bought off journalists. The cartels became de-facto governments. It was no longer the threat of plata or plomo, silver or lead. It was our way, or six feet under.

These cartels are very sophisticated about mastering the message. Today, media members serve as spokesmen. Cartel spokespeople will call reporters or editors and dictate what should or shouldn’t be covered in that evening’s newscast, or in tomorrow’s newspaper. Imagine working in a newsroom where you don’t know if your colleague is the brave journalist, or a spy for a cartel.

Last year, El Diario de Juárez asked: what do you want from us? The message was aimed, the editor said, at the drug traffickers. It was a way of expressing their frustration, and sense of impotence of living in the shadow of organized crime.

I’d want to believe that the message was also meant as a wake up call for civil society, because until civil society demands more from wealthy media moguls, journalists will be poorly trained and paid, something that will make them vulnerable to the threats of organized crime.

Earlier this year, Nieman curator Bob Giles wrote a piece of advice that ran in the New York Times editorial page:

To the Editor:
The brave journalists reporting on the Mexican drug cartels under the most fearful circumstances should remember a cardinal rule of journalism: no story is worth dying for.

Another friend, and one of the best former Latin American correspondents, Doug Farah, constantly reminds me, “no color is worth dying for.”

I couldn’t agree more with Giles and Farah. Far from preaching that we all be journalistic cowboys, I would argue that we must find a way to find a balance: fear-versus-silence. We must find a way to tell the story, and not let fear be the deciding factor, don’t allow fear to become the ultimate editor who decides whether or not we pursue a story.

Last year, I went to the city of Reynosa, Mexico, with some colleagues to confirm rumors of running gun battles on the streets in broad daylight. We heard parents were keeping their kids home from schools, staying home from work, others were fleeing in droves to Texas.

Because of a media blackout, some were resorting to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to share news about when it was safe to go outside, or whether to drive down specific streets. The big story on the front pages of newspapers in the area that day? The price of onions going up.

I’m not saying fear is wrong. I actually think feeling fear is a powerful force. Fear is a survival skill. If you’re not scared you become reckless. Fear forces us to stake stock of our lives and reminds us how much life means to us.

So what we cover and how we cover this story is a very personal decision.

I became a 2009 Nieman fellow because I was scared, because I questioned whether what I was doing was the right thing. When I returned to Mexico I felt numb, separated from the story because I realized I didn’t want to put my life on the line anymore.
That sentiment changed on January 31, 2010 when 16 people, most of them teens, were gunned down. When I heard the news that Sunday morning, I felt, like many people, well, they’re probably gang members. So we went to check it out and soon discovered that most were students, athletes, sons and daughters of parents who had dreams for them; parents who told them don’t stray too far from home. Celebrate your friend’s birthday across the street, so you can be close to home.

The hit men were wrongly tipped off that the party was for a group of rival gang members. So they stormed in and lined up and killed 13 of the 36, while friends, or brothers and sisters hid in closets, others hid underneath the bodies of their friends and siblings.

I will never forget the day of the funeral, the sight of a dozen hearses on that street, the sight of coffins, the wailing from parents, friends, brothers and sisters. I’m grateful that it was a rainy day because I felt so angry that I was able to mask my tears with raindrops. And on that sad, gray, rainy morning I broke my silence and found my voice again.

Alfredo Corchado, Mexico City bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, is a 2010-11 Visiting Fellow at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and a 2009 Nieman Fellow. He is currently working on a forthcoming book Midnight in Mexico: A Personal Account of My Homeland’s Descent Into Darkness.

This article is based on a speech delivered by Alfredo Corchado on receiving the Elijah Lovejoy Award at Colby College.

Under Fire in Mexico

mexico
Bullets fired at the headquarters of El Siglo de Torreón struck the customer entrance. Nobody was hurt in the attack August 18, 2009. Photo by Javier Garza Ramos

'They Hit Us'

By Javier Garza Ramos

It was past midnight, in the first minutes of Tuesday, August 18, 2009, when my cell phone rang with a call from the newsroom of El Siglo de Torreón, the daily in Torreón, Mexico, where I work as editor-in-chief. I thought it was a routine call about a breaking story. In a way it was, but the news value was the least of my concerns.

“Ya nos pegaron,” said the frightened voice of the night editor. “They hit us.”

My heart sank. A “hit” might mean many things, the worst being a kidnapped or murdered reporter. In this case, it had been shots from an AK-47 fired at the building from a corner across the street. The bullets hit the customer entrance of our advertising department, which was closed at that hour.

The burst of gunfire had gone unnoticed in the printing department, where the presses were rolling at full speed, but it broke the quiet in the newsroom, where editors were putting the final touches on the next day’s edition. At least 20 rounds had been fired, and the bullets pierced the steel curtain that closed the entrance at night, shattering six windows and putting holes in walls and furniture.
Because the shots were fired at a closed entrance, nobody was hurt, and the only people inside had been well protected by the building itself.

When the night editor called to say “they hit us,” he didn’t need to explain who “they” were. Mexican media have been under attack by organized crime for the last five years, killing 10 journalists, including one in Torreón. Five more would be killed in the months following the attack against El Siglo. Criminals had carried out attacks with grenades or gunfire against the headquarters of news organizations and were forcing the media to impose self-censorship.

The next day we were flooded by calls from Mexican media and national and international press associations expressing sympathy and asking what had happened.

Organized crime is what happened. In the previous two years, Torreón had quickly descended in a spiral of violence linked to the fight among the drug cartels and the offensive against them launched in 2006 by President Felipe Calderón. The number of homicides, kidnappings and street shootouts was on the rise. The proximity of La Laguna region to the border made it a zone coveted by drug cartels. A turf war had erupted.

