By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Miguel explains, "In Mexico, you learn to live with fear. You see bodies decapitated; you see police covered in blood. The fear just gets bigger and bigger. You see the decay of everything."
* * *
By July 2011, when Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz is butchered, she is the seventh Mexican reporter killed that year, the third in Veracruz.
On Sept. 20, during the afternoon rush hour, two trucks block the viaduct by a high-end shopping mall in Boca del Rio, a suburb of Veracruz. Drivers watch men methodically dump 35 bodies, 12 of them women. The men then leave, and no one stops them and no police come. The bodies are marked with the letter Z to suggest they are members of Los Zetas, a criminal organization that began as a special military unit created by the Mexican government and trained by the United States to fight drug organizations. The unit was designed to be incorruptible. Almost immediately, the DEA began secret payments to the group. Eventually, its members left for the better employment benefits of the drug industry and became the Zetas. The dumped bodies in Boca del Rio are bound with plastic ties at the wrists and ankles, restraints only available to the police and army.
The official story, that the dead are Zetas, holds for a while and is widely reported in the U.S. press. Then it cracks. Reforma, a right-of-center pro-government paper, talks to the families of the dead and discovers they are mainly petty criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes, if they had any criminal records at all. These facts are hardly reported in the U.S. press and soon vanish from the press in Mexico for fear of repercussion.
Miguel gets reports in Mexico City. His friend and fellow photographer Guillermo Luna has a cousin who is walking to get a bag of ice in Boca del Rio on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, when he sees some adolescents celebrating in the street. Police sweep in and take the kids.
A woman goes to the police station seeking her teenage son. She is told he is not in custody. Later, she learns his body is one of those dumped by the fashionable mall. A video circulates on the Internet from a group called the Zeta Killers. They wear masks and sit at a table and claim credit for the killing. Miguel learns that they are really former Veracruz policemen play-acting.
Miguel and Vanessa spend the rest of the year in limbo. The United States usually denies political asylum to Mexican reporters because to grant it would constitute an admission about the real nature of Mexico. They return to her grandparents' in Veracruz and hide. Then they fly to Reynosa, on the Texas border, and begin the paperwork for a U.S. visa. They return to Veracruz, get their car and fling themselves into a new land.
They go to Corpus Christi and end up in a cheap motel as their tiny hoard of cash dribbles away. They cannot legally work. They yearn for Mexico. At times, Miguel can hear his mother's voice.
* * *
The years passed, and at the beginning of the 1990s, my father left Notiver . . . above all because they were censoring some of his articles and his columns. . . . Then my father ended up without a job and went to work as a taxi driver, saying he knew the city perfectly from covering the news and it would be an easy job for him.
* * *
In Corpus Christi, Miguel and Vanessa begin to learn English. Miguel remembers his father's admonition: "You have to do before you can be." So he begins traveling down this new path in the new year. January passes, and February and March, and then, on April 28, a tremor passes through their world.
* * *
Police find the body of Regina Martinez, 49, lying in the bathtub of her home in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state—strangled. She writes for Proceso, the most prestigious magazine in Mexico, a publication read by the educated and powerful and generally spared much government censorship so the state can point to it and claim a free press. She covered corruption and drug trafficking, and in 2007, she had written a well-known story on Mexican soldiers raping and killing an indigenous woman. She becomes the 40th reporter killed since Calderón took office in December 2006. The government of Veracruz suggests the killing was simply a robbery because two cell phones and her laptop are missing, precisely the items one would take if looking for her contacts.
"I didn't know her," Miguel says, "but I knew her reputation and her reporting on the abuses of officials. When my family was killed, I thought nothing can be worse than this. But when Regina was killed, I thought, 'They can do anything.'"
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Police in Veracruz find black, plastic garbage bags in a canal. They hold the chopped-up bodies of four people, three of them press. Guillermo Luna, whose cousin witnessed the abductions in September 2011, worked as a photographer at Notiver, as did Gabriel Huge, the man who had called Miguel the morning of his family's murder to tell him of the slaughter. Esteban Rodriguez also had been a photojournalist. Irasema Becerra was Gabriel's girlfriend. The three men had fled Veracruz in 2011 but returned in 2012 because they could not find work. Rodriguez had gone to work as an auto mechanic. None of this mattered. On the day of the kidnappings, just an hour before he was reported missing, Gabriel had gone to a cousin's house to ask her to care for his daughter should he vanish.