Anabel Hernandez: Free speech a life-or-death struggle

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Anabel Hernandez was awarded a world press freedom prize for her book The Drug Lords, which exposes links between organised crime and Mexican officials.

Soldiers stand in formation as a pile of marijuana burns in Tijuana. The Government's commitment to the war on drugs is undermined by corruption. Photo / AP
Soldiers stand in formation as a pile of marijuana burns in Tijuana. The Government's commitment to the war on drugs is undermined by corruption. Photo / AP

On December 1, 2010 (when The Drug Lords was published) a price was put on my head and on that day I decided to fight for my life. Since then I have been on the verge of losing the things that I love the most. My family was attacked, my sisters have been harassed in their homes by armed thugs, my information sources now feature on the list of missing persons, have been killed or unjustly imprisoned. Every day I live with this weight in my heart, never knowing when my time will be up.

The world looks to a burned-out Mexico but never quite understands what goes on here and consequently does not realise that this could happen anywhere on earth.

The Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Mario Vargas Llosa once said that there existed in Mexico a "perfect dictatorship". In Mexico today there is a "perfect criminal dictatorship". The most repressive regime of all time is that of the power of organised crime that has blended with Mexico's political and economic power thanks to a corrupt and unpunished national system.

This combination of a drowsy society divided by indifference or terror makes for the perfect milieu for this perverse regime to maintain itself and grow. To think this, say this or write this is more dangerous in Mexico than being a drug-trafficker or working for them.

This is the power that has murdered thousands of innocent children, youths, women and men. This is the power that has seized areas of Mexican territory and subjected the population to a regime of terror, extortion, kidnapping and impunity. This is the power that obstructs freedom of expression, the power that has executed 82 journalists over the course of a decade, has caused more than 16 to disappear and threatened hundreds, such as myself.

This is the power that ensures that crimes against journalists go unpunished. So as to wash their hands before public opinion and the international community, the Government of Mexico, which is currently considered the most dangerous place on earth to work as a journalist, claims to have created a prosecution office to protect journalists and resolve cases of their murder. This office has done nothing but conceal the consent of federal and local government in the murder of journalists.

The crisis within Mexico with regard to freedom of expression has been devastating. The media are afraid and preserve their economic interests with the Government, and barely fight back when their journalists are killed, are threatened or disappear. There is inaction in part due to a lack of solidarity in the union and among the dynamic media egotists, but also because the Government has criminalised murdered journalists in general, as well as anyone who tries to defend them.

Family members have no way out; they collect pieces of tortured and dismembered journalists who have been dumped in rubbish sacks. They must be quiet and keep their heads down when the infamous Government, with no evidence whatsoever, claims that the journalist was involved in trafficking.

A year and nine months ago, I understood that it was not enough to survive this barbarity. To feel the breeze blowing on my face, to breathe clean air and see the smiles of my beloved children is not enough.

A life in silence is not life anywhere on earth. To live in silence with regard to how corruption, crime and impunity continue to empower themselves in my country is also to die.

I continue to denounce the decay of Mexico and the collusion of politicians, public servants and high-level businessmen with Mexican drug cartels. Today Mexican society is in need of brave and honest journalists who are ready to fight and I believe that the international community and world media share this responsibility to deeply consider the reality of the situation in Mexico and assist us in achieving our goals. Without freedom of expression, there is no possibility of justice or democracy.

I will fight until my last breath, even if it is a small example, so that as journalists we are not brought to our knees before the drug state. I don't know how many days, weeks, months or years I have left. I know that I am on the blacklist of very powerful men who will go unpunished with their pockets full of money from drug bribes and a guilty conscience for their unmentionable acts.

I know that they are awaiting their moment to carry out their threats at little political cost. I know that I have nothing but the truth, my voice and my work as a journalist to defend myself with.

I want to live, but to live in silence is just another way to die.

Anabel Hernandez writes for the daily newspaper Reforma and the investigative news magazine Proceso. She is the recipient of the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom award from the World Association of Newspapers. The full text of her acceptance speech is on the WAN-IFRA website here: http://tinyurl.com/c3yhx7h

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