The face of Torreón is very different from what it was even in the summer of 2006, when I returned to take over the El Siglo newsroom. I had spent the previous 12 years working in Mexico City, Washington and Austin. Even in 2006, with the battle among the drug cartels raging across Mexico, Torreón was still the quiet city where I had grown up, rapidly growing as an agricultural, transportation and industrial hub in northern Mexico.

Drug trafficking had been seldom in the news, but that doesn´t mean it didn’t happen. As far back as the 1970s, La Laguna had been a main crossing point for drugs from the Pacific ports to the United States. The region is the crossroads of northern Mexico, halfway between Mexico City and Ciudad Juárez, and the Pacific coast and the Texas border.

Stories about drug trafficking and cartel activity in La Laguna popped up every now and then, but after 2007, the intensity took everyone by surprise. However, attacks against journalists in the region had been unheard of until 2009, when the events we had seen happening in other parts of the country hit home.

After the attack against El Siglo, officials from the federal government and the Coahuila state government pledged cooperation and a full and swift investigation. But the promises were taken with a grain of salt, because most previous attacks against the media remained unsolved and were quickly forgotten.

Barely three months earlier, in May, Eliseo Barrón, a reporter at La Opinión (our main competitor) had been kidnapped at his house. When our lead police reporter learned of the kidnapping, he thought the criminals would go after more journalists; he was resigned to being kidnapped that same night. They did not get him, but Eliseo Barrón’s body was found the next day in an irrigation canal.

After Barrón was killed, I huddled with my deputy and the city editor to review our crime coverage and find ways to protect ourselves. We had done that before, and as a result, toned down the stories on violence. Fully aware that we did not have government protection, we felt that the only way to protect ourselves was to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes. We did not resort to self-censorship, but decided to pursue a very limited, basic reporting on stories about organized crime, sticking to official information without conducting our own investigations.

After the attack on our building, we reviewed our recent crime coverage, searching for clues about the motive for the hit. But we had published only police reports on murders and shootouts, taking care to omit the names of the cartels and avoid the appearance that we were “keeping score” in their fight to control La Laguna. We didn’t find anything that might have provoked a criminal group. The Coahuila Attorney General told us the most likely motive had been that a group wanted to “heat things up,” calling the attention of the Army and the Federal Police to the region presumably to hit a rival cartel, and believing that the attack on a newspaper would do the trick. But the investigation soon went cold, and we never knew what really happened.

In late 2006 and early 2007 the region came under fire from cartels seeking to control the lucrative routes and the profitable local market for drug selling. Homicides spiked dramatically, from an average of one every four days in 2007 to one every two days in 2008, to one per day in 2009 and almost three daily in 2010. Shootouts breaking out in major avenues infused the population with panic. Commerce fell; the once active nightlife shut down. Innocent bystanders began to be added to the toll—a four year-old boy caught by a bullet during a firefight between the Army and an armed group; a 25-year-old engineer in his house, hit by a bullet from a shootout next door. And dozens more: roughly one out of every ten of the more than 1,500 homicide victims in La Laguna since 2007 have had no connection to organized crime. They’re “collateral damage,” as the government calls them.

That toll of innocent civilians rose sharply in 2010 as the battle turned vicious and the violence more widespread. That year, armed groups attacked two bars and a private party, shooting people at random. Ten people died in an attack in January, another eight in a hit in May, and 17 more in July. All were without any connection to the drug cartels. In June, hitmen (sicarios) attacked a drug rehabilitation center, killing 11 people because some of them had been drug dealers from rival gangs.

The impact in the newsroom was a mix of shock and powerlessness. We rushed to report the wave of violence, but the possibility of an attack and the lack of protection from the authorities prevented us from going into the depth and breadth called for in a story of this magnitude, with its dramatic effect on the population.

Our limits were put to the test in late July. The Zetas cartel posted a video on YouTube showing a local cop being interrogated by hitmen at gunpoint, confessing that the sicarios that attacked the bars in Torreón were inmates at the jail in neighboring Gómez Palacio, who had been let out by the warden to carry out the killings. The inmates were associated with the Sinaloa cartel, and the jail was then taken over by federal authorities.

A few days later, while reporting the Federal Police presence at the jail, two cameramen and one reporter from two TV stations (Televisa and Milenio) were kidnapped. One of our reporters had been with them until 15 minutes before the abduction; when he returned to file his story, we sent another reporter to replace him, but pulled him from the scene as soon as we learned about the TV crews. For the next five days we did not send anyone to cover any story in Gómez Palacio, no matter how trivial.

As it turned out, the kidnapping had been a way for the Sinaloa cartel to blackmail Televisa and Milenio into broadcasting interrogation videos of their own, in which police officers talked about links between local politicians and the Zetas.

After pressure from news organizations and press associations, and widespread international coverage, the Federal Police rescued the reporters and arrested eight people. But a dangerous precedent had been set: if a cartel doesn’t like certain coverage, it can always kidnap a reporter to force his newspaper or TV station into running its own version.

The kidnapping also reinforced our strategy of doing basic reporting on violent episodes, and we found a way to make up for it with stories about crime statistics, the spike in armed robberies, the social and economic impact of violence, the testimonials of people living under its shadow, and the links between poverty, unemployment and crime.

But the incident had left a deep scar among journalists in La Laguna, dramatically underlining the threat. Our feelings were symbolized by the editorial that El Diario de Juárez ran in September after the murder of one of their photographers. “What do you want from us?” El Diario asked the cartels in Ciudad Juárez, addressing them as the “de facto” authorities of the city.

For three years, I had been thinking long and hard about what circumstances I would have to face for writing an editorial like that. But my thoughts were always private, quietly hoping that, as an editor responsible for the safety of El Siglo’s reporters, I would never be confronted with that situation. Until now I have been spared, but other editors and reporters have had to face it, and maybe it’s just a matter of time. In these days in La Laguna, a hit is always around the corner.

