English PEN and PEN International held a peaceful Vigil outside the Mexican Embassy here in London as part of PEN’s global Day of the Dead campaign in support of writers and journalists who have been murdered, tortured, intimidated and threatened in Mexico. The month-long campaign calls for an end to the impunity and for the Mexican government to take action.

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Speech Notes from the London Vigil:

Since 2006 35 writers and journalists have been murdered in Mexico.  It is now one of the world’s most dangerous countries in which to work as a journalist.

And this despite the Mexican government’s stated commitment to human rights, and despite the international indignation and horror at the impunity which is devastating this beautiful country and its resilient and courageous people.

Today November 2nd, on el dia de los muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, members of PEN – the international community of writers – are participating across the world in PEN International’s Day of the Dead campaign.  It is time to focus public attention on the appalling violence and impunity affecting journalists and writers inMexico and we need to mobilize international pressure on the Mexican authorities to bring an end to it.

Here are just a few of the PEN actions taking place: in Barcelona the PEN Catala Centre will be opening its own altar today November 2nd and providing public readings of poems from the Day of the Dead campaign.  In Norway PEN members are writing with Amnesty Norway, the Norwegian Union of Journalists and the Norwegian Institute of Journalism to the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon in protest.  In Italy obituaries for the dead journalists will feature in the press. In Croatia the Mexican community in Zagreb have arranged a public altar dedicated to peace.  In Denmark a series of activities are taking place including theatre, documentaries, and the placing of death announcements in the press – their activity is supported by the Danish Federation of Journalists, the Danish writers Association, the Association of Danish Fiction Writers, Amnesty International and International Media Support.  In Canada  schools have been invited to take part in the campaign by making altars and raising awareness of the plight of writers and journalists inMexico.   All across the world  PEN members are coming together to say end the impunity and protect freedom of expression.

In Mexico PEN members have created a digital chapbook to honor murdered and disappeared Mexican journalists and writers with poetry, and working with PEN American Center, PEN in Mexico has created a virtual online altar.

If one writer is denied freedom of expression then all our freedom of expression is under threat.  We are all one family of writers, una familia internacional, standing together in solidarity for freedom of expression.

Across Mexico today people remember their loved ones.  And we too, remember all those murdered, disappeared, tortured and threatened.  And we ask for greater action.  And we hope that the Ambassador – his Excellency Eduardo Medina-Mora who is in dialogue with PEN International – can take this message back to his country, to the Mexican government and the people.

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Remembering those who have died:

Yolanda ORDAZ DE LA CRUZ, crime reporter and columnist for the regional daily newspaper Notiver

Date of murder: 24-26 July 2011

Location of murder: Bocadel Rio,Veracruz

Ordaz was abducted by gunmen as she left her house on 24 July 2011; her decapitated body was found two days later, near the building of the newspaper Imagen. A note found with the body seemed to connect her murder with that of another Notiver columnist, Miguel Ángel López Velasco. The note said: “Friends can also betray you” and was signed “Carranza”. A former traffic police officer named Juan Carlos Carranza Saavedra has reportedly been identified as the main suspect in López’ murder. Ordaz had covered the war on drugs and the police beat for Notiver. At a press conference on 26 July, the state attorney general reportedly stated that the killing was not related to Ordaz’ journalistic work and the evidence to date seemed to indicate that her killers were members of an organized crime group. However, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office later confirmed that the journalist’s work is one of the lines of investigation being followed.Mexico’s Human Rights Commission reportedly planned to open its own investigation into the murder.

María Elizabeth MACÍAS CASTRO, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Primera Hora and blogger

Date of murder: 24 September 2011

Location of murder: Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state

Macías (39) was found dead inNuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, on 24 September 2011; her body had been decapitated. A note found next to her accused her of denouncing drug violence on social networks and websites such as Nuevo Laredo en Vivo or Nuevo Laredo Live, where members of the public can leave messages indicating to the security forces locations where gangs congregate and sell drugs. The state authorities said that the message had been left by a criminal gang. The note reportedly made reference to the pen name Macías used to blog, ‘La Nena de Nuevo Laredo’, and was signed with the letter ‘Z’, usually associated with the Zetas cartel. A similar note was found near the bodies of two people discovered hanging from a bridge inNuevo Laredoon 13 September. The Tamaulipas state government reportedly expressed its “deepest condolences” to Macías’ family and friends. The state attorney general’s office is investigating the murder.

Miguel Ángel GUTIÉRREZ ÁVILA, anthropologist, linguist, author of a number of books on the indigenous people of Guerrero state and activist for the rights of the Amuzgo people

Date of murder: 25-26 July 2008

Location of murder: San Marcos municipality, Guerrero state

Gutierrez’s body was found covered in bruises and cuts by the side of the Acapulco-Pinotepa highway in Guerrero state on 26 July 2008. Although initial police reports suggested that Gutiérrez (53) died as the result of a car accident, it is now thought that he was beaten to death. He had been working on a documentary on indigenous cultures and traditions entitled ‘La Danza del Tigre’ (The Dance of the Tiger) and had reportedly also been documenting human rights violations by the authorities, particularly against the staff of Radio Ñomndaa. According to his family, the vehicle in which Gutiérrez was travelling was untouched and only his filming equipment had been stolen. Local press reports said that one lead pointed to the involvement of the mayor of Xochistlahuaca municipality, who is allegedly one of a number of local political leaders opposed to indigenous movements and Radio Ñomndaa. Another lead suggested that Gutiérrez may have angered the authorities by filming members of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) as they raided the radio station.

 Reading: 

El altar de los muertos

por Jose Emilio Pacheco

El mes atroz ya se fue

Y nos dejó tantos muertos

Que hasta el aire respira muerte

Y en el agua se bebe muerte.

No resisto la herida detantamuerte.

México no puede ser el cementerio plural,

La inmensa fosa común

En que yace deshecho lo que esperábamos.

Al porvenir ya lo hundimos

En el abismo que se abre todos los días.

The Altar of the Dead

This atrocious month has finally passed

And left us so many dead

That even the air breathes death

And death is drunk in the water.

I can’t resist the wound of so much death.

Mexicocannot be the plural cemetery,

The enormous common grave

Where our hopes lie exhausted.

We already drown the future

In the abyss that opens each day.