Anabel Hernández, recipient of the DW Freedom of Speech Award 2019, on corruption in her native Mexico and the ways in which international players bear partial responsibility for the power of the drug mafia there.
As of May 27, five journalists had been killed in Mexico, making the country the most dangerous country on the American continent and — after Syria — the second most dangerous in the world. The 2019 DW Freedom of Speech Award winner, Anabel Hernández, is one of the most prominent voices from the country to have uncovered corruption; she currently lives in exile as a result of threats of violence against her.
It is 9.00 a.m. when we arrive at the agreed meeting point. In front of us, the majestic portal of a building that used to be the pride of this city reaches toward the sky. We enter the building without knowing where to go. In the large courtyard, five men seem to be busy with maintenance work. But they watch us closely; when one of them approaches, we notice a transparent cable behind his left ear. The others are also wired. We realize that we are at the right address. The security guards are taciturn and tell us to wait. We are not allowed to take pictures.
We wait 35 minutes before a steel door leading to a nearby street opens on the other side of the courtyard. An inconspicuous white rental car arrives slowly. After it rolls to a stop, the driver, with a cap pulled low over his forehead and his eyes covered by dark sunglasses, leaves the car and approaches us. So this is the world of those who have to flee from the drug mafia, I think at this moment. It is a sunny February day in a beautiful European city, more than 10,000 kilometers from Mexico.
"You will never silence me"
Anabel Hernández welcomes us and invites us to follow her into an apartment in the complex. The apartment we enter reveals an exquisite taste in art. Through the large windows, one looks at an impressive mountain landscape. Blossoming orange trees herald the near spring. The impressive mixture of traditional Mexican papier-mâché figures, old and modern paintings in the room leaves us speechless. It is a golden exile.
Anabel Hernández conveys safety and tranquility with a firm yet gentle gaze. Her analysis is precise but her voice betrays her anger. It is like a deep lament — the expression of a constant pain.
From the very beginning of her career, Hernández became known as an "uncomfortable journalist." But with the 2010 publication of her first book, Narcoland, which revealed links between drug cartels and Mexican politics, she became, in her own words, a "danger to the criminal structures inside and outside the government." In the book, she reveals the names of businessmen and politicians involved in the machinations of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Eight years before the recent trial of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in New York, which Anabel Hernández refers to as a media circus, she unmasks a Mexico where impunity and total corruption prevail.
"Never indifferent to the pain of others"
Harassed while living in a country where the systems in place do not protect her, and trapped in constant fear, incapable of continuing her profession, she emigrated to the United States.
In September 2014, word of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala reached her in her new home in Berkeley, California. "I couldn't ignore the pain of the relatives because it was my own pain," she told DW.
The driving force behind Anabel Hernandez is the memory of her father. In December 2000, he was kidnapped and found murdered in Mexico City. The crime was never solved. "My father is the most important figure in my life. He is my model for my principles. For example, to never be indifferent to the pain of others. I can't stop my work, because every investigation I undertake helps to reveal the truth and helps the victims. In a way this is also doing justice to my father," she told DW.
Hernandez's second book covered the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in the city of Iguala
In Berkeley, Anabel Hernández wrote her second book A Massacre in Mexico, in which she reveals — months ahead of the official confirmation by two Mexican courts — that members of the army and the federal police were present during the attack and abduction of the students. In Berkeley, Anabel Hernández realized that the only way to continue her journalistic investigative work would be to stay out of the country and act, essentially, as a "foreign correspondent."
True journalism in Mexico, Hernández explained, has become practically impossible for three reasons. The first is the government, which is not stopping the murders and abductions of journalists. Then there is the apathetic Mexican society that has sunk into its everyday dramas, in which people are more worried about their own survival than about freedom of expression. Hernández names the media houses, which in her opinion bear the greatest responsibility, as her third reason. Deeply corrupt and censored, these houses paid their reporters starvation wages and could not insure their lives.
"For many years, the media have betrayed Mexican society by not telling it the truth. Rather they are covering up corrupt presidents, governors and officials in their offices. Society is practically indifferent to the death of journalists," said Hernández.
The Cynicism of Europe and the US
In Europe, Hernández tells us, she feels lonely in her self-imposed. Since her arrival a bit over a year ago, she has cultivated a kind of love-hate relationship with the old continent. Her demand is clear: the international community must intervene. "But it is not just a question of directly protecting journalists by bringing them from Mexico to the United States or Europe. It is about getting them out and giving them the opportunity to continue their work. Anything else would mean silencing them."
Her criticism is not limited to the lack of support for threatened journalists: "The problem with Europe is that it acts cynically. Yes, we live very beautifully and peacefully here. Europe seems to have nothing to do with the deaths in Mexico. Yet Europe is partly responsible for what happens in Mexico because of drug use and money laundering."
If the world's most powerful drug cartels with the largest production of heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana come from Mexico, Hernández wonders why the country is doing so poorly economically. "The profits will not stay in Mexico and create jobs there. These profits go to other parts of the world and create jobs and wealth elsewhere."
Hernández is convinced: "There must be international awareness of how to fight the drug mafia and corruption. The problem cannot be solved locally in Mexico. This must be done at the international level."
That is the focus of Anabel Hernández's forthcoming third book, she told DW. The book will "deal not only with Mexico, but also with the international consequences of what is happening in Mexico."
She sees the Freedom of Speech Award 2019 as a symbol of solidarity. "In a way, the international community recognizes that no one can be indifferent to the humanitarian catastrophe in Mexico."