Javier Garza Ramos is editor-in-chief of El Siglo de Torreón in Torreón, Mexico. He studied in the Universidad Iberoamericana and the University of Texas at Austin, and has worked as editor and reporter for Reforma in Mexico City, and Rumbo de Austin.

Juárez in the Shadows

mexico
Children were witnesses to the crimes at Senderos de Pamplona. Photo by Judith Torrea

A Blogger's View

By Judith Torrea

It is ten minutes before midnight; I’ve already reported on ten crimes in fewer than six hours. Today, fifteen people have died.

To remember the exact number of muertitos—little dead people, in the very particular journalistic jargon of Ciudad Juárez—I have to look at my notes. At times, I am at one crime scene for only fifteen minutes. I have to go rushing out to another “event.” Ciudad Juárez is a sprawling city and it takes time to go from one place to another. It is a big and violent city, but one with a fierce blue sky and magical sunsets.

I am a journalist. And now I am a freelance journalist in a city that is categorized as the most dangerous in the world. I do not always find a place to publish my stories, so my blog Ciudad Juárez, en la sombra del narcotráfico (Ciudad Juárez, in the shadow of drug trafficking) (http://juarezenlasombra.blogspot.com) arose from my need to make all those stories public. Without having to wait for an editor. Without self-censorship.

My stories are not investigative reporting. They are features on daily life in this city, seen through my eyes. Publishing these stories in my blog helps me feel alive among constant death. It is my cry for justice.

The hardest part is thinking about these events. I realize that the horror that many of my sources predicted (and many of these sources have now been murdered themselves) not only has been surpassed, but now a new ingredient has been added: Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s so-called war against the narcos, in the context of the struggle between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juárez Cartel to take over the drug routes that extend from Colombia to U.S. consumers.

Since the war began, more than 7,300 people have been murdered in the city. Ciudad Juárez has become a militarized city. If before January 2008, it was poor, attractive women who disappeared, death has now been democratized. Merely being alive is dangerous.

The murders have left 10,000 orphans—children who run the risk of growing up to be paid assassins—sicarios—if the Mexican authorities don’t take action.

I am a journalist and prefer to give voice to the voiceless. Hopefully, the portraits of the victims I publish on my blog help readers to reflect on the war; there is nothing else I can do. I can only report what I see. Here are a few exerpts from my blog.

THE NARCOCORRIDO ANNOUNCING DEATH

A little after five in the afternoon on Wednesday, November 11, the radio of the municipal police in Ciudad Juárez was interrupted for a few seconds by a narcocorrido—a drug-related Mexican musical ballad.

I could not tell if this was a song preferred by the Juárez cartel or that of Sinaloa, two drug groups that are battling for control of this much-desired (codiciada) zone—and fight even on the police radio waves.

The only thing that I could be certain of was that death was approaching. Someone was going to be murdered. Half an hour later, the Senderos de Pamplona Street in a working class neighborhood became a spectacle of horror.

When I got to the street, one body was sprawled by the side of a latest-model white Avalanche SUV; another inside a black Pontiac.
Some schoolchildren recounted details of the murders. They were the first witnesses; they were getting out of class when they saw an armed group of men with machine guns pursuing the two victims. (continues on the blog)

SEVEN DEATHS IN FEWER THAN SEVEN HOURS

He was called Junior, at least until an hour ago. Now he lies at his girlfriend’s door in the working class neighborhood of Lomas del Rey. The federal police have just arrived, although the body has been lying on the ground for an hour. Then the military and the municipal police show up. They are all looking at the body. Some are right up close. Others maintain a distance, like the two federal policemen who chat with two teenage girls sporting white skin, charming smiles and jet-black eyes.

Junior was 18. He worked alongside his father in a mechanic’s shop, and all the neighbors said he was a good kid. Today, out of the blue, a black Explorer SUV sped up, and Junior began to run. Another vehicle cornered him. They gunned him down.

Thirty-three bullet shells were on the ground, more than found in his body. Now he is one more cadaver—for many. For Marta, no; he is the eighth neighbor she has lost in seven months and in many of these cases, the gunshots have been heard; the body was seen lying in a pool of blood; the emergency number 066 had been called to ask for help.

“Can I ask you for help with something? I need a psychologist for my friend. Her 15-year-old son was killed three months ago. She can’t sleep; she doesn’t want to live,” she asks. She says nothing about herself—a 46-year-old woman who has lost eight neighbors to violence in as many months.
(continues on the blog)

CHILDREN BURYING CHILDREN

I don’t know how to begin to tell you what I experienced today, Wednesday, February 3.

The 40-year-old gravedigger Manuel Cano is also speechless. His tear-filled eyes betray the depths of his emotions. Like Juárez’s intensely blue sky that has suddenly turned a fierce gray with heavy rain during much of the day.

And Cano has seen many coffins. More than 6,000. But the last ones were the hardest to take in all his ten years working at the cemetery. “Ciudad Juárez is being massacred. It is a ghost city. There’s no future here,” he explains as he shovels dirt on another grave, one of seven in a row. The gravedigger continues, covering the same graves that he has dug. Meanwhile, he is listening to cheers like “Chuy, presente!!! We love you! A la bio, a la ban! Chuy, Chuy and no one else!” And then he hears the memorial shouts for those lying in the six other tombs.

Jesús Armando Segovia (“Chuy”) was 15, although on his white cross they listed him as two years older. He was an excellent student and sportsman. To the authorities, he was one more member of a gang.

For many, saying that someone is a gang member is an easy way to justify lack of legal investigation; only social or political pressure can galvanize the authorities into action, as happened in the case of the femicides. The justice system is severely flawed and impunity is rampant.

