By Patricia Giovine
EL PASO, Texas – Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez, who fled his homeland in 2008 with his teenage son after receiving death threats from the army, says the lengthy delay in his asylum hearings in the United States is due to the politically sensitive nature of his case.
The hearings, which had been scheduled to resume Friday, were postponed until May 12, 2012, after the reporter’s attorney asked for a delay due to scheduling conflicts.
“We had hoped the new date for the hearings would be set for a couple weeks later, not a year and two months later,” Gutierrez told Efe, adding that political reasons are behind the lengthy delay.
The U.S. government is reluctant to grant him asylum “because they don’t want to publicly acknowledge that they’ve been financing – through the Merida plan – a (Mexican) army that has committed all kinds of abuses against Mexican civilians,” he said.
The Merida Initiative is a U.S.-funded, regional plan to battle drug cartels and organized crime that was launched in 2007 during then-President George W. Bush’s administration.
Last year, the United States withheld $26 million in funding for the $1.4 billion initiative, citing concerns that Mexico had not done enough to protect the civilian population from military and police abuses.
The first round of asylum hearings before a federal immigration court in El Paso, Texas, adjourned in January without the judge issuing a ruling in Gutierrez’s case. The hearings were initially scheduled to resume Friday.
Gutierrez, who worked for El Diario del Noroeste newspaper in the northern Mexican town of Ascension, fled across the border with his son, Oscar, in June 2008.
The two immediately surrendered to U.S. immigration officials and were sent to a detention facility in El Paso.
In his asylum application, Gutierrez said he was threatened after writing a series of articles in 2005 related to the tactics used by the Mexican army in its crackdown on drug gangs in Ascension.
He said troops initially threatened him in 2005 during a meeting at a restaurant in Ascension and that shortly afterward a group of masked soldiers woke him and his son at their home, supposedly in a search for weapons and drugs.
The journalist informed Mexican authorities of the threats, but they recommended that he not file an official complaint.
The reporter continued to write articles critical of the security forces, but when a friend told him that soldiers planned to kill him he decided to flee to the United States.
Emilio was held for seven months at the El Paso immigration detention facility, while his son was released to the custody of family members in a U.S. border city after being detained for three months.
Gutierrez said the delay in his case has raised his concern that the United States may not take him and his son in and that one day immigration authorities may force them to cross the border back to Mexico.
“It’s very sad to say, but I won’t go back to Mexico, the land I love and where I had my life, my family, my home,” the journalist, who has a work visa that expires on Aug. 31, said.
He said that once that permit expires he’ll request a new visa until eventually receiving political asylum.
Other Mexican reporters who have applied for asylum in the United States over the past year include Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a reporter for Radio Cañon in Ciudad Juarez, and Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, a cameraman for the Televisa network who was kidnapped in Durango state and tortured before being released several days later.
Late last year, the United States granted political asylum to Mexican journalist Jorge Luis Aguirre – the first reporter to receive that protection since attacks against reporters in Mexico intensified in 2008.
Mexico’s powerful drug cartels often target media outlets and individual journalists, and routinely resort to threats and bribery to influence press coverage of their activities.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said in its World Report 2010 that “while engaging in law enforcement activities, Mexico’s armed forces have committed serious human rights violations, including killings, torture, rapes, and arbitrary detentions.”
Nine reporters were killed last year in Mexico and four went missing, while 64 journalists filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission, Mexico’s equivalent of an ombudsman’s office, over attacks and aggressions.
The commission says 66 journalists have been slain in Mexico since 2000.
The vast majority of those murders remain unsolved. EFE