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Journalist on the run

June 29, 2012

Ana Pérez is one of the most famous reporters in Mexico and has received death threats for her coverage of the drug mafia. She is now living in Germany for one year - where she is tentatively safe.

Ana Lilia Pérez, Journalistin und Buchautorin aus Mexiko. Copyright: ROG/Senkel Juni, 2012
Mexican journalist Ana Lilia PérezImage: ROG/Senkel

"For the first time in a long while I am sleeping peacefully," said the Mexican journalist Ana Lilia Pérez on Thursday, two days after her arrival in Germany. “This isn't possible in Mexico.” This 35 year-old journalist fears for her life in her home country because she reports on and uncovers illegal drug and money transactions. The Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted has invited Pérez to stay in Germany for a year. The foundation works closely with the journalists' organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which ensures that the German public stays informed about cases like that of Ana Pérez. “The situation in Mexico is appalling,” said Christian Mihr, managing director of the Geman section of RWB, in an interview with DW.

State police and Mexican army soldiers inspect a vehicle after an intense shootout broke out during a baseball game in the parking lot of the stadium in the city of Saltillo, northern Mexico, Tuesday March 13, 2012. According to a state police spokesman, three gunmen were killed and another was injured and captured after the gunmen battled with a special tactics unit of the state police. (AP Photo)
During his presidency Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartelsImage: AP

Each year, Reporters Without Borders releases a ranking of countries by their press freedom. Mexico is ranked 149th out of 179 countries, followed closely by Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Over the past two months five journalists have been murdered in Mexico and according to our research 84 have been killed in the past ten years.” Two of these victims, colleagues of Ana Pérez, were tortured and killed a few months ago. “The drug cartels are one of the biggest enemies of press freedom,” said Christian Mihr.

By reporting on this issue the rage of the cartels is directed towards Pérez. She may now rest for a year in Germany and remember what it's like to leave the house without the fear of death. “First I must take a deep breath. I need a break to learn how to love my job again so I can go back,” said the Mexican in an interview with DW. She keeps her private life secret, perhaps because she has left behind a husband and child, maybe not.

Death threats on the agenda

Up until her departure she lived in the capital district of Mexico and wrote for the investigative journal “Contralínea”. In English it translates to “against the grain”. She has also published two books with an internationally renowned publisher. Therein she explains the link between government and the drug mafia and writes about criminal gangs who use the state oil company Permex, to launder money. As a result, Ana Pérez must fear for her life, “I have received death threats, threatening phone calls, my house was under surveillance, I have been followed and the authorities have tried to sue me.”

Mexican Journalists Face Death Threats

A human rights organization in Mexico City helped her and at times bodyguards, bulletproof vests and an armoured car were all under discussion. Only a few weeks ago, the journalist and blogger Victor Manuel Báez was killed, as the Mexican newspaper “El Diario” reported. He was allegedly kidnapped and then murdered. The unknown perpetrators dumped the body of the crime reporter in the center of his hometown. Each victim is a warning to others. The gritty images of the victims flicker across the television to the nation displaying their impact. “We stand under a lot of pressure,” said Ana Pérez, “and at some point you can't take it any longer.”

FILE: A picture dated 20 September 2010 shows a person reading the controversial article in the newspaper 'El Diario' in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. At least 35 journalists were killed this year in Latin America while doing his work, making it the most dangerous region in the world for journalists, according to the annual report of the independent NGO Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) released on 27 December 2010 in Geneva. Photo: Diego Aguilar Caudillo/dpa
Mexico is ranked 149th in press freedomImage: picture-alliance/dpa

For foreign journalists the situation is less dangerous, reported the German journalist Sandra Weiss, who has lived in Mexico for four years. She has an advantage over her Mexican colleagues because she works mostly on German media reports and therefore is not as deeply immersed in the details. But she is uncertain: “The network extends into the security forces, police and politics. When researching a ‘normal' murder case, one walks, perhaps without realizing it, into a hornet's nest.”

Hope for the elections in July

Several years ago, the situation in Mexico was less tense, Sandra Weiss explained in an interview with DW. The drug war has made journalism dangerous work. Christian Mihr from RWB agrees, “One sticking point was certainly the beginning of Felipe Calderon's presidency in Mexico. He declared war on the cartels and escalated the conflict.” The meagerly paid and moderately trained police can no longer stop the cartels, so the military is used on a large scale.

The weekly Zeta magazine on sale at a newsstand in Tijuana, Mexico Friday April 1, 2011. Mexico's Zeta magazine has set a standard for aggressive coverage of Mexican drug traffickers and complicit government officials. As the Inter American Press Association gathers next week in San Diego, Mexico's news organizations are increasingly under assault for covering a drug war that has claimed more than 35,000 lives, including at least 22 journalists, since the government launched an offensive against the cartels in late 2006. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cossio)
In the past ten years 84 journalists have been killed in MexicoImage: AP

On Sunday, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Mexico in which Calderón, due to term limits, cannot run for re-election. The polls show that Peña Nieto is the front-runner. His Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) ruled Mexico from 1929-2000 uninterrupted. None of the candidates have set up a strategy to combat criminal gangs and drug cartels. What happens after the inauguration remains to be seen. Ana Pérez hopes that the new government can improve the security situation. “I hope that, as journalists, we can exercise our profession and publish information without taking a risk.”

Author: Julia Mahncke / hc
Editor: Gregg Benzow