An Evening in Solidarity with Mexican Journalists at PEN American

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Paul Auster opened proceedings, reading from the controversial Diario de Juarez editorial published on September 18th this year, after El Diario photographer Luis Carlos Santiago (the second of two El Diario journalists) was murdered by a Juarez drug gang. Stating, “What do you want from us?” the piece addresses the drug gangs as the “de facto authorities in this city.”

Auster then quoted the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (who died in transit to a Stalinist gulag), who’d quipped that the regime must be afraid of poets, and must, therefore, respect them. But, Auster noted, Mandelstam had, sadly, got it wrong. Poet Luis Miguel Aguilar’s impassioned speech developed this: “If they kill journalists, it is because they do not respect journalism, which is to say that they do not respect us as a society where free journalism is one of our absolute truths.”

According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “more than 30 journalists and media workers have been murdered or have vanished” since the election of president Felipe Calderón in autumn 2006 (more than 28,000 people have died in the drug war).

Left to right: Carmen Aristegui, José Luis Martínez, Nancy I. Adler (interpreter), Rocío Gallegos, Julia Preston (moderator)

Readings by Calvin Baker, Francine Prose, and Don DeLillo addressed linked issues of official attempts at silencing. All led up to the evening’s center piece, a conversation with journalists Rocío Gallegos, Carmen Aristegui and José Luis Martinez, moderated by Julia Preston, all of whom have been on the front line of reporting on Mexico’s drug wars. (Nancy I. Adler simultaneously translated the conversation.) Aristegui noted that what The CPJ has described as the drug gangs’ attempt to control “the flow of information” is leading to self-censorship. But while the televised media (via a dual monopoly that limits competition) has begun to silence itself, according to Martinez, print journalism “has a lot of spaces where plurality exists, where journalists are protesting the situation of violence.” Gallegos, who has worked at Diario de Juarez for 14 years, was asked by Preston: “what is it like to go out onto the streets of Juarez every day?” (My paraphrase) The answer: “there is a sense that things are breaking down; but the community still demands freedom of expression.”

In the spirit of moving towards a possible solution, the panel noted links between government corruption and drug gangs (“organized crime has taken over pieces of the national territory”). They also pulled no punches in noting that the USA’s addiction to drugs, cocaine in particular, and its “cult to guns” (“amoral gun selling”, Jennifer Clement later termed it) is killing thousands of Mexico’s citizens. Drugs move north, while weapons made in US arms factories travel south of the border. Gallegos concluded: “we need to take co-responsibility. The drug war can come to the USA.”

Jennifer Clement (PEN Club de México) closed with the chilling remarks that, in Mexico, “narco messages appear in the classified sections of newspapers in thug text messages. …Words are carved onto victims’ bodies… We read a skin graffiti… in a land where the storyteller has become the story. But don’t think that this, which seems so specific, is Mexico. No. This is the world we are all living in.”

Listen to the entire event here.

More events at Cooper Union,

–David McLoghlin is an MFA poetry candidate at NYU. He blogs at http://newyorkperistalsis.wordpress.com. His first collection will be published in 2012 by Salmon Poetry.

Image courtesy of PEN American.

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