Thursday, July 02, 2009

Emilio Gutierrez Soto (R) meets with reporters following his release in January

Heroes of Mexico

I've been trying to read a lot about what's going on with America's neighbors to the south recently. I feel that most Americans, disturbingly, are completely unaware of just how quickly things are spiraling out of control. Tijuana is no longer a haven for frat boys on Spring Break, Swine Flu is not what's killing most citizens at an alarming rate; the chilling onslaught of disappeared women in Juarez is probably the least of the country's worries.

Quick facts:

-- In 2008, more than 6,000 Mexicans died from drug violence, a larger loss than the total number of American troops that were killed in Iraq. Some estimates are higher (by some 1,000 Mexican lives).

--Since 2000, two dozen reporters have been officially reported as murdered, and at least seven have been recorded missing. An unknown number have fled to the U.S.

--More than 150 people from Mexico, including police officers, businessmen and at least one prosecutor, have sought asylum since October 2007, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in El Paso.

Just this month, Mother Jones magazine published--rather admirably under the circumstances--the grizzly story of Emilio Gutierrez Soto, a former reporter for El Diario in northern Chihuahua state, who's head is wanted by nearly everyone in his home country: the Mexican Government, the Army and the drug cartels (all of whose members are practically interchangeable anyhow). While he has successfully filed for political asylum and now lives in the U.S., his head is no less being hunted.

I say MoJo is admirable here, as scant news outlets have told this very symbolic, very prescient tale of Mexico and its base human rights abuses towards this poor journalist. Gutierrez Soto has kept his head down; his eyes and ears shut when it comes to the gross corruption and barbarism that he has witnessed. He isn't an insatiable muckraker, he knows the stakes, and besides, he has a young son to think about. His only misstep may have been the fact that he never accepted any bribes from anyone, and he refused to publish "corrections" to his stories when certain authorities threatened or bribed him to do so.

Stories that got him in trouble included one in which he reported that the mayor had peed in a gutter after leaving a club (intentionally leaving out the fact that the mayor was exiting the club with known drug pin leaders), and one in which he reported that a drug counselor was fired from the local school district. At that point, Gutierrez Soto was a wanted man. But what really tipped the scales, and what sent hordes of henchman after the journalist and single father, was a story involving the Army. One day, six Mexican soldiers stormed a run down boarding house, looting and stealing food and jewelry from migrant workers. The citizen reporter could not resist the urge to help in any way he could. After he broke the story, there was no turning back. Gutierrez Soto quickly went into hiding, and soon realized that his only option, should he want to live, was to get out of the country and seek asylum in the U.S.

Seven months later, Gutierrez was released from a Texas detention center run by Deco, Inc. And it is not speculative to say that if Obama was not elected into office, it never would have happened since the Bush administration's policies were such that all those from Mexico seeking political asylum be detained immediately; many indefinitely.

Gutierrez Soto's attorney, Carlos Spector, told the Washington Post:

"I think that once the Obama administration came in and laid out their policies and their vision, that we were going back to what America is all about, due process...The Bush administration was characterized by silence, non-accountability and inhumane treatment of detainees."

The story by Mother Jones is highly illuminating, and at times feels very personal. The following quote is haunting, and completely saddened me (the reporter describes Gutierrez Soto):

"He sees Mexico as genetically corrupt. A corrupt Aztec ruling class fused with the trash of Spain, the conquistadors. This thesis helps him face the reality around him.

'In Mexico,' he says, 'we operate in disguise. There is one face and under that is another mask. Nothing is up-front.'"

I feel for this man, and the many brave, honest Mexican citizens that make this journey to the north and succeed. They should be celebrated as heroes--not detained, for they know that staying in their homeland is tantamount to a death sentence; yet they move forward, and tell their stories anyhow.

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