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International Editor of the Year Award
Raúl Gibb Guerrero, Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla and Alfredo Jiménez Mota Named Worldpress.org's 2005-2006 International Editors of the Year
Since 1975, Worldpress.org has presented the International Editor of the Year Award to an editor or editors outside the United States whose work best exemplifies the principles of journalism.
In recognition of enterprise, courage and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press, enhancing human rights and fostering excellence in journalism, our 2005-2006 choice honors three Mexican journalists posthumously.
Raúl Gibb Guerrero, Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla and Alfredo Jiménez Mota gave the ultimate sacrifice in their pursuit of journalistic excellence and freedom of press. Their courage, tenacity, and dedication in covering sensitive subjects, especially drug trafficking, caused them to live in a danger zone of threats and violence, which ultimately led to their murders. They led three very separate lives, but had the love of their country and press freedom in common.
By naming Raúl Gibb Guerrero, Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla and Alfredo Jiménez Mota, Worldpress.org's 2005-2006 International Editors of the Year we hope to highlight the dangers Mexican journalists currently face as well as the newspaper and news outlets' ongoing self-censorship policy enacted in order to protect their reporters and editors.
Mexico has recently become the most dangerous country on the continent for journalists, according to the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET). Other watchdog groups now list Mexico as the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists.
Since April 2004, at least nine Mexican journalists have been killed or presumed murdered. All were covering organized crime or drug cartels. In 2004 alone, there were 92 cases of assaults, threats, or murders that targeted the press. Half of the fourteen killings of journalists in Mexico in the past six years (since the start of President Vicente Fox's term) have been in the state of Tamaulipas — located right on the doorstep of the United States of America.
According to Amnesty International at Arizona State University, "nearly every newspaper and news outlet in northern Mexico has instituted a policy of self-censorship in order to protect their reporters. As such, criminals perpetrating violence are able to increase violent activities with little chance of being exposed by government officials or the press, thus contributing to further human rights abuses."
The kidnapping of Alfredo Jimenez Moto, and the horrific murders of Raúl Gibb Guerrero and Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla were all surrounded by accusations of lawlessness, corruption, and drug trafficking. And while their deaths made headlines throughout Latin America and the southwestern United States, their cases have never been solved.
Alfredo Jiménez Mota of the daily El Imparcial in Hermosillo (Sonora, north-west) has been missing without a trace since the night of April 2, 2005 and is presumed dead.
On April 5, 2005, radio journalist Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla was gunned down in front of the headquarters of Stereo 91 XHNOE in Nuevo Laredo (Tamaulipas, north-east). She died of her injuries on April 16.
On April 8, 2005, the editor of the daily La Opinión Raúl Gibb Guerrero was murdered in Veracruz State in the east of the country.
According to Reporters Without Borders, "In every case, there was no investigation worth the name leading to the instigators, thus establishing a climate of complete impunity." They went on to report: "How do journalists deal with this violent landscape in Mexico's border areas? Do they end up resorting to self-censorship to protect themselves? Are local and national media exposed to the same level of risk? Why have investigations into killings of journalists not produced any results?
The disappearance of Jiménez Mota, and the brutal gunning down of García Escamilla and Gibb Guerrero brought the number of journalists murdered since 2000 to 16.
Alfredo Jiménez Mota
Jiménez Mota disappeared from his home in the city of Hermosillo in the northwestern state of Sonora at about 9 p.m. on April 2. At the time of his disappearance, he was engaged in reporting on drug traffickers and organized crime.
On the night of April 2, Jiménez called a colleague at El Imparcial to say that he was going to meet with one of his contacts, according to Juan F. Healy, president and general director of the daily. Jiménez told his colleague that the contact was "very nervous." According to reporter Shaila Rosagel, Jiménez's colleague at the newspaper, she was supposed to meet him later that evening after he finished an interview with a contact. He has been missing since that time.
Jiménez Mota was 25, and lived alone in Hermosillo. He had been working with El Imparcial for the last six months. Police said that none of his belongings were taken and nothing was disturbed in his apartment.
His disappearance sparked off a series of executions and settling of accounts among members of a drug trafficking cell based in Sonora, and brought to light how drug cartel activity was on the increase in the area.
Violence unleashed in Sonora since that date has so far cost the lives of 74 people, 63 of them killed by contract killers working for organized crime, according to figures compiled by federal officials and statistics from El Imparcial. Some of the leads being followed by the Organized Crime Special Investigation Unit (SIEDO), a dependency of the Attorney General's Office, are linked to the work Jiménez Mota was doing concerning the families running the drug trade in Sonora. Others point to possible unlawful activities of local and federal government officials.
Days before his kidnapping Jiménez Mota was investigating the Beltrán Leyva and Enríquez Parra families and their connection to drug trafficking in the region. His investigations showed a linkage between the unlawful activities of the two families, whose outcome is now known to be more than 70 executions in the state over control of the drug trade. According to El Imparcial, The DEA [United States Drug Enforcement Administration] was going after them for sending drugs into the U.S. in airplanes, as shown in arrest warrants issued against at least two of the Beltrán Leyvas.
Sonora prosecutors have linked Jiménez Mota's disappearance to that journalistic investigation. Relatives, colleagues and friends of the journalist fear that his disappearance occurred because of other articles he had recently written, in which he revealed information on alleged plans of drug traffickers to kill local government officials, as well as possible links between local police officers and gangs.
To date the Mexican Attorney General's Office still has no information about Jiménez Mota's whereabouts and the case remains unsolved.
Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla
On April 5, Garcia Escamilla, who hosted the program "Punto Rojo" (Red Point), was shot repeatedly in front of her radio station in Nuevo Laredo as she arrived at work just before 8 a.m. An unknown assailant approached the reporter after she parked her car in front of the station. García Escamilla, who was a journalist for more than 15 years, was hospitalized in serious condition after receiving 14 gunshot wounds; two in the chest, three in the abdomen, and the rest in her arms and legs.
According to Stereo 91 News Director Roberto Gálvez Martínez, the attack occurred about a half hour after the station aired a report by García Escamilla on the recent fatal shooting of a Nuevo Laredo lawyer, who according to news reports had represented alleged drug dealers. García Escamilla, an experienced reporter who had worked for several media outlets in the city, covered crime for Stereo 91 since 2001, Gálvez said.
Nuevo Laredo, a city of 500,000, on the Texas border, has been beset by a wave of drug-related violence. According to the San Antonio Express News, more than 30 people have been killed there since 2005.
According to Galvez, García Escamilla's car was torched in early January in front of her house. Gálvez said no motive was established, although press reports speculated that it stemmed from her crime reporting. At that time, García Escamilla filed a complaint with the public prosecutor's office but no action was taken.
On Feb. 18, the reporter also complained about telephone death threats allegedly in connection with her comments on a recently aired radio program broadcast on Stereo 91 Radio. No action was taken regarding that complaint either.
"We are outraged by this despicable attack against García Escamilla," Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Ann Cooper said at the time of her murder. "We call on Mexican authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation, prosecute those responsible, and bring an end to this climate of lawlessness in the U.S.-Mexico border region."
Raul Gibb Guerrero
Gibb Guerrero was gunned down around 9:30 p.m. on April 8, just 200 meters (656 feet) from his home, to which he was returning. He sustained seven bullet injuries, three in the head, three in the abdomen and one in the left arm. Police said the shots were fired from a distance of about two meters (seven feet). According to witnesses, four men fired about 15 times from two cars that were following Gibb's automobile, which then ran off the road and crashed into a verge.
A spokesman for La Opinión, Abel Andrade Licona, said the day before he was killed, Gibb Guerrero had received two death threats made from a pay phone.
La Opinión, which is sold in the north of the state, ran an article written by Gibb Guerrero the day before his murder. Despite all the enemies he had made as a result of his work, the editor never asked for bodyguards.
Members of a local crime organization called "Los Chupaductos" tried to bribe Gibb Guerrero a year before he was murdered, according to the online newspaper Crónica. Members of the group went to his office and offered him money not to run a series of reports about gasoline smuggling in which they were implicated. The money offered came from the racket. Gibb Guerrero published the reports on the theft and trafficking of fuel taken from the state oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, despite their bribe, knowing that by doing so he was putting his life in grave danger.
The bribe attempt was discovered in the course of the federal justice ministry's investigation into his murder. As a result, Los Chupaductos leader Martin Rojas was detained as the prime suspect but his lawyers got him released on bail and he was never charged. Gibb Guerrero's murder has never been solved.
Cases Rarely Investigated
Crimes against journalists, committed in regions near the border with the United States, are very often linked to their work reporting on drug trafficking, corruption and the participation of state officials in these crimes. The authorities rarely investigate these cases, effectively creating a climate of impunity.
According to Reporters Without Borders, "The scourge of drug trafficking directly threatens press freedom. It falls to the federal authorities to react to this nationwide menace by combating organized crime and ensuring the media are protected. Too many local investigations have led nowhere, sustaining a climate of impunity that must not be allowed to continue."
El Mañana managing editor Ramon Dario Cantú Deandar recently said: "All of our journalists who cover sensitive subjects, especially drug trafficking, have been the target of threats and violence. So now we only publish information provided by the authorities." Cantú Deandar also said at a news conference on Feb. 7 that, "El Mañana will no longer do any investigative reporting on drug trafficking."
According to a report by the Americas Program at the International Relations Center (IRC Americas), El Mañana Director Ninfa Deándar told 100 participants at CEPET's bi-national conference, held in Nuevo Laredo, Nov. 19-20, 2004, that "the aggression against freedom that results from drug trafficking and violence are due to the influence of ferocious, unleashed capitalism," adding, "There's never been a situation as delicate as right now." CEPET founder Leonarda Reyes noted that Mexican officials have endorsed the World Bank's estimate that 9.5 percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] ends up in corrupt hands, and other estimates put drug-dealing profits at $5 billion annually.
The newspapers on the Mexico-U.S. border are no longer reporting about drug cartels and political corruption because they know they will be targeted and killed. So the drugs continue to pour into America, and the people living on the Mexican side of the border, like in Nuevo Laredo, live in terror of the drug dealers, while the U.S. border remains porous and under-protected. According to a recent New York Times article, the drug dealers use the main border crossing in Nuevo Laredo to truck tons of cocaine into the U.S. The Times article went on to say that, "six thousand trucks cross the bridge going north each day and only 50 or 60 are thoroughly searched."
Mexican criminal syndicates are wreaking havoc, and stepping up their attacks on American agents who risk their lives on a daily basis, patrolling the border.
As reported by IRC Americas, according to former Unión de Periodistas Democráticos (UPD) leader Eduardo Valle, the root of the evil is Mexico's conversion to a "narco-democracy." Veteran U.S.-Mexico watcher Cristopher Whalen adds that "narco-elites" wield their wealth and influence over national and local politics in far greater proportion than legal corporations.
Whatever the root of the evil, three journalists are dead. Their deaths remind us that a free press is not to be taken lightly or for granted. Raúl Gibb Guerrero, Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla and Alfredo Jiménez Mota paid the ultimate price for the cause of press freedom and as Worldpress.org honors their sacrifice the world should never forget their incredible courage.
The 1997 recipient of Worldpress.org's International Editor of the Year award, Jesús Blancornelas, recently passed away.