Política y Derechos Humanos
Politique et droits de la personne
Politics and Human Rights
Tlahui-Politic No. 2, II/1996 


Mario Rojas Alba

Files in the box of the impunity
Quebec Committee for Human Rights in Mexico (QCHRM)


I/II, CPDHM, 1993. Mexico's Constitution very clearly guarantees the right and freedom to put words into writing, to publish, and to express opinions. During the years of the porfiriato [a], corruption served to control journalists and printed media. The few journalists and media that practiced freedom of the press were persecuted and vigorously repressed.

The 1917 Constituent Congress seriously questioned the tenets that had prevailed throughout the Porfirio Díaz regime. The victory of the progressive and libertarian position in the constitutional debate resulted in the establishment of far-reaching freedoms regarding the press, the right to assemble, and the expression of political opinions.

On the international level, Mexico was one of the first countries to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations. Articles XVIII, XIX, and XX of this document establish the same principles concerning freedom of thought, opinion, expression, and association. Be that as it may, the contradiction between constitutional principles and everyday reality has continued until the present.

Violating freedom of the press

Most news media in Mexico are controlled by the different and very-efficient means at the disposal of the single-party system [PRI-government (b)]. One of the most-common means is economic control, used almost as it was in the times of Porfirio Díaz.

In all governmental structures, from the federal level (Presidency of the Republic, Secretariats of State, semi-state-run firms, etc.), to the state governments, to the largest municipalities, there is always someone in charge of the press. All these press representatives prepare monthly payrolls for their respective source journalists [c]. Some of such journalists receive monthly payments from more than one civil servant. Moreover, the press representatives pay additional sums on the occasion of special activities whose coverage is considered to be particularly important.

Public officials from the PRI use billions of pesos from public funds to promote their public image. We will mention only a few examples provided in reporting by journalists who wish to dignify their profession:

    - The Governor of the state of Guerrero, Francisco Ruiz Massieu (a good friend of President Salinas de Gortari) spent 51 billion 411 million pesos, which were paid to 494 different people. This sum is equivalent to 14% of that state's 1989 revenue. It was distributed in the form of "personal vouchers for expenses to be verified," and a large percentage of this money went to the press. It was discovered that six journalists had received 239 million pesos [1].

    - In 1987, the Governor of the state of Morelos made a monthly payment of 250 thousand pesos to each weekly newspaper. In addition, close to seventy reporters registered on a two-week basis received "individual support" in the form of amounts varying from 20 thousand to 50 thousand pesos [2].

    - Numerous accounts refer to journalists who participate in meetings with press representatives in order to request an increase in such "aid" (or chayotes, as they are called in Mexican journalistic jargon). In one such meeting, the journalists asked for greater "support" from Absalón Castellanos' Chiapas government in exchange for not publishing news that might tarnish his image [3].

The government also has the alternative of selectively buying publicity from the media. In other words, those media providing the information that is most favorable to the system are awarded the most-lucrative publicity contracts.

An illustrative example of this is to be found in the government's attempt to control the daily El Financiero via dubious legal maneuvers coupled with political and economic pressure. Official government contracts accounted for only 10% of this newspaper's advertising when the publishing company with the same name and owner began to market a book entitled Salinas de Gortari: Crisis Candidate. The immediate result was pressure from Salinas de Gortari in the form of a reduction in the already-meager amount of governmental advertising contracted with the newspaper. The weekly Proceso has also been subjected to pressure in the form of cutbacks in both paper supplies and governmental advertising.

The government has an efficient means of exercising control over the limited number of media that attempt to work independently and honestly. By way of the PIPSA firm, the government can raise the price of paper and restrict its supply to any publishing company that practices freedom of the press. However, despite all the existing control mechanisms, there remains a significant number of journalists and media whose work is both objective and honest.

During electoral periods, the media receive extraordinary increases in their earnings. At the same time, the PRI-government works as an indivisible unit by using public funds to back its party's candidates.

Increasing criticism of wasteful spending in attempts to control the media has led the government to undertake limited changes. Nevertheless, in the latest presidential visit to Europe in July of 1992, the Presidency paid all expenses for the reporters that it had invited: air and land transportation; lodging in the best hotels; excellent food; photocopies, sandwiches, and refreshments in the pressroom; 24-hour telephone, fax, and telex services; laundry services; and side trips on free days [4].

On this last trip, the press plane carried 40 reporters, as well as approximately 30 "in-house" (governmental) employees: managers, photocopiers, photographers, camera operators, journalists, and logistical operators. According to research on these expenses carried out by Proceso, the bare minimum reached 10 million pesos per person.

All presidential trips to other countries during the present and previous terms of government have incurred comparable costs. Governors, secretaries of state, and other high- and middle-echelon officials also travel with their respective teams of source journalists, though their number is proportionally smaller.

