One Gone, One Free

Another journalist, Reuben Pat, has just been murdered in Mexico, the eighth so far this year. At the same time, Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez has been freed from detention in the U.S. as he and his son await the decision to let them stay here or be sent back to near certain death in Mexico. Reporting on the Mexican drug cartels is close to a  suicidal act that gets scant attention in the U.S., where journalism is a much safer occupation.

Pat was given a brutal warning of what lay in store for him. After reporting the tie-in between local police and cartels in the resort town of Playa del Carmen, he was seized and beaten. But he kept reporting on the subject in the online Playa News, even though another of its reporters had been murdered a month before.

Pat was enrolled in Mexico’s federal protection program, which essentially doesn’t protect. He was given a “panic button” to alert authorities, tantamount to informing the cartels. Then in late July, he was shot to death early in the morning in the center of town. His assassin escaped and presumably won’t be caught.

Playa del Carmen, along with nearby Cancun, is a major tourist area where the homicide rate has sharply risen. The U.S. State Department has upgraded its warning to travelers there, noting that innocent bystanders are sometimes killed in the criminal shoot-outs. Somewhat less alarmingly, the Mexican Tourist Board says most of the violence takes place in the inner city or private properties. So just ignore the bodies falling around you while you’re having a good time.

playa del carmen
The seemingly quiet resort town of Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Like Pat, Gutierrez was reporting on local corruption, soldiers stealing money from migrants in the violent state of Chihuahua. He was summoned by a general who told him: “You’ve written three idiotic stories. There won’t be a fourth.” Army patrols then loitered in front of his house and occasionally burst in. It was obviously time to leave.

In June 2008 he and his teenage son Oscar fled to the U.S. border, where they sought asylum on the grounds of clear danger to their lives. Then the process began. They were detained for several months awaiting a decision. Released on parole, they moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they operated a food truck to make a living. Then last November a federal immigration judge finally ruled. Despite evidence to the contrary, he said Gutierrez should return to Mexico because the government would protect him. So off to another detention center while awaiting an appeal of that decision.

Fortunately, many American journalists then got involved. Numerous organizations rallied to his cause, pressuring ICE to grant him asylum. A victory of a sort was achieved in late July when ICE released him and Oscar from detention to await yet again the final ruling. In the meantime, he has been awarded a fellowship to continue his journalism in the U.S. without fear of violence. Said Kathy Kiely, who has followed the case for the National Press Club: “While we regret the long detention of a reporter who violated no laws of this country, we are thrilled that ultimately commonsense and American values have prevailed.”

What about all the other journalists endangered in Mexico? What can be done? How about stopping the drugs pouring across the border that finance the cartels and the billions of dollars of drug money that circulate throughout the U.S., corrupting as they go.

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