“As local journalists we’re covering a latent war with our own bodies”

11/12/2019 - 15:29

Interview. We spoke to Patricia Mayorga and Yaneli Fuentes, the two journalists being provided with shelter on the municipal programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’.

Journalism is risky profession in Mexico. Some 124 journalist have been killed since the year 2000, and according to the non-government organisation Article 19 their murderers have gone unpunished in 99% of cases. Yet the killings are just part of the violence committed against media professionals. In the 2018 electoral campaign alone over 185 aggressions were recorded specifically relating to the election coverage. Patricia Mayorga and Yaneli Fuentes are two Mexican journalists who have suffered threats and violence while pursuing their profession and informing people about the activities of narcotraffickers and state powers.

They’re living in Barcelona temporarily as part of the municipal programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’, created in collaboration with the entity Taula per Mèxic. The programme offers comprehensive support: accommodation, maintenance, psycho-social support, healthcare and an agenda for training and incidents.

What personal and professional circumstances led to your being displaced journalists?

Patricia: I was a journalist in the city of Chihuahua and shared information and sources with Miroslava Breach, a colleague working with a different media channel. On one occasion we jointly published a list of narcotrafficking candidates. Miroslava carried on writing about it in her column and cornered them. We also published information about groups of displaced people, something which particularly annoys these ‘narcopolitical’ groups. After various threats, they murdered her in 2017. That was when I had to flee.

Yaneli: I was a journalist in the Guerrero region and I covered, because it was my job and because I wanted to, the mobilisations and social conflicts against the armed group Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero (UPOEG) and the police, citizens and communities under them. I received threats. They also pursued my family and even killed all the animals on my mother’s farm. I decided to leave home but went back a few months later only to find things were the same, but even more intense. They went as far as physically attacking me and an arrest warrant was issued against me, so I had no choice but to leave again.

Did you get any support in Mexico?

Yaneli: When the threats began it was difficult to get protection from the ‘Protection mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists’, which is run by the Mexican government. They followed my case and promised permanent support but that never happened. Finally, the danger I was in became evident and it was the government itself that suggested that first I got out of Guerrero and then Mexico. They helped me do that. I belong to other journalism networks such as the CIMAC, who I’m in touch with, and they gave me support. It was thanks to them that I found out about the municipal programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’.

Patricia: I didn’t want support from the state mechanism. I belong to the entity Periodistas de a Pie and I’m also in touch with other networks, including the CIMAC. These networks help you survive. In my particular case, the Committee to Protect Journalists helped me get out of the country. The networks also help you not to feel so alone and to carry on the fight for independent media and freedom of expression.

War correspondents know where they’re going. They’ve decided to go and cover conflicts and they’re better prepared, at least emotionally

You’re both local journalists. Did you think you could end up in this situation?

Patricia: In 2008, after the federal government supposedly began to combat narcotrafficking, a war started in many places in the country. As local journalists we found ourselves covering these events, but we weren’t prepared for war reporting, which is what we were actually doing. War correspondents know where they’re going. They’ve decided to go and cover conflicts and they’re better prepared, at least emotionally. We weren’t. Yet we’ve covered news stories and put ourselves in physical danger.

Yaneli: I’m an activist and the media channel I work for, the Diario alternativo, tries to offer an alternative to large media channels which have been bought and which depend on the power of provincial factions. I couldn’t not cover the human rights violations and resulting mobilisations. It was a gradual process to find myself in the situation you’re describing. You’re not really aware of the danger you’re in until they physically attack you or your colleagues, like when they shot one of my workmates in his feet.

Despite the López Obrador government, journalists are still dying

Do you think the situation will change with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who won the last election partly thanks to a promise to fight corruption and create a state with real rule of law?

Patricia: The Mexican people are hoping for a lot from the AMLO government, but in terms of the press there’s no progress: corruption, institutions controlled by the narcos, impunity. Journalists are still dying.

Yaneli: I voted for him, but I don’t like how he’s tackling the issue of press freedom. He’s pointing at journalists and media which don’t go along with everything he’s doing and treating them as liars or members of mafia, using the same language as his predecessors.

How can the municipal programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’ help you?

Taneli: I applied without imagining the how much it could bring me. It’s comprehensive support, it helps me integrate and take things on board. I’m in a relatively peaceful and calm situation. The training it offers is also an important foundation for facing the future, but the most important thing about the programme is that it reaffirms my will to be an activist, pursuing committed journalism.

Patricia: The comprehensive nature of the programme means ‘emotional care’ plays an important part, which is good. The programme also seeks to make a difference, raising awareness about the situation in Mexico and journalism in particular. In short, the shelter programme by the Taula per Mèxic and the City Council is very complete as it takes a comprehensive approach.

The programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’ aims to offer a safe period in Barcelona for people to build up their strength professionally and emotionally

Would you like to talk about what you’re going to do after the programme ends?

Yaneli: I’ll go back to Mexico one day, though I don’t know if it’ll be straight away. I’m trying to put together a return plan over these months, so we’ll see. What I do know is that I want my work to have an influence. Feminist journalism which focuses on violence from the point of view of women, the invisible victims of this violence.

Particia: I’d rather not talk about it.

Patricia and Yaneli are two journalists on the municipal programme ‘Barcelona protects journalists from Mexico’, jointly produced with Taula per Mèxic. The programme has offered shelter to eight people since 2017 and aims to offer a safe period in Barcelona for people to build up their strength professionally and emotionally and continue their work, returning to Mexico if possible. It offers a comprehensive approach, based around influencing politics, training and employability and psycho-social support.