“Chuy” was one of 16 kids who were murdered Saturday at a student party, and one of seven who were given their final farewells on the same street, in the same church and in the same cemetery. They were all neighbors.

Their friends buried them, children burying other children. They ranged from 13 to 19 years old, more or less the same age as the kids who were executed, converted by the violence of their deaths into alleged gang members and drug traffickers. The mourners were closer to being children than adolescents. You could tell that by the way they dressed, by their airs of innocence.

All these kids were still in school, studying hard, the only rays of light in the working class neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar, where most people work in assembly plants. But hope has now been massacred in this militarized city.

THE PRISON QUEEN

In April, six months ago, her image was published around the world. She was smiling. Then she was crying, tears of happiness. She had achieved something she never thought would happen: being chosen a beauty queen.

Her daughters, three and four years old, began to tell her, “See, mommy, you are my princess.” And she would tell them that someday they would be princesses too.

She looks at the picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe she has painted in jail. She has been sentenced to five years in prison for possession of five kilos of marijuana. Sitting on her small bed, she expresses painful emotions through her large eyes. She did not want to see him, not in this fashion, in a coffin, his body tortured. And headless.

She did not want to see him, Iván Roque, her husband, murdered one day before his 30th birthday.

They offered to bring his body to the jail and to open the coffin for a few seconds so that she would be able to mourn him. But she thanked them and refused the offer. She wanted to remember him alive and whole. (continues on the blog)

EPILOGUE

I live in this city that I have chosen. In a place where great deeds of solidarity take place while human lives are being snatched every single day, and the world only waits to see how more deaths there will be in my dear Juárez, where the blue sky turns into the ochres, oranges and red tones of magic sunsets—until they kill you.

Judith Torrea is an independent journalist and blogger from Spain. She received the 2010 Ortega y Gasset Award, the most important journalism award in the Spanish-speaking world. At the time, she was the only foreign journalist living in Ciudad Juárez. She is the second blogger who has won the award: Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez won it in 2008.

From the Ashes of Violence (English version)

violence
A mother remembers her son. Photo by Marcela Turati

Building Justice through Journalism

By Marcela Turati

Ever since that afternoon when schoolteacher Gloria Lozano stared at her only son riddled with bullets on an empty lot next to the bodies of twelve other young people, all victims of a hit squad —among them, a first-time dad embracing his infant—ever since then, neither she nor any of the other families of the “Creel martyrs” would ever be the same. In their struggle for justice, the families have blocked highways, staged marches, taken their message to radio stations, dragged cardboard coffins through the streets, interrupted government events, blanketed businesses with official posters offering rewards for gunmen’s arrest, corraled the governor, the mayor and whatever official they could get their hands on and, in a tactic that surprised even themselves, stopped a train carrying tourists to Barrancas del Cobre. For a long time now, they have been investigators. They now know who murdered their children. Now they want justice.

“We are not afraid; they have killed us already, along with our children,” shouts an angry Lozano, each time that she thinks of the possible consequences of her odyssey.

Reporting on the Creel massacre in the Mexican state of Chihuahua was a watershed for me in my weekly systematic coverage of the social effects of the violence in Mexico. Along with many of us Mexican journalists, I became a war correspondent in my own country, after the drug cartels and the Army turned it into a battlefield, a surge of violence many officially date back to 2007.

In the highlands community in the state of Chihuahua where the 13 youth were murdered in August 2008, I discovered a new class of individuals—fearless and brave, with a burning desire to obtain justice. Their pain had forced them to break away from the pattern of victimhood that I had witnessed on other assignments: people paralyzed by fear, ashamed and stigmatized, frustrated by impotence.

Since that time of the Creel massacre, I have given myself the assignment of trying to discover in the midst of the horrors and tragedies those people who have the strength to organize themselves, to share their pain to heal others, who take to the streets to reclaim them for the citizens. Their hearts may be broken, their lives ruined, the coffins still reposing in the living room, but they find the strength to act, and I in turn must find the strength to honor these stories of courage in the midst of their grief.

It has not been easy. I have managed this kind of reporting only a few times. One must be able to observe closely and have a lot of patience. And, above all, one first must move through the difficult paths of one’s own paralysis, fear, impotence, fatalism, to touch much pain in order to denounce its causes, to improvise and even to make mistakes.

The cyclone of violence surprised us Mexicans, and journalists were not prepared. We were overwhelmed by the new codes of blood in which extermination is the goal, where fury is the message and is expressed through decapitated, carbonized, disappeared bodies, dissolved in acid, executed, tortured, massacred.

We tried to keep our focus on the social implications, rather than statistics, on protagonists, rather than victims. This type of journalistic coverage did not take place in a vaccum. Since 2006, before the explosion of drug violence, a group of Mexican reporters became concerned with responsible journalism with human rights as its focus. Even before we had the slightest suspicion that Mexico would turn into a battlefield, we began to join together in what we later called the Network of Social Journalists, roughly equivalent to “Grassroots Journalists.”

We wanted to organize to develop our tools of investigation, good writing, information planning and new knowledge for the purpose of covering effectively for our media social-oriented themes such as health, education, human rights, ecology and migration—vital information that allows citizens to understand what is happening, but information that is often perceived by editors as a way of filling space. Political, judicial and economic stories, as well as entertainment and publicity, all take precedence over issues of social relevance.

In order to strengthen our work, we began to contact experts in social development and well-known journalists from other countries who were passing through Mexico. Without a budget of our own, we invited these experts to dinners or breakfasts in exchange for giving talks. The inevitable question we posed was how to focus on coverage on human rights issues.

