Throughout 2013, a total of 330 attacks against journalists, media workers and media facilities were recorded in Mexico. It was the most attacks recorded for any year since 2007. With a journalist assaulted every 26.5 hours in Mexico, a new report gives voice to some of the victims within the country’s media. This is the story of Mario Segura.
I am a journalist and a clown. I am 52 years old. I lived through an eight-day kidnapping in Tamaulipas, a principal point of passage to the United States. I managed to get out of there alive. When I was finally saved, I was interviewed by a psychologist. His name was Damian.
“Is there something you would like to say?” he asked in the first meeting.
“What I need to do,” I said, “is cry.”
And that is what I did. I cried oceans for several minutes. I felt the tears bathing my face, and my warm body felt a great yearning to be hugged. My wife was with me.
That was the start of a family therapy that would later become individual. The intention was to help us leave the trauma behind. Crying that day was one of the biggest reliefs of my life.
On June 7, 2012, the Veracruz Delegation of the Mexican Journalists’ Club recognized me for my work in the El Sol del Sur of Tampico. That day, I cried during the event. It was a different emotion from that which came later. The tears were because my efforts of more than 20 years as a journalist were being recognized. My parents and my brothers said they were proud of me and gave me words of encouragement. Two months later, on August 13, 2012, I was kidnapped.
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The illegal deprivation of my freedom occurred just days before my father’s 77th birthday, and my 50th. Several days earlier, I had spoken to him to find out what he wanted to eat for the occasion. The first thing I thought when they kidnapped me was that I would not be able to share that day with him. That really hurt me, much more than the blows of my assailants. My biggest fear was that something would happen to me or to my loved ones.
That was why I needed to cry, to free myself from the feelings of guilt for the suffering I had caused my family. In my opinion, there was nobody guiltier than myself. I thought I was responsible for the kidnapping and the fear my family was now forced to live with. And I could not forgive myself for that.
Damian made me understand that everyone has their responsibilities and commitments to uphold as they go through life. Being a journalist is no reason to feel guilty of generating violence against myself, or my family. The people who kidnapped me are the ones who caused the physical and moral damage. They are the guilty ones.
For more than 15 years, in addition to working as a journalist, photographer, editor and owner of a media site, I have been a clown. That let me keep a distance from the corruption that exists in journalism in that state.
The show we perform is called “Family Clowns Show.” My wife and my three kids participate. The youngest is 11 years old and helps us take photos and videos of the events, which we later sell.
The day before I was kidnapped, they contracted us for a birthday party. We were on our way there when a colleague called to tell me I should erase something that had appeared on the El Sol del Sur webpage. It was a post published for the “Alerta Oportuna” (Timely Alert), which contained information that bothered a certain criminal group in the region.
I said I would do so, as I had on other occasions, but later: I was on the way to the party and I would not have access to a computer until much later.
We did our job and returned home at nine or 10 at night. I opened the page and erased some messages that I thought could get me into trouble. One pointed out a suspicious vehicle stationed in a mall and specified the model and the license plate number, which was not from Tamaulipas.
At that moment, I believed that was the most dangerous comment, since the soldiers, marines and authorities who investigate organized crime would see the accusation.
For nearly two years, Alerta Oportuna warned about areas where there were shootouts and confrontations between members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. It also provided information about the army, the Attorney General’s Office and judicial operators. With the passing of months, a group of responsible citizens formed that used a chat forum to add to this information.
Later, this system was duplicated in Nuevo Laredo, the capital of the state; Ciudad Victoria; El Mante; Aldama; Reynosa; San Fernando; Matamoros and others. On all of these sites, chats emerged to corroborate the accusations. Later on, the criminal groups themselves began to use the site to launch offensives and threats.
My biggest satisfaction is knowing I have saved at least one life, although I believe it could have been more.
After my kidnapping, Alerta Oportuna stopped operating.
