After being forced to leave his home in the state of Tamaulipas because of his reports against criminal activities of organized crime, journalist Mario Segura works as a clown at children’s parties to survive in Mexico City. (Photo: Ximena Moretti)
“They have a gag on Mexico,” said Mario Alberto Segura, a displaced journalist who works as a clown to survive in the country’s capital.
In Mexico, organized crime and some corrupt authorities tightly control the activity of journalists, dozens of journalists have been killed, disappeared and displaced because of their reporting on the culture of illegality, corruption and drug trafficking, Segura said.
When Segura was a journalist and El Sol del Sur Tampico Internet portal director in Tamaulipas, he used to work some weekends as a clown at children’s parties because his income as a journalist wasn’t enough to cover his family’s needs.
Segura, 52, never imagined that his activity of making people laugh would become his permanent way of making his living after he had to leave his job and his home in Tampico, to protect himself and his family.
“Now I promote my show for the children on the streets and in supermarkets in Mexico City, I need customers. I am ‘Mayito’ the clown.”
Segura’s family works with him. “We need to survive,” Segura said.
After a year of living in Mexico City, a seasoned journalist with 25 years of experience, Segura could not find work in his profession.
“Nobody wants to hire me, people are afraid; they see me as a problem when I tell them a drug cartel kidnapped me. Distrust is the stigma we the displaced journalists carry. I am a victim of the violence between the drug cartels,” Segura said.
Segura used to write about organized crime, violence and corruption in the municipalities of Tampico, Altamira, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Ciudad Mante. In a blog called “Timely Warning” he allowed users to comment on the activities of drug trafficking. The blog received thousands of hits each day.
The morning of August 13, 2012, a group of 20 armed men with their faces covered, aboard SUV type trucks, kidnapped Segura outside his home. He was beaten, tortured, burned with cigarettes and threatened for a week.
Segura believes he was kidnapped for fulfilling a job that corresponded to the Attorney General of the state of Tamaulipas. The Attorney General Office used to run a blog informing the public about criminal activities in the area so they could avoid those places. At some point the blog was shut down.
Segura explained how he started his blog. “After the Attorney General stopped reporting through social networks about the criminal gangs’ doings, I decided to open the blog as a space for community support to save lives.”
“The criminals made me close the blog so that people could not continue reporting about dangerous actions such as shootings, assaults and persecutions.”
By not reporting through social media, like the state government used to, people started to use other social media outlets to be informed. We must have a more critical attitude to these alternative outlets for information, said Margarita Torres Almanza, Information Rights coordinator for Latin America Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA).
Segura said he was afraid because the cartel that kidnapped him still dominates the region. The criminal organization “spared” his life with the condition he would leave town to never come back.
In Tamaulipas, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel (CDG) fought a bloody battle in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and other border areas for control of the lucrative smuggling routes for drugs and other criminal enterprises such as extortion and human trafficking.
Besides those two organized crime groups, the Sinaloa Cartel, led by fugitive drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, also operates in the northern state to facilitate the entry of drugs into U.S. territory.
After being released by his captors, Segura left behind all the work of a lifetime. Today he and his family live in a small apartment that is part of a federal government social housing program.
In the past two years, more than 30 journalists have had to flee their homes to save their lives due to their reporting on organized crime activities, according to Article 19, an international advocate for the rights of journalists.
A Report of the National Refugee Council (NRC for its acronym in English) in 2011 stated that the spiral of violence caused by the battles between drug trafficking organizations, in order to control the “plazas” in Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacan, forced about 200,000 people to leave their homes, businesses, and all their belongings, to find safer places to live.
Between the the last year of former president Felipe Calderon’s administration and so far with Enrique Peña Nieto, 20 journalists have been killed, 7 are missing and there have been at least 175 attacks against the media in general, according to the the House of Journalists Rights .
From 2000 to September 2013, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has recorded 85 killings of journalists, and since 2005 there have been 42 attacks on media installations and 20 journalists are missing.
More than 90 percent of the displaced reporters and photojournalists will not be able to continue working in journalism and will have to look for other types of jobs. It’s an emotionally, economically and socially complex situation, said psychologist Ana Zellhhuber, a PTSD specialist who provides therapy to displaced journalists living in the country’s capital.
For the director of “Journalists on Foot,” Daniela Pastrana, “being a journalist in Mexico means having a high-risk profession. Journalists are uncomfortable because they challenge the powers. The line between organized crime and the authorities is difficult to distinguish,” she said.
The problem of displaced journalists in Mexico is complex. The authorities should protect journalists against these threats, but the authorities are not doing their job, Pastrana said.
Pastrana said the Mexican government is not only responsible for the impunity in the attacks and violence against journalists, but also is responsible for allowing the criminals to control the media.
For example, if a public official presumed to be linked to organized crime does not like a news piece, he or she complains until the reporter gets fired from the newspaper.
Far from confronting and defeating violence executed by organized crime against journalists, the government’s policy toward violence has been lowering the tone and sending the message that there is less violence altogether.
Pastrana said the use of words like “murder,” “organized crime,” “drugs,” “violence,” “cartel” and “executions,” are being used with lesser frequency in the media as part of the Federal District communication strategy following Enrique Peña Nieto’s goal of achieving a “Mexico in Peace.”
On the other hand, the seventh report of the Observatory of the Media Agreement said that there are no mechanisms of accountability to society by the institutions responsible for investigating crimes against journalists and freedom of expression.
The report also noted that there hasn’t been substantial progress to abate impunity in cases of killed, missing or displaced journalists in the past two administrations. Or to punish those responsible for attacks on the media.
“The legal instruments Mexico has to protect journalists is of little use if impunity prevails,” Pastrana said.
“I’m afraid time has to pass in order for these legal reforms to take effect because the problem in Mexico is not the lack of laws, but the lack of implementation of those laws. We have not succeeded in reducing the number of attacks on journalists,” Pastrana said.
Those who are killing the journalists can be identified by name, and the reasons why they kill, “their actions can be mapped from judicial statistics.”
Los Zetas and recently established criminal groups are killing journalists, when fighting against each other, according to a study by researcher Viridiana Rios, collaborator of the Poverty and Governance Program at Harvard University.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a journalist who covers Mexico is more likely to die, disappear or be displaced in the course of their work that one covering war-torn countries such as Syria , Somalia or Afghanistan .
The murders of journalists have fallen slightly in the last three years, partly due to “self-censorship that has taken root virtually in every corner of the country outside the capital,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), during their meeting in New York in May.
Although there are very dramatic situations in Mexico, like the case of Segura, Pastrana said there must be a fight to incorporate displaced journalists so they can continue reporting to civil society. “What we can’t afford is allow silence to win,” Pastrana said.
(Watch the documentary below, ‘Reporters against Silence’ to learn more.)
Julieta Pelcastre is a journalist based in Mexico City who writes about organzed crime.