Home Page > PEN Protesta! Mexico City, 29 January 2012

“We are people of the word. All of us. The life of a journalist in Juarez, the free expression of a blogger – both are as essential as the life and free expression of a Nobel Laureate.”

So began the opening speech of PEN’s International President, John Ralston Saul, at a unique event in solidarity with the writers and journalists of Mexico today, 29 January 2012. PEN members from the seven North American PEN Centres, along with Japan PEN and English PEN, joined Mexican writers and journalists at PEN Protesta! to show the Mexican authorities that the violence and impunity that stifles free expression in the country must come to an end.

John Ralston Saul speaks at PEN Protesta! 29/01/2012 Photo: AMARC Mexico

60 writers each read 200 words specially written for the PEN Protesta! event in Mexico City. Among those reading were Russell Banks, Laura Esquivel, Elena Poniatowska, Javier Sicilia, Gilian Slovo and Hori Takeaki.The event was part of the four-day PEN International delegation to Mexico City, which has included the publication of a letter to the Mexican authorities signed by 170 writers; high-level lobbying; a meeting with Mexican Freedom of Expression NGOs; an online petition; and a press conference. Below are the statements from some members of the PEN Protesta! delegation.

We are the people of the word. All of us. The life of a journalist in Juarez, the free expression of a blogger – both are as essential as the life and free expression of a Nobel laureate.
And the right of citizens, all citizens, to read, in any form, to hear in every way, to question as the wish, to intervene if they want, depends on the ability of writers – all of us – to write and to speak without fear.
That is the meaning of solidarity. It is a noble concept. But it is also a physical presence. That is why we are gathered here.
This is an historic gathering. The first time that all seven North American PEN Centres have come together over a cayse, on the territory we all share. And we are joined by Japan PEN and English PEN.
the first time that the entire executive of PEN International has led a delegation. The first time since this terrible violence began that we have all come together, with you, here, in Mexico. More…

Statement by Russell Banks:

Faced with and outraged by the cold, irrefutable reports of assassination, torture, kidnapping, and widespread intimidation of journalists and writers, we may overlook the fact that these terrorizing attacks against Mexico’s journalists and writers are attacks against the Mexican people.
A nation’s journalists and writers, like its poets and story-tellers, are the eyes, ears and mouth of the people. When journalists and writers cannot freely speak of what they see and hear of the reality that surrounds them, the people themselves cannot see, hear or speak of it either. Whoever gouges a people’s eyes, stops up its ears and cuts off its tongue makes a nation blind, deaf and silent.
A nation blinded, made deaf and silent cannot choose and create its own history. Simply, it becomes de-humanized property, the property of criminals and assassins. A community becomes a commodity, a thing to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. It must be remembered, therefore, that In defending our brother and sister journalists and writers against these horrendous attacks and condemning the reluctance of the Mexican government to prosecute the narco-terrorists and the uniformed collaborators who attack and intimidate them, we are defending the humanity of the Mexican people.

Statement by Jennifer Clement:

El PEN Internacional pide que en cada acto del PEN, en cualquier rincón del mundo, se ponga una silla sola, sin huésped, que represente a los escritores asesinados, encarcelados o desaparecidos. Hoy recordáramos y honramos a los 67 muertos y a los 10 desaparecidos en nuestro país.
Durante estos meses, al organizar este evento, me he preguntado ¿de qué manera se puede hablar de la violencia que está viviendo México? Siento que las palabras mismas – censura, impunidad, perseguir, exigir, demandar, esclarecer– también han sido asesinadas y que, por tanto uso, no tienen peso y, desgastadas, las palabras ya no son piedras para pegar sino trapos delgados para envolver cuerpos.
Otro resultado de esta violencia es la autocensura. Si por miedo no damos la nota, la noticia, perdemos no solo la democracia y la libertad, perdemos la historia y no sabemos quién es el santo y quién el asesino; la mala y la heroína. Y si no sabemos lo que pasó, no sabemos a quién tenemos que cazar y castigar, a quién tenemos que perdonar y a quién tenemos que amar.

