Welcome Remarks by the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa

Welcome Remarks by the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, to the members of the Inter American Press Association How are you. Good afternoon, my friends. Madam Aracelly Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, Governor of the State of Yucatan. Rep. Maurice Sahuí Rivero, President of Congress. Judge Angel Francisco Prieto, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Yucatan Architect Angelica Araujo, Mayor of Mérida. Mr. Alexander Aguirre, President of the Inter American Press Association. Mr. Scott C. Schurz, Honorary Life President of the Inter American Press Association. Mr. Gonzalo Marroquín, First Vice President of the IAPA. Mr. Milton Coleman, Vice President of the IAPA. Mr. Juan Luis Correa, President of the Executive Committee. Mr. Enrique Santos, Vice President of the Executive Committee. Mr. Jaime Mantilla, Secretary of the Company. Dr. Julio Muñoz, Executive Director of the IAPA. Mr. Ricardo Trotti, Director of Press Freedom, IAPA. Mr. Andrés García Gamboa, President of the Host Committee. Vice Admiral Armando Martinez Puente, Commander of the Ninth Naval Force. General Jorge Salgado Rodríguez, Chief of Staff of the region. Distinguished invited guests and members of the Inter American Press Association from across the continent. Welcome to Mexico! Ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the people and Government of Mexico, I extend our sincere and most cordial and brotherly welcome to the members of the Inter American Press Association visiting from abroad. A warm greeting to the representatives of our nation’s leading newspapers. For we Mexicans, it is a distinct honor that your 66th General Assembly is taking place in our country, in this beautiful city of Merida, which for the moment is the center of journalism in the Americas. Mexico recognizes the extremely important work that your organization carries out, It is the bulwark of a free press in our hemisphere. We appreciate your tireless efforts in the training and professionalization of journalists from Alaska to Patagonia, and your courageous defense of their protection and human rights. Above all, we appreciate your unstinting fight to safeguard press freedom. I fully agree with the IAPA that there can be no free people or free societies without press freedom; that to exercise it is not a concession granted by authorities but an inalienable right of citizenship, as established by the Declaration of Chapultepec 1995.(sic) No doubt, freedom of the press is the means par excellence to freedom of expression and the right to information, and is therefore a necessary condition to build free, informed, participatory and democratic societies. I’d like to tell you that I trained among the ranks of the opposition for many years, for many decades we were censored, silenced and repressed by those in power. I grew up beside social activists and journalists who never resigned themselves to the banning or censorship of their writings. My father himself was a writer, activist for democracy and a regular columnist in the media when they could give him temporary access. Even without resources, which were always lacking, he never spared efforts to make his ideas known, and it wasn’t a rare sight to see my brothers and me handing out his articles one by one. In the past, the largest problem in Mexico was the control and censorship of information, most often by public officials. Speaking and writing are easy, but freedom of expression is a freedom that for a long time was blocked by the state. Today, that is no longer the case in Mexico. In Mexico, today the government respects freedom of the press. Because of my personal and democratic convictions, in my administration no one is chased down for what he thinks, for what he publishes, or for what he broadcasts. No one is harassed for political or ideological reasons. Anyone can openly criticize the President or the Government, even with an excess of scorn or derision, and this freedom is respected as the precious asset of a society and as an absolute requirement for a life of pluralism and democracy. In this administration there is, and never will be, gags or censorship on journalists’ work. Nonetheless, today the greatest threat to freedom of speech and the press here in our country and in some other parts of the world is, no doubt, organized crime. That is the threat. In Mexico, as in other nations of our continent, crime today stands as the greatest risk to practicing journalism. It has become the main source of restriction, intimidation and repression of radio, television and newspaper’s duty to provide information. I share your belief that the murders, kidnappings, assaults and violence of any kind against journalists severely limit the freedoms of press and expression. For the media to carry out their important mission, it is vital that there be an environment of freedom and security. No democratic nation can remain indifferent to attacks or threats against journalists. Every journalist that is killed hurts and harms us, as a society and as the government. And it is our duty, as officials, to not only clarify these cases, but to create the conditions so that it does not go on. We have, however, a common enemy and we must understand it: organized crime is the common enemy of those who cherish freedom. And against the common enemy that is organized crime, now is the time for the three branches of government -- the three centers of public power -- the journalists’ union and media owners, to work together in a framework of joint responsibility against the criminals and their murderous violence. Throughout my Administration, we have taken various steps to make the practice of journalism increasingly safe. One such act was to repeal criminal libel and defamation from the Federal Penal Code, both of which were an obstacle to freedom of expression. They are, in Mexico, no longer a crime. Likewise, we created the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression, an agency found nowhere else in the world. These actions are a clear demonstration of the government's support of freedom of expression and information. However, we are fully aware that we need to work harder. Organized crime is a daunting challenge, and I want to reiterate that the only way we can cope is by working together as a society, and assuming our responsibility. Every journalist that falls, every article that is buried out of fear, every word that is muted, is one more reason to fight the criminals; to not give in to their intent to control society and use it for their own perverse purposes; is one more reason to fulfill our duty to use the full force of the state to ensure the safety of citizens, including journalists and, of course, to confront and defeat those who threaten those freedoms – that is, the criminals. Today 90 percent of crimes against journalists remain under common law and fall under the jurisdiction of local authorities, including murder and kidnapping. However the initiative I have presented, to bring these crimes to the Federal courts is under