6 May 2008

I Will Risk My Life For Truth: Lydia Cacho

Lydia Cacho is a Mexican journalist, human rights activist and feminist who exposed child sex trade in her country involving very rich businessmen helped by very powerful politicians in her book, Demons of Eden. For this, she was imprisoned, threatened with rape and, when she moved the Supreme Court, against those who harassed her, the court ruled her persecutors had no case to answer. This is her speech after being awarded Unesco's Guillermo Cano Freedom of Speech 2008 award.
Mr President, Mr Director general of Unesco, Ministers, Ladies, Gentleman and fellow colleagues:

I feel honored to be with you tonight. This award may not protect me from death threats or from death itself. But it certainly helps to protect my written work and to enable a broader audience to know and understand the Mexican reality and the impact of the global crimes of trafficking in persons and of child pornography.

By honoring me tonight you are recognizing the talent of my teachers, of the hundreds of women, men and children who have trusted me with their personal histories, their tragedies and their triumphs. Somehow they knew I would honor their trust by doing my job as a journalist.

When I was tortured and imprisoned for publishing the story of a network of organized crime in child pornography and sex tourism, I was confronted with the enduring question of the meaning of life. Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by 300 powerful rich men? Was there any point to demanding justice or freedom in a country where 9 out of every 10 crimes are never solved? Was it worth risking my life for my principles? Of course the answer was… yes.

Mexico, my homeland, is a country of 104 million people, a land of great landscapes, of magnificent rivers and unending green fertile mountains. Nonetheless Mexico exports 400 thousand people every year, men and women who flee to the United States, to escape hunger, poverty and violence.

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Mexico City. My mother, a feminist psychologist, took me to the slums around town and told me that those kids—kids who were just like me—had no food and no chance to get an education. In this way she prepared me to be a citizen and what is now called a human rights activist. I was born a woman. I found in feminism a philosophy based on equality and peace. It led me to view life from a gender perspective.

For years I have lived and moved between two worlds: being a feminist advocate against violence is the way I act as a citizen; being a journalist is the way I practice my profession. Every day I try to enlarge my ability to listen, to understand, to feel empathy, to question, to be truthful, to be ethical. By listening to peoples’ stories I learn ways to add insight and perspective to my coverage of human tragedy and human development. And also I test - as many of my colleagues do - my ability to stay alive.

I am 45 years old, and I have spent most of my life trying to understand human nature. What makes us able to survive, to change, to evolve, to save or to harm each other? I’ve been watching the news and reading newspapers most of my life. I thought I understood the macro structures of oppression. I knew how the political system works to protect the rights of the elites, at the expense of the majority.

But I was not aware what it felt like to be the subject of repression myself. When the mechanisms of state repression were used against me, I found myself in the strange position of being seen as a heroine simply for exercising –with some dignity– my right to freedom and justice. Thousands of people marched on my behalf. Most of the Mexican media covered my case for almost two years, until the powerful were finally able to buy the silence of some of them.

Millions of citizens echoed my demand for freedom of the press and for the rights of the child victims I wrote about. I stood before the Supreme Court with a heart full of hope that they would defend our constitutional right to tell the truth without being tortured or incarcerated. Many thought there was so much hard evidence in this case that there would be no room for corruption.

It seemed all of Mexico was hoping for a chance to believe that change was possible. Standing against us was a handful of well-dressed lawyers in dark blue suits who defended the politicians I had accused of an unsavory relationship with pedophiles. But this handful of men was able to lobby the majority of Supreme Court judges to dismiss my freedom of the press case relating to child pornography and organized crime.

And so I lost and so did my country. But here I am. I was lucky enough to elude death. I had the opportunity to report my own case, to live inside the story of an orchestrated campaign to protect the marriage between organized crime, businessmen and a corrupted government. But most of all I had the chance to keep my promises to the little girls who were abused by pedophiles and child pornographers, and who asked me to tell their stories.

We journalists tend to believe that the shock provoked by reading such stories cannot fail to unite people of good will. That is one of the reasons we keep going against all odds. We know the power of compassion. As journalists we should never become messengers of the powers that be. Nor should we surrender to fear and self censorship. And that is why we are here in Mozambique. We know there is something wrong with a world that favors a war economy instead of education, that favors silence instead of freedom and truth.

A world in wich millions of children orphans of the HIV-AIDS pandemic are unimportant to the rest of the world. There is something wrong in a world where racism and sexism separates us from each other.

This gathering symbolizes our determination to keep on going…with cool heads and warm hearts…and to keep on writing. To keep on living with hope.

— Lydia Cacho Ribeiro
Maputo, Mozambique. May 3rd 2008

The original article appeared at: lydiacacho.net
Related article: Mexican author's no to exile

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