Measures will be taken in order to provide for a "more-healthy" relationship between the press and the government, thereby preventing "suspicions" and avoiding harmful effects on the reputations of both the media and the government. Director of Social Communication, José Carreño Carlon, recently informed source reporters that, beginning with the next presidential tour to New York and Washington in October, the media corporations will have to pay for the expenses of their invited staff.

Carreño Carlon also told reporters that, at this time, the decision will only apply to international trips, though it is expected to extend to the President's weekly domestic tours, as well as to those made by other departments of the federal executive branch and by state governments, if the latter consider such a change to be appropriate in the realm of their jurisdiction [5].

Physical violence and extrajudicial executions of journalists

In addition to violating freedom of the press through the use of corruption, Mexico's system of government also resorts to physical violence, threats, and extrajudicial executions to thwart journalists and informants who exercise their constitutional right to freedom of the press. The Unión de Periodistas Democráticos (Union of Democratic Journalists) presented Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos/CNDH (National Commission for Human Rights) with a list of murdered journalists. In its Fourth Biannual Report, presented on March 2, 1992, in the framework of its Fifth Program Concerning Injustices Inflicted on Journalists, the CNDH reported that it had revised the list of murdered journalists and ended the first stage of its program.

Fifty-five cases were presented in the report, and the CNDH claimed to have concluded investigation into 39 of these cases [6]. The list of "closed" cases was presented, but no serious information was provided with regard to the status of the 16 remaining cases.

Most of the cases considered closed were described as unrelated to the journalistic activities of the victims. This gives the impression that the CNDH is trying to present the majority of cases involving harm done to journalists or even their death as mere accidents or personal conflicts. In fact, the CNDH's report specifically cites cases of murdered journalists, referring to their deaths as resulting from quarrels whose relation to journalism or politics is doubtful.

The Fourth Report by the Carlos Salinas government again states that the CNDH is investigating 55 cases of injustices committed against journalists.

7 This apparently means that the results of the previous investigation did not even convince the majority of CNDH or governmental officials. Moreover, heavy criticism has fallen on these officials in response to the extremely partial results of the investigation. In general, the CNDH attempts to protect those directly or indirectly responsible for the murder of many journalists.

Internationally, information from the CNDH has been considered a useful reference. However, it should be compared with results from independent investigations, as well as with the opinions of highly respected journalists and those of professional journalistic organizations.

The Comité pour les droits humains au Mexique-Québec has drawn up a preliminary list taken from various sources: information presented to the CNDH by the Unión de Periodistas Democráticos; information from Reporters Sans Frontières; a June 1990 Americas Watch report (Human Rights in Mexico: A Policy of Impunity); numerous newspaper and magazine articles; and recent data contributed by groups of Mexican journalists.

This list contains 95 cases of violations, 38 of which are extrajudicial executions. The great majority of these violations have taken place in the 1988-1992 period. The CPDHM-Québec is fully aware that the real number of violations is much higher.

We hope to supply more specifics on each of these cases in our next reports. We also expect to provide follow-up on the results of the government's official investigation and to support any independent inquiries.

According to information from Reporters Sans Frontières, at least 72 journalists died as a result of their work in 1991.

9 The same organization stated that a minimum of 52 journalists had been murdered in Mexico since 1982. Seventeen of those 52 had died during the first half of Salinas de Gortari's six-year term (five in 1991, four in 1990, seven in 1989, and one at the end of 1988) [10].

In its preliminary list, CPDH-Québec has presented 95 cases of violations, 38 of which are extrajudicial executions. The great majority of these cases, as stated earlier, have occurred during the present Salinas de Gortari administration, which began in 1988.

We are certain that the real figures are much higher than these because organizations of journalists in Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Morelos, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and other states have produced lists of violations, murders, and even disappearances. CPDH-Québec has not yet obtained all the existing documentation on this information, but we do have a partial list drawn up by journalists from Quintana Roo indicating 24 cases of aggression just on members of that state's organization [11, 28].



    1. Rafael Hernández Estrada. Juicio político a Ruiz Massieu, destitución y proceso por los delitos de fraude, peculado y usurpación. Por Esto. Issue 408. Mexico, February 7, 1990; pages 4-7.

    2. Lorenzo Antonio Delgado. Lucro, manipulación ideológica y explotación a reporteros, sello característico de la prensa morelense. Demoz. Issue 9. Mexico, June 7, 1987; pages 1-2.

    3. Ernesto Rodríguez Rojas. Buenos los subsidios de Absalón Castellanos. Por Esto. Issue 301. Mexico, January 20, 1988; pages 28-29.

    4. Carlos Acosta Córdova. En las relaciones con la prensa, el gobierno intenta recuperar credibilidad. Proceso. Issue 829. Mexico, September 21, 1992; pages 16-19.

