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Telling stories in a cage with lions

The following is my translation of an excerpt of a speech delivered by my friend Diego Osorno, Mexican journalist and author of the recent El Cártel de Sinaloa, at the 11th Forum of Biarritz, an annual meeting bringing together European and Latin American politicians, economists, scholars, and members of the media. The subject is freedom of expression.

The most important trench in the current battle for freedom of expression in Latin America is not Cuba, Venezuela, or Argentina; it’s Mexico. The Mexican case is distinct from the rest of the region in that what is at stake is the ability of Mexicans to share with fellow citizens their views on what is taking place in the country. Nowhere else on the continent is more blood shed due to the exercise of the very right [to freedom of expression] that has brought us to the discussion table today. In my country, reporters drop like flies and journalism—rather than being the greatest occupation in the world—is in danger of extinction.

Sixty-four journalists have been assassinated, 20 or so have been kidnapped and are perhaps already dead, and almost a thousand have been victims of physical aggression ranging from being struck in the head with a pistol to having grenades explode at their office door. All of this has occurred in the past decade, and the trend is on the rise. Added to these statistics of despair, which are backed up by various national and international organizations, is the indeterminate number of media employees who have quit their jobs out of fear of being victims of that unfathomable fate that today governs certain parts of the country.

Here in Biarritz, I can say that Tamaulipas—a Mexican border state that supplies Texas with all of its needs—is suffering a war between two narcotrafficking groups: the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, which are supported by different police and military formations. I can say this here, but I can’t say it or even suggest it in a newspaper in Tamaulipas. I can say here, in Biarritz, that the war [on drugs] declared by President Felipe Calderón contains much heated rhetoric and not merely a few contradictions, of which there is plenty of proof such as the recent revelations by [the magazine] M Semanal. But if I publish such proof there, moments later I will receive an anonymous warning of my imminent death, as just happened with my colleague Jorge Alejando Medellín, and perhaps a reporter from Tijuana will out of solidarity lend me one of his bulletproof vests, such that I might incorporate it into my wardrobe.

Here in Biarritz, I can say that members of a group known as La Familia ship industrial quantities of drugs to Europe every week, where it appears that Mexican pills are more popular than tequila. If I say it there [in Mexico], I may never be heard from again, and my family might not even have the consolation of being able to bury me, as is happening with six journalist colleagues who disappeared in [the state of] Michoacán. Here in Biarritz, I might enjoy freedom of expression, but there in Mexico, in order to do our jobs day after day, we reporters must harden our hearts.

A long time ago, [South American liberator] Simón Bolívar made a request to the citizens of the Europe. He said: “Let us have our Middle Ages in peace.” By contrast, any Mexican citizen today might say: “Don’t let us pretend that we live in peace in a cage with lions.” The phenomenon of organized crime is not confined to one country. No one has the luxury of being able to think that it does not affect one’s own borders, that it does not define the world in which one lives. Global concern, cooperation, and participation are indispensable in addressing Mexico’s affliction.

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