In this week’s PEN Atlas piece, Sanjuana Martinez pays tribute to her friend and colleague Lydia Cacho who has been forced to temporarily flee their native Mexico in the wake of terrifying deaths threats. 

Translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Cat LucasI am writing this from the heart. There is no other way for me to do it. Lydia Cacho is not just a colleague and fellow journalist, but has been a friend of mine for years. We are united by a passion for our profession, by our commitment to the causes both of women and human rights, and of course by a friendship filled with affection and solidarity.The work that Lydia Cacho does in Mexico is as indispensable as the air we breathe. Her investigative journalism aims to remove the decadent layers of political corruption, both in business and in government.We know that nowadays independent and critical journalism has become a high risk profession, but Lydia has spent seven years living under impending threats from the people in power that she has so bravely identified in her work.Her books are her evidence of it. The most recent, Esclavas del Poder: un viaje al corazón de la trata sexual de mujeres y niñas en el mundo edited by Grijalbo (Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking) is an in-depth investigation not only into human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and financial gain, but also into the people in power who profit from it. In addition there are her newspaper columns, which have become essential reading due to the amount of information they contain, stuffed with facts that shed light on subjects that normally would remain concealed because of the vested interests of differing sources of power.When a journalistic career is characterised by constant criticism and denunciation, it is sadly not unusual to be treated as a discomforting presence, and so become persecuted and banned from numerous professional outlets.  What is unusual is for the State to remain impervious to all the death threats that Cacho and so many other journalists have received. And what is shameful is that a journalist like Lydia Cacho, under threat of death, is forced into temporary exile to save her life and her life’s work.She is not the only one. A number of Mexican media professionals have found themselves forced into exile thanks to the indifference of Felipe Calderon’s government has shown towards more than 100 crimes against journalists that have gone unpunished.In Lydia’s case the lack of governmental action is particularly alarming. Since 2009, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) has been calling on the government to take precautionary measures for her protection, but Calderon and his negligent officials (from the Ministry of the Interior and the failed Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed Against Journalists) have consistently ignored the urgency of adopting such measures.  It is obvious that they would prefer not to come to the defence of a critical voice.In the meantime, the journalist has been subject to accusations and persecution from one source after another.  On this most recent occasion [29 July 2012] the message was clear: “We already told you, vile bitch, don’t mess with us. We can see that you haven’t learnt from that little trip that we gave you. Next time we get you, you’ll be cut into little pieces, and that’s how we’ll send you home, idiot.”No prizes for guessing where the threat comes from. It originates in organised crime linked to political power. Lately, Lydia has been highly critical of the PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or Institutional Revolutionary Party]and of other parties in government in the many different states of the Republic, whilst her work on the networks that deal with sexual exploitation have revealed the disgusting abuses of many famously corrupt PRI officials.Mexico is now second only to Thailand in the extent of its sexual trafficking. It is a haven for traffickers who collaborate with regional governors in order to maximise their already substantial profits, then expend them in the exploitation of thousands more women and children.Lydia has always worked on a wide range of issues: she denounces paedophiles, but also corrupt politicians, members of the State who abuse human rights, authorities that exploit migrants, and legislators who refuse to review the law in favour of women’s rights. With her pen, she defends the most deserving of social sectors: indigenous communities, children, homosexuals, migrants, sex workers, and a whole range of other vulnerable groups. Her information sources have enabled her to build up a comprehensive archive of predators.As independent journalists, we know that difficult times are approaching regarding freedom of expression. The PRI has never been a model of respect for our members or our craft. Hindsight is revealing. And one only needs to look at what has happened in the last month for examples of attacks on the media, for example on the daily Monterrey newspaper El Norte. Censorship is the monster with a thousand heads, which never reveals its actual self but appears in myriad forms, such as that of the news service MVS, whose pressure on leader-writer John Ackerman led him to resign rather than yield to the silence of political complicity.Persecution is still in its earliest stages. The swords of Damocles drawn in order to silence independent or critical voices are advancing stealthily. The silence among colleagues who benefit from the present power structure is palpable. Pathetic attempts to cover up corruption, crimes and abuses are apparently far more important that the life of a single journalist, which counts for nothing in Mexico.No doubt there will be many who dream of a country without independent journalists; others will breathe a sigh of relief when critical journalists are exiled; and the rest of the shameless lowlifes will rejoice at the prospective demise of investigative journalism. But it won’t happen, make no mistake.Some of us have decided to continue the fight. Lydia Cacho will soon return. She is not prepared to leave her home, her loved ones, her friends. Nor will she abandon her country. This break is simply to allow her to work on a security strategy that will allow her to sustain her work in future.To those who dream of a Mexico where journalism submits to political power, I warn you: do not let yourselves be deceived. Such a day will never come. There will always be voices prepared to defend the truth, to fight to uncover the dark corners of the power structure, and to expose the content of its filthy sewers. All in good time. Only lies are in a hurry.Insisting on freedom, independent journalists like us are answerable only to our sources, to the human beings who trust us to tell their stories; not to the government, nor to politicians of any party. We owe it to the quest for truth, for justice, and to the victory of the common good.Sensing the fetid breath of evil at our backs only serves to give us the wings to fly higher. To the prophets of evil, to those governors that prefer silence, I suggest you don’t become over-confident. I remind you of the words of Bertolt Brecht: When truth is too weak to defend itself, it has to go on the attack.So it will be.The original version of this piece, ‘Lydia Cacho, se va’ was published on SINEMBARGO.MX, and has been translated and published on the
PEN Atlas with the permission of the author.