Then drug violence began to escalate. In 2007, several of our group were sent to the battlefront. I was assigned by the magazine Proceso to cover Ciudad Juárez, the epicenter of Mexican violence, which since that time has become the city with the highest murder rate in the country. I confess that I—and several of my colleagues—did not even know the names of the various drug cartels who were fighting over turf. But the one tool that we did have was training to identify the factors that were provoking violence in the society.

The emergency forced us to improvise coverage in the best way we could. However, we found it to be a complicated exercise fashioned day after day in the heat of each new emergency. We required constant training, education of our faculties of observation, learning to read accounts of trials, constructing a different discourse, overcoming fear and making sure that indignation and hope do not simply burn out. For a long time, we merely kept a body count that in the newsroom we dubbed the “execution meter,” the daily statistics of deaths that police reporters kept as evidence of the torment of blood.

Suddenly, the violence was so great that some of us reporters who had promised ourselves that we would never cover drug trafficking found ourselves at the scene of bloody crimes, interviewing witnesses or survivors, attending funeral wakes, searching for facts about the victims with which to construct a skeletal obituary or reconstructing a massacre to “document the horror.”

But it got to the point that the pile of dead people seemed infinite, in which each massacre seemed just like the last one, in which six terrible pieces of news competed with each other for front page space. Coverage had to be conceived in a manner that would not just be reacting to events—just as we had conceived our socially-oriented coverage on health and education issues. It was the moment to seize the agenda, take it away from the violent ones who had set it, to give back a sense of life and dignity to the victims and power to the citizens. That is: to shed light on what is happening through the lens of human rights. That is what I call journalism that denounces what is happening and announces what can be changed.

Thus, we began to describe the misfortunes of poor towns forced into the cultivation of poppies, the raw material for heroin. We covered the tragedy of “juvenicide” (young people murdering other young people), the drama of towns with populations exiled by violence, the stories of prisoners tortured into confessing their guilt as hitmen, the surge in human rights violations. As we began to report on these situations, relatives of victims began to show up in the newsroom with photos in their hands, looking for family members who had been forcibly disappeared by the Army, the police, drug traffickers or for absolutely unknown reasons. Soon, these isolated visits became a flood of family members hoping to find information about their loved ones.

The emergency forced us to beef up our training sessions. Through the journalists’ association, we organized courses on the risks of militarization; on drug trafficking networks from cultivation to consumption; social themes that intersected with security issues; the experience of the Colombian conflict; how to interview children affected by the violence; how to protect ourselves and defend freedom of expression.

The government line considers the assassination of more than 34,000 Mexicans in this war a victory, alleging that nine out of every ten deserved that fate because they were drug traffickers. We refused to accept that explanation and kept on investigating; we are not toeing the government line of blaming the victims. We also refuse to be involuntary spokespersons for drug traffickers in waging a campaign of fear which they staged a macabre performance with the bodies of their rivals to instill terror and to deprive their victims of any remaining humanity.

At this point, several journalists decided to give the gruesome statistics a face, to rescue the histories of the dead, to learn their ages and what impact their absence had caused in their families, in their neighborhoods, and each of us had to grieve (or at least to worry).

Certainly, there is a moment when the individual anecdote becomes so draining that readers are no longer willing to read about personal tragedies. This fact obliges us to shape our stories in a different fashion and piece together the individual tragedies so that they become a reflection of a social phenomenon.

“Who has done their task?” asks the psychologist at the beginning of the group session. The students remained silent in their seats. She reminds them that their task is to give away the clothes of the dead person to advance the grieving process. Or at least to try to do so.

A woman in the audience comments that it freaks her out to give the expensive suits belonging to her son, a policeman known for his elegance and neatness, until he was gunned down. The woman’s remark sparks a question from an elderly man who asks if it is bad to converse every day with the photo of his son who was murdered in the street. A worker confesses that she could not get herself to get rid of her husband’s belongings because he was still missing, though she did accept giving away her murdered son’s possessions so that others could put them to good use.

Grief therapy in Ciudad Juárez was the subject of my story of a religious collective’s recently organized workshops to heal the families who had lost one or more family members. This served as a mirror, a painful one, which reflected the profound social damage caused by the murders.

During a year and a half, I had asked each one of the social organizations if they had created some sort of a support system for the families of the thousands of people murdered in the city, but they only replied that they had been overwhelmed by the violence. I discovered the grief workshops only when I saw a sign on the street inviting families to grief workshops in the church.

In every armed conflict, there is an abundance of victims and we need to find a way to explain how their suffering is a matter of concern for the entire society. From the beginning, thanks to the training we had received from our Colombian colleagues and because of our dedication to covering social themes, the reporters in our network made the decision to make the victims visible because those who commit the violence inevitably have headlines guaranteed in the media, as reporters are always keeping track of these violent crimes and the perpetrators are always the protagonists.

Facing the grief of others is always a delicate task, and it requires preparation, patience and time. On many occasions, those who have been victims of violence are too afraid to talk to journalists or they see reporters as vultures who prey on others’ grief.
In such situations, we also seek to avoid portraying victims as defenseless people, lacking in options and rights. Instead, we must try to make these victims visible as protagonists, as able to take charge of their fate and, against all odds, as people who demand that their rights be restored or organize themselves to help others.

It required systematic reporting over a long period of time to ferret out the citizens who are organizing themselves, who have lost their fear and resist their situation with dignity. In violence-torn Mexico, collectives of mothers in search of their disappeared children have sprung up; families have united in the investigation of the murders of their family members; students connect with others through Twitter to oppose the violence and artists take to the streets with the mission of recovering them as public space for citizens.

In reporting their activities (but at the same time making sure not to put these courageous people at risk), we have opened a window of hope in moments in which it seems there is no possibility of hope. With these types of stories, we hope to enable the population to recover its self-esteem, to seek out others to work together collectively and we provide a face to victims as individuals, who in spite of the tragedies, have not been defeated.

