National Press Club

Film, interview tell story of Mexican journalists fleeing violence

September 13, 2017 | By Lorna Aldrich |

A documentary and a phone interview, at a National Press Club Journalism Institute event Sept. 11, told the story of three Mexican journalists who fled from violence in Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S.

Two journalists faced serious immigration hurdles, a delay that continues after three years in limbo for one and jail for the other.

“It’s not good in Mexico and it’s not good in the United States as it pertains to journalists from Mexico and other countries,” said John Donnelly, chairman of the Club’s Press Freedom Team.

Margaux Ewen of Reporters Without Borders said eight Mexican journalists have been killed so far this year, including one last week in Vera Cruz while under government protection. Her organization ranks Mexico 147th out of 180 countries in their 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

“El Paso,” a documentary by Everardo Gonzalez describing murder and kidnapping as a consequence of two journalists covering the Mexican drug trade, was shown at the event.

The film tells the story of Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a Juarez radio personality who spoke openly about individuals in a bloody turf war. The film records him and his sister describing how two vans of men arrived at his house and shot two of his nephews in front of his sister, their mother. The journalist, with his wife and children, and his sister, with her remaining children, fled to the U.S. border and applied for asylum.

After several years, their case was still pending at the end of the film. Chavez Aldana is shown saying they live in “limbo.”

The film also features Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, a Televisa cameraman from Torreon, who was kidnapped after filming a story in a local prison. He reports on film that he was told he would be killed, and expected to be, but he and the accompanying reporter were inexplicably released. The documentary shows state officials describing a dramatic helicopter rescue, which Hernandez Pacheco said did not happen.

According to the film, he and his family also fled to the U.S. and were granted asylum. But they found living in the U.S. challenging because of language, missing friends and relatives, and longing for the house they owned and had to leave empty.

Finally, Ewen and Donnelly interviewed Martin Mendez Pineda by phone through translator Nancy A. Fabara-Nunez. Mendez Pineda, a reporter for Novedades Acapulco, fled Mexico alone and was not granted immediate asylum. Instead, he was was jailed for three months until he withdrew his request for asylum and returned to Mexico. He said he had reported killings and feared for his life in Mexico.

But he said he also feared for his health and life in the U.S. because of mistreatment in jail: shackled when he was moved among three different jails, and once left shackled for 29 hours without food or water.

Mendez Pineda spoke from a hiding place in Mexico after being denied a visa to visit the U.S. for the Institute event plus three days of meetings, in Congress and with other activists, arranged by Reporters Without Borders. He'd lost his job after saying he would make the trip that was subsequently cancelled, leaving him with nothing now.