    5. Confirmado: cada medio pagará sus gastos en las giras presidenciales. La Jornada. Mexico, Friday, September 18, 1992; pages 1 and 38.

    6. CNDH. Cuarto Informe Semestral, December 1991-June 1992; V Programa sobre agravios a periodistas. Mexico, June 2, 1992.

    7. Carlos Salinas de Gortari. IV Informe de Gobierno. Mexico, November 1, 1992.

    8. Ramón Casanova Díaz. Turbia maniobra contra El Financiero. Por Esto. Issue 307. Mexico, March 2, 1988, pages 42-43.

    9. PAMG. BITACORA SEMANAL. Revelaciones. Issue 214. Mexico, May 11, 1992; page 44.

    10. Reporters Sans Frontières. 1992 Report: Freedom of the Press Throughout the World. Section on Mexico. Page 142.

    11. René Alberto López. Llegó a Villahermosa la marcha de periodistas de QR a la Capital. La Jornada. Mexico, Sunday, November 8, 1992; page 11.

    12. Luis A. Bonffil Gómez. Turnaron al MPF el caso del periodista Menéndez Navarrete. La Jornada. Mexico, Wednesday, September 9, 1992; page 8.

    13. Francisco Ortiz Pinchetti. El caso Oropeza, en punto muerto; se investiga la falsa investigación. Proceso. Issue 811. Mexico, May 18, 1992; pages 28-29.

    14. Sonia Morales. Se pide que se aclare la muerte de una periodista mexicana. Proceso. Issue 822. Mexico, August 3, 1992; page 31.

    15. Francisco Ortiz Pinchetti. Retomar el móvil político en el caso Oropeza. Proceso. Issue 789. Mexico, February 17, 1992; pages 16-17.

    16. Felipe Victoria Cepeda. Los "Chicos malos". Quehacer Político. Issue 436. Mexico, January 30, 1990; pages 84-85.

    17. Pascal Beltrán del Río and Armando Guzmán. Gobierno y ejército de Guatemala sostienen que el mexicano muerto era guerrillero. Proceso. Issue 803. Mexico, March 23, 1992; pages 30-31.

    18. Enrique Méndez Alvarez. Desatada la violencia en Baja California. Quehacer Político. Issue 545. Mexico, February 24, 1992; pages 13-14.

    19. Josefina King. El Tribunal Universitario y la libertad de expresión. Filo Rojo. Issue 22. Mexico, February 3, 1992; pages 56-57.

    20. Román González and Francisco Reves. Breves de Filo. Filo Rojo. Issue 22. Mexico, February 3, 1992; pages 41-43.

    21. José López Arévalo. Desenmascaran en Chiapas a sesenta falsos periodistas. Como. Issue 214. Mexico, February 20, 1990; pages 46-47.

    22. En Sonora no se respeta la Libertad de Prensa. Quehacer Político. Issue 459. Mexico, July 9, 1990; page 43.

    23. USA. Department Of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991. Pages 669-670.

    24. Fernando Ortega Pizarro. Más pruebas de que los tres policías acusados estaban en otra parte. Proceso. Issue 704. Mexico, May 14, 1990; pages 29-31.

    25. Americas Watch Report. Human Rights in México: A Policy of Impunity. USA, June 1990; pages 73-80.

    26. Carlos Núñez Pérez. Acusa al gobierno de Campeche de perseguirlo. Palabras del Lector. Proceso. Issue 833. Mexico, October 9, 1992; page 64.

    27. Rosa Rojas. Podrían ser judiciales los autores de las amenazas. La Jornada. Mexico, Thursday, October 29, 1992; page 1.

    28. Ricardo Alemán Alemán. Clase Política. La Jornada. Mexico, Saturday, November 21, 1992; page 4.

    29. Martha Olivia López. Orden de aprehensión contra dos locutores de XEEW. La Jornada. Mexico, Wednesday, November 18, 1992; page 6.

    30. Elizabeth González and Antonio Robles. Releva Aparicio Mendoza a Ballinas en la Secretaría de Gobierno Michoacano. El Financiero. Mexico, Tuesday, November 10, 1992; page 43.

    Translator's Notes

    [a] The porfiriato is the term used by Mexicans to refer to the years of the Porfirio Díaz regime (1876-1911), a long period of dictatorship that developed the country's economy at the expense of social justice and the rights of the indigenous peasantry. (Dictionnaire Robert 2: "Mexique")

    [b] The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional)-Government is a term with which Mexicans describe the overlapping structures of party and government. When the PRI is mentioned alone, it means the government's electoral arm.

    [c] Source journalists cover government events. All governmental structures have their own such journalists and often provide them with office facilities, telephones, faxes, etc.

Journalists who have Suffered Human-Rights Violations. II/II
Index. Tlahui-Politic No. 2