Freedom of expression is fundamental to a successful democracy. Writers and journalists who expose corruption and wrongdoing must know that they will not be killed for their efforts.
Mexico's democracy is under assault because of the authorities' apparent inability to protect the bloggers, writers and broadcasters who cover the drug trade. Eighty journalists have been killed in the last 12 years.
The latest victim to be silenced by the drug cartels is Regina Martinez, a writer for Proceso magazine. She was found strangled in her bathroom in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state, on April 28. Her recent reports told of the arrests of nine municipal police officers suspected of ties to drug traffickers, and the arrest of a woman suspected of commanding hit men. For those stories of narco-corruption, she gave her life.
Mexico must do more to end this culture of impunity. The Senate's recent approval of a constitutional amendment to transfer responsibility for prosecuting attacks on the press to federal authorities is an important step forward. Currently, state and municipal authorities are in charge, and they are considered more corrupt. Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression has not been able to bring even one case to justice. "Writers don't have armies, banks or bureaucracies, yet we're still worth killing and putting in jail," says John Ralston Saul, head of PEN International, which led a delegation to Mexico earlier this year to press for better protections. With World Press Freedom Day this Thursday, what better time to lobby for change?
Mexico is in the throes of a presidential election campaign, and front runner Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has said his party will urge state legislatures to support the amendment. To become law, half the state legislatures must sign on. With this change, Mexico's special prosecutor would be better equipped to carry out his job.
Mexico has made impressive electoral, political and economic reforms in the past decade. But to safeguard its democracy, the country must now turn its attention to judicial and police reforms and show its citizens that those who murder writers will be brought to justice. The country's progress -- and reputation -- depend on it.