The cost in lives lost to the violence has been so high that the sons and daughters of murdered people participate in almost every mundane venue from day care centers, to classrooms,to catechism classes to sports events. The so-called “orphans of the executed” are found everywhere, a collective that is all too easy to join.

Many have participated in group therapy. For them, organizations such as Casa Amiga have created a therapeutic atmosphere with a psychologist who, in the midst of guided relaxation, instructs them, for example, in these words: “Now, lying down like this, with your eyes still shut, with your body now relaxed, bring to your mind, the death of your dad, at what moment did you learn that he had been killed? Feel your heart beating? What did you feel then? What was the expression on your face when you got the news?....” When she leads them into a state of profound sleepiness, the therapist asks them to draw what they visualize and in their drawings, they depict hearts that have been cut into pieces, others wrapped in tears, and others wounded with deep scars. Then she suggests healing and they start to add bandaids, adhesive tape, tissues and little flowers into their drawings. They even manage to fix some of the scars that wound their souls.

The story we wrote on therapy for children orphaned by the violence motivated sixty psychologists from Chihuahua to create a network of therapists devoted to alleviating the social pain caused by overexposure to violence, and two months later, these psychologists allied themselves with the recently created organization of families of the disappeared.

The creation of the two networks was a beacon of hope in the context of the desolation experienced in many regions of the country. The network of the families of the disappeared, together with human rights activists, exchanged legal and psychological tips, and strategies for political struggles. They discussed how to take cases to the international courts to continue on with their search and to obligate the Mexican state to investigate the disappearances.

In the same way that the international cartels had become internationalized, citizens found that through my coverage of their organizations in the news, they could exchange strategies for action and survival both domestically and internationally.

We journalists are key to this process of citizen empowerment. We make visible the actors who are protagonists for change and describe the strategies that have produced results. We can collaborate in helping people to overcome the paralysis of fear and we can provide tools for the construction of a different future.

Marcela Turati is a staff reporter for Proceso magazine, where she covers human rights, social development, and the social effects of the narcoviolence. She is co-author of the book La guerra por Juárez (The War for Juárez) and author of the book Fuego Cruzado: las víctimas atrapadas en la guerra del narco (Crossfire: Victims Trapped in the Drug War), (Grijalvo), which dicusses the social damage caused by drug violence during the Felipe Calderón presidency. She is co-founder and co-administrator of the Network of Social Journalists (Grass-Roots Journalists).

Construyendo desde la violencia (Spanish version)

Building Justice through Journalism

By Marcela Turati

Desde aquella tarde que Gloria Lozano vio a su único hijo rafagueado en un terreno baldío junto a los cuerpos de otros 12 cuerpos jóvenes --entre ellos un papá primerizo abrazado a su bebé, todos víctimas de un comando de sicarios--, ni ella, ni las demás familias de los “mártires de Creel”, volvieron a ser las mismas. En su lucha por la justicia las familias han bloqueado carreteras, realizado marchas, acudido a radiodifusoras, arrastrado ataúdes de cartón por las calles, suspendido actos gubernamentales, tapizado los comercios con los carteles oficiales que ofrecen recompensa por entregar a los sicarios, correteado al gobernador, al alcalde y a cuanta autoridad policiaca se asoma por este lugar y, en una maniobra que a ellas mismas las sorprende, detuvieron el tren que llevaba turistas a las Barrancas del Cobre. Hace tiempo se convirtieron en investigadores: ya saben quiénes mataron a sus hijos.

“No tenemos miedo, si ya nos mataron con ellos”, grita la maestra Lozano enfurecida, cada vez que le recuerdan las posibles consecuencias de su osadía.

La cobertura masacre ocurrida en el pueblo de Creel, en el estado de Chihuahua, se convirtió para mí en un parteagüas de mi cobertura semanal, sistemática, de los efectos sociales de la violencia inaugurada oficialmente en México desde 2007, cuando los cárteles del narcotráfico y su persecución en las calles por parte del ejército nacional convirtió al país en un campo de batalla y a muchos periodistas en corresponsales de la guerra doméstica.

En esa comunidad serrana chihuahuense donde los 13 jóvenes fueron asesinados en agosto de 2008 descubrí una nueva clase de personas –temerarias, valientes, con ánimos de justicia—cuyo dolor las obligó a salirse del patrón de las víctimas que había visto en otras asignaciones: paralizadas por el miedo, avergonzadas por el estigma, frustradas por la impotencia.

Desde entonces me puse como asignación intentar descubrir en medio de las desgracias que me han tocado cubrir a las personas que aún con el corazón arrasado, la vida arruinada o el ataúd en la sala tienen la fortaleza para organizarse; a quienes comparten su dolor para sanar a otros; a quienes salen a las calles a recuperarlas para los ciudadanos.

No ha sido fácil. Se logra pocas veces. Se requiere de mucha observación y paciencia. Y, sobre todo, transitar antes por los caminos de la parálisis, del miedo, de la impotencia, de la fatalidad; tocar mucho dolor para denunciarlo; improvisar y hasta equivocarse.

Antes de seguir quiero explicar cómo ha evolucionado la cobertura periodística en México. Porque así como el tifón de la violencia nos sorprendió a todos los mexicanos, nos encontró a los periodistas impreparados, pasmados y desconocedores de los nuevos códigos de sangre en los que exterminar al otro es la meta, donde la saña es el mensaje y se expresa a través de cuerpos decapitados, calcinados, desaparecidos, disueltos en ácido, ejecutados, torturados, masacrados.

La emergencia nos obligó a improvisar la cobertura de la mejor manera que pudimos.

Lo que se hizo durante mucho tiempo fue el conteo de muertos, que en las redacciones llamamos “el ejecutómetro”, que es la estadística diaria de muertos con las que los reporteros de la fuente policiaca reflejaron los inicios de la tormenta de sangre.

