Happiness in a Dirty War
"We are still a people under siege."
In one of the most perilous countries to tell the truth, journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro risks her life to expose the web of corruption behind Mexico’s escalating drug war.
I was eight years old when I learned what it means to be a Mexican citizen. It was June of 1971. The sun shone as if embracing all life, and blossoming trees colored an eternal spring paradise over Mexico City. To the international community, Mexico was at peace; but inside, we were in the midst of a dirty war with a president who carefully controlled our image to the outside world, silenced those who stood up against poverty, and censored journalists for revealing truths to the media.
I remember hearing my mother and her friends whispering in the living room of our middle-class apartment. They were discussing the increasing authoritarianism of our government. Earlier that day, in Northern Mexico, police had seized a student movement, and most of those students had “disappeared.” But this wasn’t an isolated incident. From 1968 until I was a teenager in 1980, more than 3,000 young men and women who challenged the legitimacy of the State’s carefully controlled rhetoric were assassinated, incarcerated, or simply went missing.
Around the same time, my family and I traveled by car through the mighty mountains of Chiapas, where indigenous girls were sold into marriage. I got a crash course in the true realities of my homeland. From the mountains of the north to the rivers in the south, millions of Mexican women had no right to own land or go to school. I learned that skin color divided my people between Indian, mestizo, and white. My country was blessed with amazing rivers, lively jungles, deserts, and beaches—a sampling of a perfect world—but the government stole land from farmers, forcing mass emigration to the United States. We had enough oil to become a rich nation, but politicians squandered the money for their own purposes.
And now, four decades later, we are still a people under siege. We are bleeding under a “war against drugs,” with more than 11,000 deaths in two and a half years. With drug prices lowering, we have more addicts than ever in our history. More than half of our 110 million people are as poor as the poor in Africa. Women in Chiapas live as do the poorest women in Pakistan. Mexico has only 34 shelters for battered women; all of them are run by nongovernmental organizations. Our right wing, war-prone president has made violence a formal tool for social control. While our government tells the world we belong in league with developed nations, we have been declared one of the world’s more dangerous countries, with femicide persisting from north to south and drug cartels controlling our government’s every action.
My early experiences have led me to commit my life to exposing these truths and fighting these injustices. Along with millions of Mexicans, everyday I explore my ability to listen, to understand, to question. But I must also exercise my ability to stay alive. I am a reporter, but also a survivor of rape, kidnapping, incarceration, and torture at the hands of the police. I travel around Mexico in an armored car due to the death threats against me—death threats enacted by Mexican officials who have sold justice to the very mobs I expose in my writing. Just this month, I received e-mails threatening me with decapitation. These are not idle threats; in the last two years, Mexico has seen almost 1,000 journalists assassinated by organized crime groups who are fearful of exposure.
Every day I am confronted with the enduring question: Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by 300 powerful, corrupt rich men? Is there any point to demanding justice or freedom in acountry where 9 out of every 10 crimes are never solved? Is it worth risking my life for my principles?
As long as Mexico is a corrupt, violent nation, the answer is yes.
I know the true power to building peace and equity lies in our ability to choose, every day, not to live in fear and to never give up our right to happiness. I have learned that when a policeman tortures, he does not want a confession; he is doing it to exert power. Every time I have tequila and dance with my friends, when I hug a woman who has trusted me with her story, I challenge that power. A corrupt government will try to take away our hope and our power to believe in change. For me, to write, to share, to tell the truth sets me free from the power of tyrants. ●