I do not believe that the drug cartels had anything against me. If they did, they would not have let me live. For several years, in the face of direct threats, I had stopped investigating and publishing on activities related to organized crime. I never represented a threat to them.
I think that instead, the kidnapping was linked to the “narcopolitica” (drug trafficking and politics ties) that reign in Tamaulipas. This took root during the governments of Manuel Cavazos Lerma, now a senator, and then under Tomas Yarrington, who is currently being processed in the United States for organized crime ties and conspiracy in that country, in addition to laundering money by acquiring properties under the name of front men.
My captors identified themselves as members of a cartel. They claimed I had published an article saying that a leader from south Tamaulipas was the new head of the professional soccer team Tampico-Madero. We never wrote about that on the site. What we did publish was news and reports that made reference to mayors or other local officials who used their posts for personal enrichment.
During my captivity, they kept me chained and with my face covered, but I could hear what my kidnappers talked about. There was a 17 year old girl. She was pregnant and she was responsible for taking photos of me with a cell phone and sending them to her boss. There was another young man, of 19 years, who was called “El Gordo,” and another older, 35 year old man.
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They smoked marijuana day and night. Sometimes they did not have money to buy food and one of them went out to get a loan or ask for credit at the corner store. Sometimes they bought chicken or pastries. They did not offer me any: I just got one serving of water.
When they did not have anything to eat, nor even enough to buy bottled water, I asked them to serve me water from the tap. They only gave me half a glass. They said it was so I would not have to go to the bathroom all the time. The rule was that I could only go once, at night.
Among themselves, they spoke with admiration of other, higher level criminals. They talked about other kidnappings and how the assailants had hit their captives. They discussed what had happened when one of the victims had escaped, and what could happen to them if, due to an oversight, I managed to escape.
I heard that there were hierarchies: commanders, sergeants, and common soldiers. And then there were my kidnappers, who did not know where on the chain of command they were located. If they fell asleep and did not report at 6 AM, their bosses ordered them to be struck with boards. They had all had this happen.
According to the girl, on one occasion they hit her 10 times, and on another occasion, five. She said the best thing was for the blows to occur in rapid succession. That way, she said, her buttocks went numb and it hurt less.
My wife found my car in the same place as usual, but with the windows down, and suspected I had been kidnapped. She reported the case to the state’s Judicial Attorney’s Office. My mother accompanied her. The kidnappers found out quickly, and ordered me to call her and tell her to say I had already reappeared. If not, they threatened, they would kill me or my children.
The media and social networking sites spread news of the case, and NGOs contacted my family. At the same time, they formed protests to question the authorities about the results of the search. The Secretary General at the time, Jaime Canseco, said there was no report on file to be investigated. That never happened.
After eight days in captivity, they took me in a taxi to the outskirts of the city. I managed to orient myself: I was in a neighborhood at the border between Tampico and Altamira.
We rode several meters up a mountain and they ordered me to lower my pants in order to take a beating. If this was what I had to do to be freed, I thought, then go ahead: do it quickly. I remembered what the girl watching over me had said: that if all the blows happened at the same time it hurt less. And that is what happened.
After the beating, one of the kidnappers said I had better not mess with the Gulf Cartel. They gave me about 15 pesos and told me to wait five minutes before leaving.
As I was coming down the mountain, I ran into a girl and asked her where I was. At the corner, she said, a bus went by that would take me close to the northern sector of Tampico. I took it and got off at another point where I could take a taxi. I used the rest of the 15 pesos to have a soda, and called my family from the public telephone.
My father, my wife and my kids awaited me outside the house. We hugged, cried together, and thanked God.
The organization ARTICLE 19 helped us leave the state of Tamaulipas. We bought plane tickets and paid for a hotel room for three months. Once we were out of Tamaulipas, we looked for help under the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo). I became the 13th user and the first journalist to take advantage of this initiative created by Felipe Calderon in November 2012. Around that time, they announced the opening of a house to receive displaced journalists.
