New government’s policies spark protests about airport, federal salaries

Peaceful Assembly

On 11th November 2018, about 5,000 people marched in Mexico City to protest the new administration’s decision to end construction of the New International Airport of Mexico. The controversial plan to build a new airport near Mexico City was recently put to a public referendum in which approximately 70 percent of voters said they were in favor of upgrading the existing airport rather than building a new one. Protesters, including many business groups, said the decision will hurt the economy and reduce jobs in the region. As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, residents of San Salvador Atenco have fought against the new airport, opposing the land seizures and fearing that its construction will harm the environment. 

On 10th December 2018, nearly 1,400 judges and judicial branch workers went on strike to protest the new president’s Federal Public Servants Remuneration Act which seeks to set limits on federal government employees’ salaries. Judges and staff in at least 25 states participated in the strike. Speaking at a press conference, judges and magistrates expressed concerns that the law is unconstitutional. Luis Vega Ramírez, president of the National Association of Federal Magistrates and Judges, said it “weakens the system of checks and balances of our democracy and violates the rule of law”. President López Obrador has vowed to combat corruption and implement a series of austerity measures to reduce government spending.

Near the U.S.-Mexico border, hundreds of people turned out in the streets to protest or support the arrival of thousands of migrants trying to get asylum in the U.S. In places like Tijuana and Mexicali, many local residents are sympathetic with the migrants fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries, but others are worried that the U.S. will close border crossings that locals rely on if the number of migrants grows. On 26th November 2018, U.S. border patrol agents closed a border crossing near San Diego and fired tear gas at the migrants, including families with young children, after some migrants attempted to rush the border. 

After two weeks of strikes and road blockades, avocado industry workers in Michoacán agreed to end their protest and resume shipping avocados to the U.S. Michoacán’s avocado growers had started striking in early November 2018 after competing growers from other regions began cutting into their exclusive deal to import avocados to the U.S. They also called for a minimum price from avocado packers to offset rising production costs.

On 13th November 2018, businesses in Yucatán turned off their lights for an hour as part of an organised protest against the government increasing the cost of electricity. The “mega-blackout”, as it was labelled by organisers, was scheduled to take place at the same time the government was set to announce the new price increases for electricity. Across the state, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants shut off lights and replaced them with candles.

Expression

Two journalists killed in Mexico

On 24th October 2018, Gabriel Soriano Kuri, a journalist with Radio Television Guerrero (RTG) was murdered by gunmen after leaving an event hosted by the governor of Guerrero. According to media reports, armed men stopped the vehicle Soriano Kuri was riding in and opened fire. He had been driving in a vehicle branded with the RTG logo, but the motive for his killing has not been confirmed. To honor his memory the radio station where he worked named the main studio after him.

On 1st December 2018, the body of Alejandro Márquez Jiménez was found near the Tepic-Pantanal highway in the state of Nayarit. Márquez was last seen on 30th November when he left his house after receiving a phone call, according to media reports. While it remains unclear why the editor of Orión Informativo, a publication that primarily focused on local politics, was killed, press advocates are calling on the authorities to conduct an investigation. 

“Deadly violence against reporters in Mexico will continue as long as attackers are allowed to act in impunity," 

said Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Mexico representative.

Attacks against journalists 

On 6th November 2018, unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the home and car of a journalist living in Quintana Roo. Héctor Valdez Hernández says two other explosive devices were found outside his home. Hernández, who works for Tulum en Red, a local media outlet that reports on government corruption and crime, told Article 19 that violence in the region has increased and he feels that the government must do more to protect him.

On 27th November 2018, a reporter with XEVA Noticias says she was attacked and injured while trying to ask a health official questions during a press event. Vanesa Lara Castillo told Article 19 that she was struck in the face and pushed repeatedly by a bodyguard for Rommel Cerna Leeder, the Secretary of Health of Tabasco as he was leaving the event. After she complained to authorities, she alleges the official and his staff made several insulting remarks to her on the phone and refused to take her allegations seriously.

Following the publication of a 1st December story about residents of Los Morros being displaced, a reporter for Proceso says he received threatening messages online that accused him of being associated with organised crime. Ezequiel Flores received threats from a Twitter account, possibly connected to Florencio Salazar, the Secretary General of the Government of Guerrero, after the official initially questioned the veracity of Flores’ report on Los Morros. Flores believes the messages are meant to intimidate him and he expressed doubt that the government’s program to protect journalists will keep him safe.

Arbitrary detention of journalists

A Honduran journalist travelling with migrants journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border was allegedly assaulted and detained by police in Tijuana. According to Article 19, Víctor Ricardo Mejía Martínez, a reporter with La Izquierda Diario, was reporting on migrants arriving from Mexicali when police officers arrested him. Another journalist with the same newspaper said Mejía Martínez, who had his press credential stolen during his travels with the migrants, was beaten by officers and falsely accused of crimes he did not commit.

On 16th November 2018, a journalist with the Minatitlán Weekly was assaulted, arrested and intimidated by police officers in Vera Cruz while attempting to cover a deadly car crash. José Luis Santos told Article 19 that an officer approached him and a colleague as they tried to video record the crash site and told them to stop recording. When they refused to stop filming, the officer became violent and arrested Santos. At the police station, officers tried to force him to sign a statement saying his rights had been read to him, but he refused saying it was not true. He was detained for almost two hours before being released, and was later followed home by the same officer who arrested him.