Pedro Canché has finally won an apology for being jailed after he criticized a state governor. But, he asked, what about the 104 journalists killed since 2006?
Pedro Canché, an indigenous journalist and activist in the southern Mexico state of Quintana Roo, had a hunch the local authorities were closing in on him for his coverage of angry protests over rising water rates in local Mayan communities.
So he filmed a video criticizing the intensely image-conscious state governor, Roberto Borge, and uploaded it to YouTube in August 2014 . Just a few days later, police pulled Canché from his car and threw him in prison on charges that he had sabotaged a local waterworks.
The charges were eventually thrown out after nine months as a judge ruled no damage had been caused, and Canché had no relationship with the protest ringleaders.
The National Human Rights Commission later ordered the state government to publicly apologize to Canché and pay compensation, but Borge refused.
This week, a new state administration apologized to Canché – who took the opportunity to highlight Mexico’s ongoing crisis of press freedom, and the unpunished murders of scores of journalists.
“Who will ask for public apologies for the 104 journalists killed [since 2006]? Canché asked. “The Mexican state owes them and their family an enormous debt.”
Canché became a cause célèbre in Quintana Roo and across Mexico as yet another symbol of the country’s struggle for a free press.
His is one of the few positive stories: four journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017, including Miroslava Breach, who covered organized crime and drug cartels and was shot dead in March as she drove her son to school in the northern city of Chihuahua. Norte, the Ciudad Juárez newspaper she wrote for, decided to close after her murder, citing journalist safety .
Journalists in Quintana Roo – a state popular with tourists visiting Cancún and Playa del Carmen – complain that the harassment against them came from politicians, who control the press through agreements to provide newspapers with advertising, but allow the government to control their editorial line.
“In the case of Quintana Roo, media harassment always came from the government, not organized crime,” said Vicente Carrera, founder of Noticaribe, an online news organization in Quintana Roo.
Carrera speaks from experience. Noticaribe caught Borge lying about his whereabouts and not disclosing he travelled to the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley. Noticaribe was hit by denial-of-service attacks for the rest of Borge’s term in office, which ran from 2010 to 2016.
Luces del Siglo, a muckraking magazine in Cancún, had its covers “cloned” during Borge’s administration, with covers featuring negative headlines replaced with covers featuring positive headlines and spread online. Staff say stores selling the magazine had their liquor licenses threatened, leaving them few places to sell copies.
Sergio Caballero, Cancún correspondent with newsweekly Proceso , was hit by accusations of being involved with a drug dealer – charges quickly disproven.
“They invented crimes rather than killing you,” Caballero said of the situation in Quintana Roo, where corruption has grown rife as construction in a tourist mecca mushroomed.
“The Quintana Roo coast is a jackpot,” he said. “They tried to present their government as impeccable. Anyone questioning that was persecuted and attacked.”
Canché started a news website after his time in prison and started fighting for compensation; he had a business manufacturing deck beds and outdoor furniture for hotels in the state, which ceased operating while in prison.
His notoriety led to people slipping him information on scandals. He says it also prompted Borge’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to try striking a deal: the PRI’s 2016 gubernatorial candidate would publicly apologise and indemnify him so long as Canché publicly endorsed the PRI.
“It’s complicated practicing journalism in a corrupt place,” he said. “They corrupt you and pay you off and eventually you stop pointing out their mistakes … This is what has allowed the government to be corrupt as it is.”