About the Author

Multi-award winning Mexican journalist Sanjuana Martinez was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico in 1963. Her work focuses on issues related to the defence of human rights, gender violence, terrorist activity and organised crime in Mexico, the United States and Europe. Martinez has been subject to threats, harassment and persecution for her reporting since 2006, in retaliation for writing about alleged links between child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church in Mexico, and was the focus of a PEN International action to mark Women’s Day in 2009.Martinez, who has worked for a range of major media outlets in Mexico, now works as a freelance journalist, and is also a regular contributor to one of Mexico’s leading daily newspapers, La Jornada.

About the Translators

Amanda Hopkinson has been active in Human Rights and literature throughout her life. Much of her writing has been concerned with and for, and influenced by publications on, human rights and freedom of expression. She has contributed, through writing, translating and editing, regularly to the magazine Index on Censorship. As an academic, she has been involved in establishing both Swansea and Norwich as ‘cities of refuge’, offering a haven to refugee writers. She has long supported the goals of PEN, a founding and enthusiastic member of PEN Writers in Translation committees, both in the US and UK, and is an active member of English PEN’s Writers at Risk Committee.Cat Lucas is Writers at Risk Programme Manager at English PEN, responsible for campaigning on behalf of PEN’s cases of concern around the world. She graduated from University College London in 2007 with a BA in French and Spanish. Her translations of poetry and short stories by Cuban writer Jorge Olivera Castillo have been published in the magazine Index on Censorship and online.

Additional Info

Lydia Cacho is an award-winning author, journalist and women’s rights activist. Following the publication of her book on child pornography inMexicoin 2005, she was illegally arrested, detained and ill treated before being subjected to a year-long criminal defamation lawsuit. She was cleared of all charges in 2007 but has continued to be the target of harassment and threats due to her investigative journalism. In August 2012, she was forced to temporarily flee her native Mexico in the wake of particularly terrifying death threats.In addition to her work as a journalist, she founded and directs the Refuge Centre for Abused Women of Cancun and is president of the Centre for Women’s Assistance, which aids victims of domestic violence and gender discrimination.Lydia Cacho was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage in 2010.

Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Published by Portobello Books: 6 September 2012‘Illegal, inhuman, and impervious to recession, there is one trade that continues to thrive, just out of sight. The international sex trade criss-crosses the entire globe, a sinister network made up of criminal masterminds, local handlers, corrupt policemen, wilfully blind politicians, eager consumers, and countless hapless women and children. In this ground-breaking work of investigative reporting, the celebrated journalist Lydia Cacho follows the trail of the traffickers and their victims from Mexico to Turkey, Thailand to Iraq, Georgia to the UK, to expose the trade’s hidden links with the tourist industry, internet pornography, drugs and arms smuggling, the selling of body organs, money laundering, and even terrorism.’English PEN will be co-hosting the launch of Lydia’s latest book Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking (translated by Elizabeth Boburg) and belatedly presenting her with her PEN Pinter Prize at the Free Word Centre on 29 August.  Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating discussion, and to show your support for Lydia.  Event details here.