That is our reality. It pains me to have to say so. It pains me as someone who has pride in his nation. It pains me as someone who has championed freedom of speech and justice and democracy and the rule of law.
I have spent my entire life publishing newspapers that have crusaded for those causes, I have argued that they will make Mexico a better country.
Indeed, they have made life better.
But calling the name of democracy and justice and the rule of law does not – inevitably – bring those things in a torrent and neither does it bring their bounty in a rush.
While they are absent, poverty remains, and poverty brings its own evil. And so, for all the change our advocacy has brought us, we, Mexico’s journalists, find ourselves as the title of this event declares: Under Siege.
Not from businesses, not from politicians, not from the courts, not from any of the adversaries who have stood in our way over the past four decades.
We find ourselves under the siege of drug lords, criminals; and the more we expose their activities, the harder they push back.
Life is cheap. They push hard.
Two reporters from our Monterrey paper recently pursued a story. They had heard that a man running a tire rethread shop in a nearby town was being shaken down for protection money because this is how the drug rings have been “diversifying.”
Our reporter and photographer paid a visit to the town. Not ten minutes after they had arrived, armored vehicles pulled up outside, blocking their exit. They were thrown to the ground. Their laptops, their camera equipment, their phones, their I.D. with their addresses were all taken. And they were beaten.
With broken eardrums, shoulders, ribs … they both quit their jobs. This is not the first time such a thing has happened and the criminals have made it plain that unless we leave them alone, it will not be the last.
That threat hangs over all our reporters. We are, without question, under siege. But are we, as today’s title also proposes: “scared silent”?
Demonstrably, a reporter who has been hospitalized and who has resigned his job, has been scared silent. But as a newspaper, we remain dedicated to our creed: the truth must be known, it must be investigated, it must be published.
We continue to run the stories. But we find ourselves risking an ever higher price. So we adjust, make changes, and our lives are the worse for it.
We no longer run our reporters bylines. We vary our commuting route to evade kidnappers. Our families cannot be habitual in their daily lives. And this year, for the second time in four decades, I have had to move my entire family to a safe haven in the U.S.
We have every reason in the world to drop the stories. We have every reason to look the other way. But how can we do so? How can we ignore the words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to remain silent.”
If we adapt the famous words of Martin Niemeoller they would say:
First, there was violence between drug traffickers, but I’m not a drug trafficker, so I didn’t speak out;
Then, they kidnapped rich people, but I’m not rich, so I didn’t speak out;
Then, they came for conflictive people, but… I don’t have problems with anyone, so I didn’t say anything.
Finally, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
It is our resolve to speak out: we will continue to report all that we know about the problem, and will continue to ask questions. We hold to the faith that if we ask enough questions we may finally come upon a solution.
Let me take you – briefly — through what we know so far.
I’ll begin with a conundrum: crime pays. In my country, you are more likely to fail in business than you are in organized crime. Seventy-five percent of Mexican business startups die within the first two years. 80 percent are gone within the first three years. 90 percent by the end of the first decade.
By contrast, your risk of failure as a criminal – outside of death – is ludicrously small. Only 5 percent of crimes are reported. Of those, only 15 percent of victims press charges. Only one – very unlucky – criminal out of 100 will go to prison.
You only need to spend a week trying to file a police complaint to learn why this might be so. Our equivalent to the District Attorney’s Office, our MP’s, are not law enforcement or prosecution agencies. They are form filling factories.