The Dangers for Journalists in Mexico

Mexico has become the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the press, according to Reporters Without Borders. A total of 32 journalists have been murdered and seven disappeared since 2000. With nine journalists murdered in 2006, it ranked second only to Iraq worldwide.

The world of organized crime is one of the biggest threats to their safety, and local journalists are more at risk than those from other countries. However, the death of North American journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca last year demonstrates that international journalists are also at risk.

In 2005 the Mexican Government crated a special prosecutor to look into the dangers for journalists, but the organism is very limited.

Violence against journalists in Mexico is increasing, according to local sources and NGOs. Bribery and corruption used to be more popular forms of controlling the media, but murder and physical violence are becoming increasingly common. A culture of impunity means that violence against journalists often goes unpunished.

Alexandra Jimenez, information and analysis coordinator at the Foundation of Manuel Buendia, a foundation set up in memory of the Mexican murdered journalist, spoke to NewCorrespondent about the dangers journalists working in Mexico face.

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Living La Lucha Libre

Despite my best intentions, I failed miserably on Friday in getting media access to La Lucha Libre. Not only did they ignore my requests for a pass, but they confiscated all of the recording equipment – dictaphone, mobile phone and camera – that I tried to sneak in. Worry not – I will bring you a multi-media Lucha Libre experience if it is the last thing I do. In the meantime, here is a sense of the experience:

The Arena Mexico in Mexico City’s Colonial Centro was buzzing as people clambered over each other to gain tickets to the la Lucha por el Campeonato Mundial de Parejas – the global championship for doubles. This was a revenge fight – the week before had seen the infamous Dr. Wagner and Ultimo Guerrero defeat el Mistico y el Negro Casas. Now all were back for more.

In the capable hands of locals, we negotiated the steps of the city’s impressive arena that teamed with men, women and children, touts selling front row seats, and vendors pimping a million variations of the famous Lucha Libre masks (‘mascara’). The boiling crowd was illuminated by the harsh neon lights outside the stadium, and the aroma from stalls selling everything edible from tacos to hotdogs mixed with the smell of bodies crowded together, cigarette smoke, beer and the familiar traffic emissions of Ciudad de Mexico.

Men and women queued in separate lines, squashed together front to back, to await the thorough search from stadium security that resulted in the confiscation of your correspondent’s equipment, foiling my ambitious under-cover reporting project. Next time.

We bounded up the bare stone steps to the vast interior of the arena which is also known as the cathedral of Lucha Libre given its 70-year plus history. The massive, dimly lit space was packed to its full capacity of 16,500 people. The thunder of the crowd reached my ears and vibrated in my chest before we reached the end of the stairs, fuelling the adrenalin rush one gets as the best music gigs or at those dangerous moments in life. The tension in the air was palpable. Huge groups of excited young men belted out the staple, four-syllable staccato whistle at every opportunity that echoed around the stadium the entire evening. Translated, it basically means: ‘Fuck your Mother’. Welcome to Mexico.

Our plastic seats in the stalls were behind a metal fence, designed to stop zealous fans from lobbing paper beer cups and popcorn cartons down onto the audience below. The view of the fighting ring was regularly obscured by fervent fans, standing up to scream or whistle down into the arena below.

Lucha Libre is the perfect combination of real fighting skills and exuberant showmanship, at the core of which lies the phenomenal Mexican sense of humor which refuses to take life too seriously. Dressed in the famous lycra leotards which stretch from the crotch up over their shoulders the Luchadores threw themselves and each other around the ring in practiced, melodramatic moves that had the audience screaming and rolling in the aisles.

La Lucha’s biggest fans are Mexico’s working poor, known here as the ‘popular classes’, and entire families with tiny children were out in force, many of them sporting T-Shirts brandishing images of their favourite fighters. “Wagner! Wagner! Wagner!” chanted my side of the crowd, as all 98kg, 1.7 metres of Dr. Wagner threw his opponent clear out of the ring and onto the laps of the seated audience below. The crowd went wild for that – the more outrageous the moves the better, and more triumphant the fighter’s sequential glory dance.

When the fighters were actually inside the ring rather than cavorting on its edges, the Lucha appeared a combination of dancing and wrestling, the participants bouncing themselves against the ropes to gain momentum before launching themselves into their opponents with awesome gusto.

The fight was over quickly, not allowing the audience anytime for complacency. El Mistico and Negras Casas swept to victory to avenge their defeat earlier in the week, and my hosts – some of which had Dr Wagner emblazoned across their backs and fronts – left disappointed, shouting conversations at each other as they cursed the victims and gestured wildly with their hands.

It was a whole other wrestling match to get outside of the arena and reclaim my confiscated equipment. Vendors selling posters of the victors in their trademark masks competed with taxi drivers keen to make the most of the thousands of fans spilling out of the stadium into the warm Mexican evening.

At least the nature of La Lucha means its stars generally live to see another day, and there’s always an opportunity for a rematch.

Addressing the impact of small arms in Mexico

Mexico’s population suffers more deaths from small arms than some African countries with recognized internal wars. The human cost of the easy availability and low price of small arms, many of which arrive through the country’s porous border with its rich neighbour the United States, is one of the main focuses of Oxfam’s work in Mexico.

The impact of small arms on the lives of the country’s youth and women is of special interest to the organisation, which is working with local collectives to raise awareness domestically about the issue and push it onto the public agenda.

Susan Cruickshank, the advocacy officer for Oxfam Mexico, was kind enough to speak to NewCorrespondent on camera about its campaign to control the availability of small arms, and its work as part of Oxfam’s global Make Trade Fair campaign. It’s a little rough around the edges – no editing – but such is our approach.

Click here to read a recent report by Oxfam on the Global Arms Trade.

Clementi, a builder by trade, waits for work in Mexico City’s Zocalo

Clementi, a builder by trade, touts for work on the Zocalo, Mexico City

Clementi is one of the many tradesmen to make his living from the edges of the Zocalo in Mexico City. A builder by trade, he awaits potential clients on the outside of the fence that rings the Cathedral.

People come to the square to contract builders, he explains. If they employ him, Clementi then contacts a group of men who work beneath him and they go to work at the client’s house.

Clementi is flanked by plumbers, electricians and other professionals who tout for work in this way because, they say, there are no steady jobs for them in their profession.

‘I’m too old now to work for the major companies,’ says Clementi.

A spirit of adventure

Sitting here in Gatwick departures, awaiting my flight, your humble correspondent has been attempting to drum up some words of profundity with which to set the tone of this exciting venture.

Of course, none were forthcoming, so I’ve ‘borrowed’ someone else’s!

This is a quote from Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the youngest members of Robert Falcon Scott’s second Antarctica Expedition (1910 – 1913), brought to my attention by an intrepid journalist friend, Annie Kelly.

"If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. Some will tell you that you are mad and nearly all will say, "what is the use?". For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial reward within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: That is worth a good deal. If you march your winter journey you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg."

No point in trying to avoid being cheesey, so I am going to embrace it.

Hasta Luego.

Deborah Bonello explains The Mexico Reporter