Statement by Elena Poniatowska:
Watch Elena Poniatowska’s speech by ExpressArte Internacional

En México, decir la verdad es jugarse la vida. A cada reportero o reportera, a los jóvenes hombres y mujeres que conforman la infantería de un periódico deberían preguntarles: “¿Está dispuesto a morir?” En las ciudades del norte de la república, los periodistas son cazados como conejos y hasta ahora nadie ni nada los ha protegido.Todas las armas son corruptas.
Los números “oficiales” son muchos; algunos dicen que de 2000 a 2011 han muerto 74 periodistas, otros que son 83, otros más que son 80. Lo terrible es que el número aumente. El 30 de mayor de 1984, Manuel Buendía fue asesinado en la ciudad de México porque escribía una columna “Red Privada” que reproducían 60 periódicos mexicanos, sus temas eran el narcotráfico y la corrupción del gobierno. Fue el primer columnista muerto que conocí y desde entonces pregunto ¿hasta cuándo ejercer el periodismo será una sentencia de muerte? ¿Cuánto tiempo más debemos esperar para que las autoridades ofrezcan garantías reales que protejan la vida la profesión? ¿Cuánto tiempo pasará hasta que dejemos de ser el país más peligroso de América Latina para ejercer el periodismo? Desde 1960, el Comité “Writers in Prison” defendió los casos de 900 escritores torturados, difamados, encarcelados y por eso recibimos con gusto al presidente del Pen Club Internacional, el escritor Juan Ralston Saul que nos ayuda con su presencia a no perdernos porque finalmente escribir es nuestra libertad.


Statement by Louis Miguel Aguilar:

El gran poeta ruso Osip Mandelstam dijo: Si matan a los poetas es porque respetan la poesía. Cuando yo era joven esta frase me sonaba como llena de dignidad, incluso majestuosa; o inspiracional, como se dice ahora. Conforme fui creciendo, empezó a parecerme triste esa frase, al recordar que venía de la desesperanza y el miedo y la inermidad de Mandelstam, pronto a morir en un campo de concentración de Stalin en la Unión Soviética. Ahora que estoy más grande la frase me parece intolerable, incapaz siquiera de dar consuelo. No, querido, Mandelstam, no: si matan a los poetas es porque no respetan a la poesía. Lo mismo puede decirse por todos los escritores, y lo mismo, sin duda, por el motivo que nos trajo aquí hoy: Si matan a los periodistas es porque no respetan el periodismo; lo que equivale a decir que no nos respetan a nosotros como sociedad, donde la prensa libre es uno de nuestros bienes irrenunciables. Cuando no maten, amenacen, o censuren a los periodistas, podríamos decir que respetan al periodismo. Y estoy seguro de que este mediodía, en solidaridad con periodistas mexicanos inermes, es una contribución decisiva a este respecto. Y a este respeto.

Statement by Larry Siems:

Like the rest of my international companions, I stand here today horrified by the sacrifice of so many of your colleagues, and humbled by your courage.
I do not forget my own country’s part in your country’s suffering—our ravenous appetite for narcotics, our pathological enthusiasm for guns—and like almost everyone on both sides of the border, I count acquaintances and close friends among the damage they have done.
With so many lives compromised and cut short, we have cut thousands of years off of our collective future.
But there will still be a future, and it will be a better one, and it will come thanks to the work you have done.
By recognizing that when a bullet ends a life, it doesn’t end that life’s story; by insisting on so fundamental a thing as proclaiming that life’s name and giving names to the lives that both nurtured it and stole it; by pushing for the whole story, you are pushing us all toward that future.
May you be protected in your work. May those who have threatened and silenced your colleagues be made to pay for their crimes. And may the future you are writing for come soon.


Statement by Jenaro Villamil

Video by ExpressArte Internacional

Read the full list of PEN Protesta! demands in English and Spanish.

Read the PEN Protesta! blog by Writers in Prison Committee Chair, Marian Botsford Fraser here.

Follow #PENProtesta on Twitter

Sign up to the online petition here

Watch an interview with John Ralston Saul by ExpressArte Internacional



Watch an interview with Elena Poniatowska by ExpressArte Internacional