Friday, June 25, 2010

Impunity in Mexico: 49 toddlers die in fire, officials absolved

That´s how it works here.

You can imagine how the justice system would have reacted in the U.S. if 49 children had been killed in a fire at a day-care center.

Mexico´s Supreme Court recently voted to absolve high-level officials of responsibility. A New York Times story quoted the reaction of legal affairs columnist Miguel Carbonell, who wrote in El Universal newspaper:

The surest thing is that the case ends as almost everything ends in Mexico: in oblivion and the most absolute impunity.

The Times story added:

In all, 23 people have been charged in the case and all of them are out on bail, said Lorenzo Ramos Félix, a lawyer for the victims’ families.

Except for the center’s four owners, all of the accused are low-level municipal, state and federal employees. “Neither the government nor the court wants to take a high-ranking official to trial,” Mr. Ramos said.

Families of the victims posted the Times story on their website, which is part of their campaign to seek justice.

Among the owners of the day-care center are a cousin of Mexico´s first lady as well as party and state officials and their spouses. It is no accident that those with political connections get contracts for these centers: they receive government payments for each child cared for. It´s guaranteed income.

Impunity for crimes against reporters

A similar impunity exists in crimes against journalists, which have been on the rise in Mexico.

We offer a course for Mexican journalists in how to protect themselves while covering drug trafficking and corruption. The journalists tell us that the institutions that are supposed to protect them, such as the courts, police and regulators, are sometimes in league with the criminals who threaten them.

This week there a ceremony in Tijuana honored journalist Francisco Ortiz Franco, who was murdered six years ago. According to a statement released by the Inter American Press Association:

Ortiz Franco was killed in front of two of his children as he was about to get into his car. A masked man, believed to be from the Arellano Félix cartel, shot him four times at point-blank range. Since then, despite the initial mobilization of justice authorities and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the case has suffered numerous irregularities and today remains completely unpunished.

The complete statement is here.

This article describes Mexico as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

In the past 18 months, the facilities of five media outlets have been attacked with gunfire or grenades, according to the Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social. So far this year at least 13 journalists have been attacked or killed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Baseball at Nationals Park in Washington, sacred sites in Mexico

I was two days too late to see the Nationals´ new phenom, Steven Strasburg, in his major league debut, in which he struck out 14 batters and created national buzz.

Thursday night was just another bad night for Pittsburgh, as the Nationals
beat the Pirates 4-2, and completed a three-game sweep.

What I like about baseball in person is the space reserved for the game. A ball park and the diamond it contains have a kind of perfect beauty and orderliness that the messy reality of daily life does not. The simple rules of the game -- and this is true for any game, including soccer -- create a ritualized form of reality, a more ordered version of it, in which what men and women do can affect the way the world turns.

Today´s athletes are heroes in that they act out our myths and beliefs about life, and because they have replaced the gods. Mexican wrestling matches have this kind of mythic battle of good vs. evil, gringos vs. Mexicans, etc. (See the next entry on this blog.)

When you explore archeological sites in Mexico, most of them have a ball court where a game resembling soccer was played. The game had a sacred significance, but it is also true that people played the game for fun.

The ball court at Montealban in Oaxaca, which we visited in December.

Supposedly Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor defeated by Cortez, would strap on his belt and play with his nephews for fun.

At some sites, evidence suggests that the losers of a ball game were ritually sacrificed.

No one was sacrificed after the Nationals-Pirates game, but they were subjected to press interviews. Basically the same thing.

I´m in DC and Boston for a few days, training Knight Journalism fellows and getting some training myself.