discussion and debate in Congress, and I hope that Mexican legislators take on the meaning of this proposal. Nonetheless, and regardless of the matter of legal responsibility, we are by all means fully convinced that we need a strong and coordinated effort by the three levels of government to cope with this challenge. In response to the commitment I made to the Inter American Press Association and the Committee to Protect Journalists, this week we signed a very important agreement, the Agreement of Cooperation for Acts to Prevent and Protect Journalists, signed by the different agencies of the Federal Government, under my office, that are responsible for safety -- mainly members of the Security Cabinet -- and the National Human Rights Commission, independent of government. The agreement will allow us to establish new methods of cooperation to strengthen the joint efforts of federal and local authorities in the protection of reporters. So we have taken a step further to ensure they can perform their work under the best conditions. We also need state governments to be involved in this work and to assume, without hesitation, the responsibility that everyone must take on in the investigation and apprehension of offenders. I invite state governments to join in this specialized, focused, and strengthened effort dedicated to the safety of the journalists in Mexico. Likewise, the agreement we signed establishes an Advisory Council that brings together representatives of the involved agencies, the National Commission on Human Rights and the journalists themselves, which will open a unique forum, allowing us to better understand the situation of journalism and make joint decisions that permit a comprehensive way to protect the professionals We have the basic agreement, but it's time to take further action to prevent criminal attacks against freedom of expression, yes, but more generally, against the freedom of citizens. It is also crucial that the media themselves assume their own responsibilities in this task, which exceeds by far individual interests, is national in scope, and, dare I say, international. In addition to participation in the Advisory Council, it is also essential to have a protocol or independent code of ethics, with which those who work as journalists can also contribute to the solution of this problem, and allow us all to strengthen the safety conditions for such noble work. In this regard, today I want to acknowledge the enormous effort being made by some media, such as the case of the National Chamber of Industry of Radio and Television, which produced as a first step: the Criteria and Procedures for Contingency Response and Operations, and that can become a cornerstone for the creation of a comprehensive protocol covering the entire range of journalism. But beyond that, faced by a common enemy, it is clear that our country also needs the support of the media and journalists to achieve better results in the fight for public safety and to defend freedom of expression. Organized crime has its own logic and has its own communication strategy, employing actions by those who can intimidate society and thereby hush their claims and paralyze the government, so it won’t interfere with their criminal acts. Their strategy aims for fear and paralysis of all, society and officials. We must strengthen citizens’ will -- which is the exact target of the criminals. Friends, journalists from across the continent: I am well aware, my friends, that we Mexicans as a nation face, today, a very, very great challenge, one of the largest we've ever faced --organized crime -- which is an enemy of such magnitude can that it can only be overcome if the government acts with determination to fulfill its duty, and if we act in a coordinated and comprehensive manner among all. In other aspects of public duty, Mexico, despite its problems, is moving forward. In the latest data reported by our economy, second quarter growth is 7.6 percent. According to social security statistics, from January to October this year 850,000 new jobs have been generated in Mexico so far this year, that is, formal employment, and not counting resignations and cuts. We are about to reach universal coverage in the country, having tripled the budget for health insurance and building or rebuilding nearly two thousand clinics and hospitals throughout the country in the last three years. Next year we hope to reach that goal: that no Mexican man or woman, regardless of economic status, will lack for doctors, medicine, or treatment. We are redoubling our commitment to the environment, not only contributing to discussions in the international arena, precisely, climate change -- we will host the international conference, later this month here in the Riviera Maya, near here -- but also by taking concrete action. For example, the remediation of what was the former Azcapotzalco Refinery in Mexico City, where we cleaned, practically, from the soil oil waste from a refinery that was established over half a century ago, and which was closed 20 years ago. Remediation reached nearly 10 meters deep and we built a park of nearly 60 hectares, the second largest in Mexico City, after Chapultepec. This is the largest project of remediation of its kind on record. In Mexico we have a great desire to build a better future. We are aware of the problems we face, but we also do not lose sight of -- and we know that it is possible to build -- a more prosperous, more just, more equal, but above all, a country more free and more democratic. Freedom and democracy, which cannot exist, precisely, without freedom of the press and the necessary guarantees to exercise it. That's why the Federal Government is making a great effort to ensure the safety of all, to deal with criminals, to build long-term policies that strengthen institutions -- that means cleaning up the police and strengthening the police force; to implement proactive prevention policies, in which educational opportunities, social, recreational, cultural, and youth, are prerequisites; opportunities for prevention and treatment of addiction among youth and adolescents. For that reason, my friends, we are building, with everyone, a national policy that goes beyond political parties, or regions, and sets the rules for the entire country to meet the challenge of crime, and succeed, as I'm sure we Mexicans will. Everyone's safety is a priority, not only the government’s but society’s and, I am sure too, of a free press. And to have a national policy we must agree on the basic premises of this coexistence, and agree that we can eliminate once and for all this cancer that threatens the freedom and welfare of Mexicans. Journalists and communicators are essential to achieving this goal. We will continue to work with you, working on what is our duty: to build the safety conditions that your profession requires to be able to work and to jointly safeguard freedom of expression and democracy. The freedom of expression we believe in, regardless of where it is expressed, the voice and the thoughts of a free citizenry. We stand by journalism. Again, welcome to our country. You are in your home.