“They will not silence us” – Marcos Vizcarra

Good evening,

Marcos Vizcarra gives his acceptance speech at the Peter Mackler Award ceremony

During his acceptance speech, Marcos Vizcarra presented a poster showing the pictures of the eleven journalists killed in Mexico this year. Credit: Jose Galvez/Double R Productions

Being here is an honor, one that is only made greater when I see that here in front of me are people who are important to journalism throughout the world.

I would like to begin by thanking God, Sylvia, my wife, the Mackler family, Global Media Forum Training Group, Agence France-Presse, and Reporters Without Borders, for choosing me as the Journalist deserving this prize.

I also thank Noroeste, for being the family that has nourished and protected me these last years and the means that have allowed me to grow and continue to write and investigate freely.  I would also like to thank Grupo Reforma and Red de Periodistas de a Pie for allowing me to collaborate with them without restrictions.

I stress that liberty is necessary to journalism because I have the good fortune of practicing journalism even though, in Mexico, choosing to do so comes with warnings and requires weighty reflection.

I experienced a mixture of feelings on the day that the Peter Mackler Prize for ethical and courageous journalism was announced. On that same day Candido Rios was assassinated in the town of Covarrubias, in Veracruz, one of the most hostile states in Mexico in which to practice our profession.

He was reporting on violence and other crimes for the Diario de Acayucan, but that same day he became the subject of the news report on violence; news that caused many of us pain. I did not know him; we did not know about each other, but something connected us: journalism and the risks intrinsic in practicing it in a country like Mexico, as  is also the case with any other profession, because if I am sure of something it is that no one there is safe from being victim of some crime.

I cannot deny that there are millions of people in my country  that strive every day to improve our world,  to have a culture of peace with dignity. But there are also people there who at some point in their lives  prefer, or preferred, to let themselves be corrupted, and, in doing so,  negatively impact the lives of the rest.

The number of murders, disappearances, kidnappings, forced displacements of people, robberies and injuries in Mexico are evidence of a sad and unflattering panorama. That is where the journalists in Mexico have found the rich niche of work that has placed us at risk. To report about violent acts and corruption has left us exposed such that we too will become victims.

But it is not merely that. This violent panorama cannot be viewed only from a perspective of blaming criminal groups and organizations. Rather, this has happened because government administrations do not responsibly perform the work that we Mexicans have entrusted them: that of keeping us safe.

In my country we have a high level of corruption in government that has permitted all spheres of society to develop distrust in them.

And how can we have faith in them? These are their achievements: By the month of September over 21 thousand people have been murdered, and in Sinaloa alone, where my home and my family is now, a State of barely over 2 million people, over 330 people have been victims of murder this year alone. Most have been murdered with firearms.

This does not even address the numbers of forced disappearances that have occurred, as there is no accurate information on how many of these there are nationally, although I know that, according to the local prosecutor’s office,  this year alone in Sinaloa we have already had over 500 cases of people that were disappeared by force. Their families blame armed groups and also military and police.

This violence has provoked massive forced displacement throughout different states in the country, including in Sinaloa.  These are people who have left their homes because they were victims of murder, extortion, disappearances, robberies, the blocking off of roads, threats, rapes and kidnappings. The telling of each of these stories would terrify anyone. They are brutal. There are no census figures or reliable numbers, but I can confirm that thousands of people have been forcefully displaced and will never return to their homes. I know that in the last six years in Sinaloa there have been approximately 35 thousand people who have lived and live the reality of being displaced.

With the goal of decreasing these numbers, Federal, state and local governments have proposed that it is necessary to fight against crime in two ways: First, by excessive spending on firepower, armored trucks and vans and unmanned helicopters and planes purchased under expensive and shadowy contracts justified by urgent security needs.

The other method they have proposed is the deployment of the military onto the streets, the installing of them in cities and towns, with the justification that the police forces are incapable of doing their jobs. The governments have done this without having to explain the military’s resulting actions, despite the fact that those actions, including actions against civil authorities, violate the human rights of the citizenry.  We now live in conditions similar to war against criminal groups, a war begun in 2006 by president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, and one which, although they don’t call it that, continues today.

The violence has intensified in the last five years, while Enrique Peña Nieto has been president. During this time we have seen criminal groups multiply. Today we don’t know how many exist, how they are organized, who really leads them, who created them, and most of all: why they exist. But I dare to say that it is because of the large amount of impunity and of corruption, because according to the Mexican Attorney General’s office, and to the state Attorney Generals or Prosecutors, the average rate of impunity is 94 percent.  That is to say, only 6 of each 100 murders result in a mere arrest, not even in a conviction.

