Page 19


Rocio Gallegos, editor of El Diario, says Rodriguez’s murder has profoundly affected the way her reporters go about their work But it hasn’t shut them down. “We’ve taken new security measures. We change our work schedules often, and we really have to decide whether we will go to a place in person or try to do the story by phone,” she says. Often reporters work in groups, on the safety-in-numbers theory. Gallegos insists they are not paralyzed by fear. “We couldn’t do our jobs if we were afraid,” she says. Fear is unquestionably crippling the ability of many Mexican journalists to tell the full story of the country’s ongoing tragedies. Reporters from other newspapers and TV stations have fled north, including Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of the online news journal La Polaka. Last November Aguirre sought refuge in El Paso after he was warned that that he would be the next to die. In March, Aguirre testified at a U.S. congressional hearing that the threats stemmed from his criticism of a state prosecutorand were delivered by a representative of the state of Chihuahua’s governor. “He sent people to warn me to tone down my criticisms of the prosecutor,” Aguirre testified, “because if I didn’t, he was going to kill me, using the Juarez drug cartels’ preferred method of kidnapping followed by execution.” Emilio Gutierrez . Soto, a reporter for El Diario del Noroeste in the city of Ascension, 145 miles south of Juarez, fled last June with his 15-year-old son after soldiers ransacked his home. He subsequently received death threats. Gutierrez had written a series of stories exposing the harassment of innocent citizens by the army’s anti-drug trafficking operations. Gutierrez landed in a U.S. immigration detention center for seven months before being freed in January without explanation on a temporary visa. His son was held in detention for two months before being released to U.S. relatives. They are applying for asylum. In February, Gutierrez and Aguirre helped form a group in El Paso to assist journalists fleeing the violence. Periodistas Mexicanos en Exilio will provide legal assistance and counseling to Mexican journalists who seek asylum in the U.S. At a press conference at UT-El Paso, immigration lawyer Carlos Spector, another cofounder of PEMEXX, said it also aims to “put pressure on the Mexican government to provide assistance to those who are fleeing Mexico.” “If the press is silenced or diminished in Mexico,” Spector said, “the hope of democracy for our neighbors is dwindling just as fast.” With the help of Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, ombudsman for the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, PEMEXX is creating a human rights project in Chihuahua to educate journalists about asylum. The group is pressing the Obama administration to respect international agreements relating to asylum and refugee status, which were seldom upheld by the Bush administration. For Aguirre, the issue is personally urgent: He is living in El Paso, where he’s,continued to update his Web site, with his wife and three children on temporary visitor visas that expire in June. He has yet to apply for asylum because he fears he might land in detention, as Gutierrez did. “Every day I pray with my wife because God has kept me alive,” Aguirre told the congressional committee. “Sometimes, I look at the mountains of Juarez and, like many people, dream of a city that is no longer a paradise for drug cartels, but a safe and dignified place where I can live with my family.” Melissa del Bosque Beware the Eyes of Texas ELECTIONS UNEARTH A SECRET UT SOCIETY Perhaps not since Hank the Hallucination beat Paul Begala for student body president in 1982 has so much controversy swirled around a University of Texas student government election. This year’s contest featured insider dealing, Facebook hijinks, death threats, and a Skull and Bones-like secret society. The seeds of scandal were sown two days after the election when the Daily Texan anonymously received a copy of an e-mail that called into question the integrity of student, elections. Sent by Election Supervisory Board Co-Chairman Cesar Martinez Espinosa three days before the election, the message urged 21 student leaders and alumni to campaign for establishment presidential candidate Liam O’Rourke, the eventual winner. The 11-member election board is appointed by the student government president and is supposed to oversee elections impartially. But here was Martinez asking recipients to make phone calls, send e-mails, dance at an upcoming Longhorn football game wearing O’Rourke T-shirts, and “facebook like YOU DON’T SAY: “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese I understand it’s a rather difficult language do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” State Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, to Ramey Ko of the Organization of Chinese Americans, during House testimony on Voter ID legislation April 7. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 17, 2009