The legal support they offered was guidance, since the lawyers of the institution could not be legal representatives of the victims. I decided to stay with the lawyer and the psychological support offered by ARTICLE 19. We were also offered medical assistance through PROVICTIMA, a body charged with attending to victims of violence. At the doctor’s office where I went to treat the diabetes I suffer from, they did not have any instrument to measure glucose levels and the one they used to measure blood pressure was faulty.
My PROVICTIMA advocate paid for the glucose equipment out of his own pocket. Over time, I became aware that other employees did similar things to buy medicine, food and even kitchen utensils for the families for whom they provided residences.
The oldest of my sons became desperate and returned to Tamaulipas. My son Jose Gerardo began working at a clothing store. My daughter, my wife and I dressed as clowns and visited the public plazas, but the police did not allow us to work and we had to move so they would not detain us.
My daughter, who is now 11, had finished 5th grade. Once our status of forced displacement became concrete, she lost the scholarship she had. We waited two months for the Mecanismo to help us get her back into school. They never accomplished this. I solved the problem myself: I spoke with the director of a school and explained our situation, and she told me my daughter could join the evening classes.
Thanks to the negotiations of ARTICLE 19 with the United States government, we received financial support for six months. With this, we were able to buy the essentials for a new home, since we had arrived with only our clothes. We bought second hand furniture, rented an apartment and left the hotel.
At the same time, we began to apply for housing through PROVICTIMA, which months earlier had reached an agreement with INFONAVIT to provide temporary housing to victims of violence. The loan was for six months, with the option of acquiring credit once the initial agreement had expired. They said the process would take between one and three months, but more than five passed before we were able to use this system.
We ended up in a high risk housing complex, in an insecure state. In the building where we lived, there had been problems with young drug addicts, which ended in the death of the mother of one of them. Various apartments were abandoned and many residents continued to fear there would be more disputes. We were not made aware of that story.
Personnel from the Mecanismo and the Federal Police, who ostensibly were sent to evaluate the zone, accompanied us to accept the housing. The apartment did not even have a toilet or a shower. The electrical connections and the doors were damaged. The security evaluator from the police told me that Mecanismo would have to give us an intercom, change the door for a metal one – the one in place did not even have a lock – and install protection on two of the windows.
Since the budget had not been approved, in Mecanismo they did not have money to reinforce the apartment. Once more, ARTICLE 19 had to help us pay to install new doors and barred windows.
I did not allow them to provide me personal security. I already knew it would be uncomfortable, and I knew the criminals could do harm not only to me, but to the police as well. I preferred the Panic Button option. Said button is a program put in place by the Interior Ministry. It is installed in the telephone that I use, and is connected to the people who could locate me and give me protection in case of an emergency. I do not trust the mechanism and I hope I never have to use it.
In my case, the button is connected to people who stopped working for the Mecanismo several months ago. For nearly half a year, I have been in a new place. They have promised to give me the contact information of the authorities who should protect me in a dangerous situation, but this still has not happened.
In February 2013, some of my friends convinced me not to shut down the El Sol del Sur webpage. Although I am no longer the head of it, I pay the web hosting fees, and social and human rights defenders work to save the journalistic project that cost my family and friends so much work and determination.
In all this time, I have failed to find work as a journalist. In addition to the fact that I have been moving from one place to another, I am now 52 years old, and media organizations usually contract youth just finishing university.
Now they tell me that PROVICTIMA is going to disappear. They say it as a rumor. And they say the INFONAVIT temporary housing agreement is not being considered by Mecanismo, the body that could provide us housing for some time. I am quite certain that by the time what I am writing today is edited, PROVICTIMA will have already disappeared.
Everything I am telling you is so that the Mexican government will take note that the situation of human rights defenders and journalists is not easy.
Based on my experience, the Mecanismo offers you protection, but anybody who wants to avoid the reach of criminals just has to move far away from home and not tell anyone they are being pursued. That is how to move on with your life.