De pronto, era tanta la violencia, que algunos reporteros que siempre nos prometimos que nunca íbamos a cubrir noticias sobre narcotráfico de pronto ya estábamos en las escenas de los crímenes, entrevistando a testigos o sobrevivientes, acudiendo a los velorios, pescando datos de los muertos para confeccionar una escueta biografía de las víctimas o reconstruyendo la masacre para “cronicar el horror”.

Pero se llegó a un punto en que la pila de muertos se volvió infinita, en que cada matazón se parecía a la anterior, en que seis noticias terribles competían por la primera plana del diario, que la cobertura debía hacerse de una manera distinta a la reactiva. Era el momento de tomar la agenda, quitársela a los violentos que la fijan, para devolverle sentido a la vida, dignidad a las víctimas y poder a los ciudadanos. Esto es: alumbrar lo que ocurre con la luz de los derechos humanos. A lo que yo llamo, periodismo que denuncia lo que ocurre y anuncia lo que puede ser cambiado.

Hacer una cobertura periodística responsable que tenga a los derechos humanos como carta de negociación, sin embargo, es un ejercicio complicado que se diseña cada día, al calor de la nueva emergencia y llevarlo a buen término requiere constante entrenamiento, técnica, educar la mirada, aprender a leer los procesos, construir un discurso distinto, dominar el miedo y trabajar para que no se nos oxide la indignación y la esperanza.

Esta es la apuesta de un grupo de reporteros mexicanos que desde 2006 --antes sospechar siquiera que México se convertiría en una balacera-- comenzamos a agruparnos en lo que después llamamos la Red de Periodistas Sociales “Periodistas de a Pie”.

Nuestra primera intención para reunirnos era adquirir habilidades de investigación, escritura, planteamiento informativo y nuevos conocimientos que nos permitiera empoderar en los medios de comunicación para los que trabajamos las notas sociales (salud, educación, derechos humanos, ecología, migración, las tendencias sociales, etc…) que para nosotros es información vital que le permite al ciudadano entender por qué le pasa lo que le pasa, pero para los directivos siempre son las notas de relleno. Porque los espacios los tienen copados las notas políticas, judiciales, económicas, los espectáculos o la publicadad.

Para reforzar nuestro trabajo empezamos a contactar a expertos en desarrollo social o periodistas destacados de otros países que estaban en México de paso, a quienes interceptábamos, los llevábamos a cenar o a desayunar a cambio de que nos dieran una charla. Que, siempre, inevitablemente, terminaba en cómo hacer una cobertura con enfoque de derechos humanos.

A partir de 2007, varios del grupo fuimos enviados al frente de batalla. A mí me asignaron la cobertura de Ciudad Juárez, el epicentro de la violencia mexicana, que desde entonces se convirtió en la ciudad que más muertos produce en el mundo. Confieso que varios no sabíamos los nombres de los cárteles de la droga que disputaban terreno, pero sí teníamos entrenamiento para detectar los fenómenos que provoca la violencia en la sociedad.

Así, varios empezamos a describir las desgracias de los pueblos pobres obligados al cultivo de amapola, la tragedia del juvenicidio (jóvenes que matan jóvenes), el drama de los pueblos exiliados por la violencia, las denuncias de los presos que fueron torturados para autoinculparse como sicarios, el aumento a las violaciones de los derechos humanos. A las redacciones no tardaron en llegar personas con fotos en la mano, del familiar desaparecido por el ejército, la policía, los narcos o por causas desconocidas que después se convirtieron en multitud.

La emergencia nos obligó a reforzar las capacitaciones: en La Red organizamos cursos sobre los riesgos de la militarización, la cadena del narcotráfico (desde el cultivo al consumo), los temas sociales que cruzan con los de la seguridad, la experiencia del conflicto colombiano, cómo entrevistar a niños traspasados por la violencia, cómo protegernos o de qué manera se defiende la libertad de expresión.

Y así, avanzamos a contramano del discurso oficial que anuncia como victoria el asesinato de más 28 mil mexicanos en esta guerra, y que el 90% de ellos lo merecía porque eran narcotraficantes. También fuimos a contracorriente del lenguaje de la muerte de los narcotraficantes que elaboran un performance macabro con los cuerpos de sus rivales para infundir más terror y que pretenden despojar de toda humanidad a sus víctimas.

En esta encrucijada, varios periodistas nos aferramos a dar rostro a las cifras de muertos, a rescatar sus historias, saber qué edades tenían, dar a conocer el impacto que su ausencia causa en su familia, en su barrio, en la comunidad y por qué esa nueva muerte tendría que dolernos (o al menos preocuparnos) a todos.

Claro que llega un momento en que la anécdota individual se agota, que la sociedad no está dispuesta a seguir tragedias personales. Esto que nos obliga a construir de manera distinta los relatos y sumar las tragedias individuales para darles la dimensión de fenómeno social.

PHOTO HERE

“¿Quién hizo la tarea”, pregunta al inicio de la sesión la psicóloga que conduce el grupo. Ninguno de los alumnos se anima a responder. Se mantienen silenciosos en las bancas. Ella les recuerda que la tarea consistía en regalar la ropa de su difunto para avanzar en el proceso de duelo. O al menos intentarlo.

De entre el público, una mujer comenta que a ella le “dio cosa” regalar los trajes caros que se compraba su hijo, un policía que se distinguía por su elegancia y pulcritud, hasta que lo rafaguearon. El comentario da pie a que un anciano pregunte si está mal platicar todos los días con la foto del hijo que le balearon en la calle. Una obrera confiesa que no se anima a deshacerse de las pertenencias de su esposo porque sigue desaparecido, pero que se sintió bien al regalar las de su hijo asesinado, para que otro las aproveche.

