14 April 2010

Investigation into disappearance of journalist Ramón Angeles Zalapa shows no progress

Paracho, in Michoacan state, is a small town populated by indigenous people and small farmers and characterized by hard work and migration. It was from Paracho that Ramón Angeles Zalpa, correspondent of the newspaper Cambio, disappeared on Tuesday, April 6.
Paracho, in Michoacan state, is a small town populated by indigenous people and small farmers and characterized by hard work and migration. It was from Paracho that Ramón Angeles Zalpa, correspondent of the newspaper Cambio, disappeared on Tuesday, April 6. He is the fifth journalist to go missing or be kidnapped in Michoacán in the last four years and none of the cases has been taken up and solved by the State Attorney General’s Office. Angeles Zalapa has been a stringer for Cambio for the past 10 years. He also has been a teacher at the National Pedagogical University and participated a great deal with his community in organizing various forums and other activities. Paracho is one of the towns some eight miles from the state capital, it has less than 33,000 inhabitants and lives from agriculture, cattle ranching and mainly handicrafts. Its financial state is such that for many years its young people have been migrating to the United States. Angeles Zalapa’s news reports in the Purépecha mountains, his colleagues say, were about land disputes that have been going on among local people for decades, as well the clandestine felling of conifer and pine trees in the region, the appointment of local authorities and socio-political topics. Although because of his work at the university his reports for the newspaper had decreased, on March 17 he sent to Cambio an item on a clash between indigenous people over land boundaries. But something unexpected in the report was that for the first time an “armed group” had been detected in the conflict which attacked an indigenous family that was fleeing the conflict, one person ending up dead and another seven being injured. This happened on the outskirts of Angahuan and San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro in Michoacán state. “The local people in that area say that there are armed groups, they do not know what they are about and they are scared to say anything more,” a reporter said. State Public Prosecutor Jesús Montejano Ramírez acknowledged that there had been a great deal of tension in the area following the clashes on Wednesday, March 17. He added that on that occasion it was not ruled out that “organized crime is behind the conflict that arose in the Purépecha mountains,” because two people were kidnapped that day in Uruapan. Michoacán is a region of marijuana cultivation and movement of drugs and has been one of the Mexican states with most violence occurring in the last five years, where municipal officials have been murdered or have fled out of fear, where there are towns controlled by members of organized crime and their inhabitants have been trapped, where the Armed Forces together with the Federal Police have staged confrontations that have lasted for hours. In this context Ramón Angeles Zalapa, 45, was noted “for his critical stance and for giving a voice to the most needy social sectors, among them the communities of the Purépecha mountains,” it says in a letter delivered on Thursday to the state and federal governments by journalists and members of the victim’s family. According to his family there were on Wednesday a number strange phone calls to his house in which someone stayed silent. Angeles Zalapa left his home around 1:00 p.m. in his Volkswagen Jetta to oversee construction of some classrooms at the university. As he was late in coming back his family got in touch with the construction site, where they were told they had been waiting for him because he had failed to show up. Fearful that he might have been abducted, because “he never used to leave home without prior notice,” his family told Cambio. They filed a formal notification at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which then began formal initial inquiries number 65/2010. Executives and other employees of Cambio in Michoacán published in the paper that “they join in the request and the demand of members of Ramón Angeles Zalapa’s family that the case be investigated fully and that he be found.” The newspaper’s staff also urged that he be found alive and that the authorities act to halt attacks upon journalists – just five months ago the Cambio correspondent in Zamora, María Esther Aguilar, had disappeared and her whereabouts remain unknown. “The authorities are just mere rhetoric and there have been no results,” a Michoacán reporter asserted. Officially the state and federal authorities have claimed that they are using every available resource to locate the missing journalist. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that those same authorities have produced no results in six other cases of journalists being murdered from 1991 to date and that the motives for the killings remain unknown. The 10 journalists murdered or having gone missing in Michoacán are: Lázaro Cárdenas (1991), Ramiro Ramírez Duarte (1999), Jaime Arturo Olvera Bravo and José Antonio García Apac (2006), Juan Pablo Solís and Gerardo García Pimentel (2007), Mauricio Estrada Zamora and Miguel Ángel Villagomez (2008), and Martín Javier Miranda Avilés and María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe (2009).