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The murder of Manuel Buendía, journalist

What sort of a country is it that does not defend its journalists, leaves them alone on the front lines, and cannot, or does not want to find the culprits? Español

Demonstration "Watchers for freedom of the press", Mexico City. Photo: ProtoplasmaKid. Creative Commons.

He got out of bed that morning at seven-thirty, took a bath, dressed neatly in his suit, as he did every day, and adjusted his waistcoat. He was happy. He had finished an extensive investigative report on Mexico’s drug lords and their connection with authorities at all levels.

He had discussed the matter the previous night with the Under Secretary of the Interior, with whom he apparently had some friendship built on the information that the latter shared with him from time to time, and which the journalist published exclusively. That authority was his confidant.

When he left his house, before getting into his car, he stopped to fix his tie. A motorcycle got on the sidewalk behind him and stood there for a moment. The rider, who carried a .45 ACP, shot him in the back of the head.

The journalist’s name was Manuel Buendía, and he collapsed on the sidewalk, his skull shattered. On the ground, a puddle of blood formed around his head. Life had already left his body.

Before the slaying of Manuel Buendía, people thought, or believed, or invented, that such cases only happened in rural areas. It was in those areas, it was believed, where repression (beatings, jailings, deaths, closure of publications) was carried out by local authorities and, mostly, by the drug lords, who first tried to corrupt the victims and, if they failed, resorted to making those who denounced their crimes ‘disappear’. 

I wonder if we still exist as a country, if we are not imagining the existence of a democracy that has eroded to the point of fading.

People believed that these horrors happened only in the provinces. But that morning, we woke up to the news of Buendía's death right in the heart of the nation’s capital city. Soon after, the investigation led to the arrest of the Under Secretary to whom Buendía had confided that he intended to publish the report implicating the authorities. It was the Under Secretary himself who had designed the crime, and was now protecting his associates: the drug cartels. 

Today, the murder of journalists not only persists, but it has increased at an unmatched pace, while the perpetrators are never arrested. The journalists who have been killed are, have been, the first defenders of the country against the mafias of organized crime, and against the government itself. Those who denounce the gangs are killed, and they are killed even sooner if they denounce the politicians associated with them. 

What kind of a country is it that does not defend its journalists, and leaves them alone, unprotected, on the front lines? What kind of a country is it that cannot, or does not want to find the culprits?

To be a journalist in Mexico is to practice a very high-risk profession, one that often involves giving your life for it. 

I wonder if we still exist as a country, if we are not imagining the existence of a democracy that has eroded to the point of fading. A country that leaves its journalists to their fate, and that harasses them when feeling threatened by the spreading of their reports, is a country that does not exist, and that does not deserve to appear either in History or on the maps. 

About the author

Carlos Payán is a Mexican journalist and writer. He founded and directed the left-wing newspaper La Jornada. He was also director of the National Human Rights Commission and a senator for Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Now retired, he is considered to be one of the prime leaders of independent journalism in Mexico. He has received numerous prizes, the most recent being the “The 2015  Catalán Americas House prize for freedom of expression in Hispanic America.

Carlos Payán es periodista y escritor mexicano. Fundó y dirigió el diario de izquierda La Jornada. También fue director de la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos y senador del Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). Ahora retirado, se le considera uno de los referentes del periodismo independiente en México. Ha recibido numerosos premios, el último de ellos el Premio Casa América Catalunya a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica 2015.

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