Also, during these years, the rate of use of illegal substances has increased. Despite the government of my country and that of other countries like the United States trying to categorize it that way, Mexico was not previously a country of drug consumers.

Of course, the cause of all of this violence is not only rooted in the bad decisions made by the Mexican governments, but also on the decisions of other countries like the United States, which despite whatever is said, have allowed the illegal trafficking of substances, and have contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans from overdoses while at the same time allowing the illegal trafficking of weapons that have contributed to the murders of thousands of Mexicans.

All of this, and more, is what we, the journalists in Mexico, are trying to document, but, to be honest, sometimes the amount of information overwhelms us, because the impunity and corruption become increasingly stronger and more lethal.  We are being killed for investigating and writing about these crimes.

So far this year we have already had 11 journalists killed, and I cannot fail to remind you that, during Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, there have been 38 killed. According to the organization Articulo 19 in Mexico, all of these cases remain open. No one has been arrested; no one has been jailed.

The 11 murders this year are very clear evidence that, in Mexico, being a journalist is a high-risk profession, one for the brave, for the idealists that search for peace and for the common good. That is why while on this podium I mention these journalists’ names, their memories, as a tribute to their lives and their work. I do this to demand justice, because they will not silence us.

Cecilio Pineda

Ricardo Monlui

Miroslava Breach

Maximino Rodríguez

Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Jonathan Rodríguez Córdoba

Salvador Adame

Edwin Rivera Paz

Luciano Rivera

Cándido Ríos

Edgar Daniel Esqueda

Their deaths cannot remain unpunished, just like none of the crimes that have been caused by bad governments with stupid public policies can remain unpunished.

How is it possible that, while living in a country so rich in natural resources, vast in culture, a country with enormous potential for academic and economic growth, with people willing to give everything up to live in peace, we continue to wait for our leaders to make good or bad decisions?

I don’t want to exempt society from its role in this. We are journalists who are performing strong, responsible, ethical, rigorous and dangerous journalism. We do it because we believe that, to have a more informed society, it is necessary to do better journalism. But they have abandoned us.

Society is right to call us out for engaging in corrupt practices. Many journalists have chosen to become corrupt and work as machines on behalf of the State.  Many journalists have chosen comfort and to stop investigating because it has benefited them to do so. Many journalists have chosen to repeat the speeches of the politicians and the businessmen without pushing themselves a little to prove whether those words are the truth.

The governments and businesses in Mexico, the men in power, know that another of the most lethal ways of silencing journalism is with money, with official publicity contracts that allow them to censure capable journalists, and good journalism. We have failed to honor Ryszard Kapuscinski’s maxim: bad people cannot be good journalists.

Society is also right in calling out the corruption that also exists in newspapers, television and radio news shows and news websites. But that does not excuse it remaining indifferent in the face of violence against good journalists.

I was inspired by seeing that in France, when the attack against Charlie Hebdo happened, thousands of people protested for the right to freedom of expression. I was also inspired when I read that a few days ago in Malta people organized to protest the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who played an important role in the Panama Papers investigation.

Those are societies that clamor for liberty, for truth and for justice.

But I cannot say that about Mexico, where barely 500 of us gathered to demand a cease of the violence against journalists.

I cannot say the same about the society that remains inert when we confront them with investigations about acts of corruption by government and businesses.

I cannot say the same because they have abandoned us, and we need them.

We need them to demand better governments that don’t justify corruption as a cultural issue.

To demand the punishment of those who have attacked our families and our peace.

To demand better living conditions.

To demand that our civil rights are respected.

Because we cannot continue having leaders who are arrogant and incapable, unworthy of having the power to effectuate change.

Because we need to defend ourselves against the threat of a president who prefers to build walls and to deport our brothers rather than to properly combat the illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons.

Because we cannot remain quiet at the injustices against women, men, youth, and children happening in our cities and towns.

Because we need to be better citizens and to understand that war is not the road to peace.

Journalists in Mexico need society and society needs us. Because it is true that this work that we do makes us an easy target for those who want to prevent us from doing good journalism, for those that prefer to hurt us rather than to act in an ethical and responsible manner.

As Emiliano Zapata said: If there is no justice for the people, there will be no peace for the government. That is why I once again say: they will not silence us.

Thank you.