Las terapias del duelo en Ciudad Juárez fue uno de los reportajes donde reflejé los talleres de un colectivo religioso recién organizado para sanar a las familias a las que la violencia les había arrebatado a uno o varios familiares. Esa sirvió como un espejo, doloroso, en la que reflejaba el profundo daño social.

Durante un año y medio pregunté a cada una de las organizaciones sociales si habían creado algo para las familias de las miles de personas asesinadas en la ciudad, pero ellas me respondían que la violencia los rebasaba, los tenía pasmados. Lo descubrí cuando leí un letrero en una calle que invitaba a las familias en duelo a talleres en una iglesia.

En todos los conflictos armados, abundan las víctimas y debemos de hallar la manera de explicar por qué su sufrimiento concierne a la sociedad entera. Desde el inicio, gracias a las capacitaciones que recibimos de los colegas colombianos y por nuestra formación en temas sociales, los reporteros de La Red optamos por visibilizar a las víctimas porque los violentos siempre tienen espacio asegurado en los medios de comunicación, siempre tienen reporteros detrás cubriendo sus pisadas y siempre son los protagonistas.

Tocar el dolor ajeno es una tarea delicada, para la que se requiere preparación, paciencia y tiempo. Las personas que han sido víctimas de la violencia muchas veces tienen miedo, no quieren hablar o ven a los periodistas como buitres de la desgracia ajena.

También se requiere evitar construir en el imaginario de nuestros lectores la idea de todas las víctimas como indefensas, carentes de opciones y de derechos. Por eso es importante visibilizar a las personas de otra talante, las que tomaron el timón de su desgracia y, a contracorriente, exigen que sus derechos les sean restituidos o se organizan para ayudar a otros.

Se requiere un reporteo sistemático y de largo plazo para detectar los momentos en que los ciudadanos se organizan, pierden el miedo y resisten con dignidad. No hay lugar donde no surjan colectivos de madres en busca de sus hijos desaparecidos, familias unidas en la investigación del asesinato de sus miembros, estudiantes conectados a través de tuiter que se oponen a la violencia o artistas que salen a la calle con misión de recuperarla como espacio para los ciudadanos.

Al visibilizar sus actividades (cuidando no ponerlos en riesgo) abrimos una ventana de esperanza en momentos en los que pareciera que no queda más que esperar. Con esas historias logramos que la población recupere la autoestima, se reconcilie con su situación, busque a otros para trabajar en colectivo y damos otro rostro de las víctimas como individuos que, pese a la tragedia, no están vencidos.

PHOTO HERE

El costo en vidas por la violencia ha sido tan alto que no hay guarderías, salones de clases, talleres de verano, clases de catecismo o torneos deportivos a los que no se asomen los hijos o hijas de las personas asesinadas. A donde no lleguen los llamados “huérfanos de los ejecutados”, que irrumpen como un nuevo colectivo de fácil ingreso.

Son tantos que reciben terapias colectivas. Para ellos, organizaciones como Casa Amiga han creado ejercicios terapéuticos específicos como el siguiente, que guía una psicóloga que, en medio de una relajación, les dice: “…ahora, así, acostadito como estás, con tus ojos aún cerrados, tu cuerpo ya relajado, trae a la mente a tu papá… el momento que te enteraste de su muerte… siente tu propio corazón… ¿Cómo está ese corazoncito? ¿Qué sintió? ¿Qué carita puso?..."

Cuando los conduce a la salida del sueño profundo, la terapeuta les sugiere que dibujen lo que visualizaron y en los papeles van surgiendo corazones cortados, otros envueltos en lágrimas, algunos maltrechos por profundas cicatrices. Entonces les propone curarlos y ellos van colocando curitas, cintas adhesivas, kleenex, florecitas. Los colorean hasta dejarlos bonitos. Hasta que remiendan algo de las cicatrices que les lastiman el alma.

El reportaje de las terapias para niños y niñas huérfanos por la violencia movió a 60 psicólogos chihuahuenses a crear una red de terapeutas dedicados a aliviar el dolor social por la sobreexposición a la violencia, que se estrenó –dos meses después-- atendiendo a la recién creada red de familias con miembros desaparecidos.

Las dos redes fueron noticias esperanzadoras dentro del contexto de desolación que se vive en muchas regiones del país: la última es de madres de los jóvenes desaparecidos, que junto con activistas de derechos humanos, se intercambiaron tips legales y psicológicos, y estrategias de lucha política y ante tribunales internacionales, para continuar la búsqueda y obligar al Estado a investigar a los desaparecidos.

De la misma manera como los cárteles mafiosos se internacionalizan, buscan aliados por el mundo, socializan métodos para seguir haciendo negocios y trasnacionalizan sus conocimientos, así estos ciudadanos que he encontrado en mi cobertura intercambian estrategias de acción y sobrevivencia.

Los periodistas somos clave en este proceso de empoderamiento ciudadano, ya que visibilizando a los actores que provocaron el cambio (cuidado no ponerlos en riesgo) y exhibiendo las estrategias que han dado resultado, podemos colaborar a quitarle a la gente la parálisis del miedo y brindamos herramientas para la construcción de un mañana distinto.

Marcela Turati es colaboradora de la revista Proceso, donde cubre los temas de derechos humanos, desarrollo social y los efectos sociales de la narcoviolencia. Ella es co-autora del libro La guerra por Juárez y autora de Fuego Cruzado: las víctimas atrapadas en la guerra del narco, próximo a salir bajo el sello de Grijalvo, que aborda los daños sociales por la narcoviolencia durante el sexenio de Felipe Calderón. Turati es co-fundadora y co-coordinadora de la Red de Periodistas Sociales "Periodistas de a Pie."