A”There was no other option but to endure, because there was no going back, there was no possibility of returning to our country.”
- Emilio Gutierrez Soto
In September 2011, I had the opportunity to sit down with two Mexican journalists seeking political asylum in the United States. Persecuted by the Mexican military, Emilio Gutierrez Soto fled Mexico along with his son in search of safety. After Mexican journalist Alejandro Hernandez was kidnapped and tortured, he too decided that it was no longer safe to live in Mexico. I found out this month that Soto’s asylum case is still in limbo, and decided to share his long – and ongoing – journey to justice.
Deras: I understand that you started having problems in 2005 after publishing critical stories about the Mexican military. What were these stories?
Soto: All of this was realized in relation with assaults perpetuated by elements of the Mexican military in the northeast region of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. I worked in Ascension, Mexico and covered an area of two municipalities. I documented various assaults and wrote three notes, which motivated the general of the fifth military zone, the one in charge of the fifth military zone in Chihuahua, General Alfonso Garcia Vega, to commute to Ascension on instruction by the Secretary of National Defense to silence me. And he forced me into a interview, a forced interview that occurred in the exterior of the hotel Miami between Guerrero and Mexico Street in Ascension, in where he showed me the three articles that I had written and told me that there wouldn’t be a fourth. And this is how he told me that the interview that was taking place obviously didn’t exist. There was the possibility of a kidnapping, which didn’t occur because the townspeople started to walk by where the operation was taking place. There was approximately 50 soldiers that he commanded. The kidnapping did not occur but, but the event took place nonetheless. This motivated me to file a complaint with the state prosecutor and with the National Commission of Human Rights.
Deras: At what point did you decide to exit Mexico and immigrate north?
Soto: In 2008, the military once again raided my home, knocked down my door and destroyed my house looking for fire arms and drugs. They found nothing. Again, they tell me to behave myself. This was another veiled threat. This occurred on the 5th of May 2008. The next month on June 14th, a friend of mine, who had a sentimental relationship with a top ranking military official, calls me and tells me that they are going to assassinate me. That day, I noticed surveillance outside my house as well as my office. Later that day, after my friend had alerted me that they were going to kill me, I took her warning as truth. And we decide to cross the border, we crossed through a part called El Berrendo. It’s a very modest international crossing located in the municipality of Janos and borders the New Mexican community of Hachita. This is where we crossed and we gave ourselves to the immigration authorities, in this case Home (Land) Security.
Deras: When you crossed the border you were detained in an immigrant Detention Center for more than seven months. Describe your experience.
Soto: It was one of the saddest events of my life, especially because I was separated from my son. My son was detained for two and a half months in a juvenile detention center in Canutillo, Texas and me in El Paso, Texas. I bared witness to arbitrary behavior on behalf of the authorities in charge of that private prison. It meant receiving abuse on behalf of our own race, of Mexicans (who are) now American citizens. And there was no other option but to endure, because there was no going back, there was no possibility of returning to our country. Returning to our country meant certain death not only for me but also for my son, and we had to endure.
Deras: You were a cameraman in Torreón Coahuila. What was the event that took place that you took as evidence that you needed to immigrate north of the border?
Hernández: Basically it was fear. What happened was that I was kidnapped along with two other coworkers on July 26 of last year. And during five days, they hit and tortured us both physically and mentally. We were subsequently abandoned and we were able to find the federal police. They claimed to have rescued us but none of that was true, it was all a lie. Nobody rescued us. They took us to Mexico City under false pretexts, telling us that President Calderon wanted to meet us. This was a lie. When we got to Mexico City, they had setup a round table press conference with several national and international press. For us, it was like a stab to the stomach, because that was not what we were there for. They exposed us to public on a national level. I didn’t return to home to Torreón out of fear, there were armed people that were not police officers waiting outside of my house, as a result of the press conference, a press conference we never asked for. Basically that was the situation that drove me to cross the boarder with my family.
Deras: Did you go through the same process? Were you detained?
Alejandro Hernández: No, my movement was different than Emilio’s. I crossed and then contacted the lawyer, Carlos Spector from El Paso, Texas, and from here we contacted the office of asylum in Houston, and subsequently my family passes through the bridge four days after I crossed. It was a different process.
Deras: You have recently been granted political asylum, can you tell me about the process? How was it like living under this process?
Alejandro Hernández: Well, it was a hard process. It took me about a year, and the process doesn’t allow you to work, precisely because you don’t have a permit to do so. I had to mow lawns, paint houses, and do work that I had never done before, just to be able to earn a dollar. Thank god that I have now received it and now I’m in the process of getting back to work. It was a difficult and hard road to here; coming to a place that you don’t know, and don’t speak the language.
Deras: I want to talk about the complaint filed with the Inter American Commission on Human barely Rights. Can you tell me about it?
Soto: After I reported the human rights abuses with the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights in 2005 and 2008 and saw no resolution, they had finally admitted and proved that our fundamental rights were violated, based on that we presented a formal complaint against the Mexican state with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. We are now waiting, they have accepted our complaint and we are waiting for a resolution. It’s a long process but we have the legal arguments and strong proof, we are confidant that there will be a proper resolution to the violation of our rights.
Deras: In the complaint you say that many of the abuses are ignored by the institutions of justice and often times cases are turned over to military trials, this is the same military that perpetuated the abuses. This happened in your case as well, right?
Soto: Yes that’s correct, you got to understand that over there, there is no difference between the criminals and the government. Felipe Calderon in an effort to legitimize himself – because he apparently won the presidential election with a 0.56% of a difference between himself and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the only thing that he had as a pretext – was to jump into a war, a war presumably against drug traffickers without knowing the enemy. This as I have told you has killed more than 55,000 people and more that have disappeared. So there is no difference between the government and the criminals, they are one in the same.
Deras: In the complaint it states that the result of a successful resolution would mean that the commission would make recommendations on how to resolve the human rights abuses. In your opinion, what would the solution be?
Soto: The solution for Mexico is education… Upon the rise of the implementation of the free trade agreement, Mexico gradually became impoverished in such a manner that it became easier to implement a politics of bullets and genocide than to apply a politics of education. It isn’t convenient for Canada, as well as the United States, to have an educated neighbor. It is more convenient to have an enslaved neighbor, so this is why there are millions of dollars invested in … brains, universities, trade schools or basic education that is the solution: education.
Update: I recently had a conversation with Emilio Gutierrez Soto on March 8 via email. I asked him about his political asylum case, which resumes this May, and his employment situation.
Deras: What are the decisions that the authorities have taken. Have they granted you political asylum?
Soto: No. Our court was postponed from February of this year till mid May of next month. They are reluctant to grant my son and I political asylum, because there is a complicity that involves the Mexican government and the United States. The Mexican government because it doesn’t want to admit that the war on drugs declared by Felipe Calderon is a catastrophic failure that has killed more than 51,000 people and more than 11,000 disappeared people from Central and South America. There is 11,000 Mexicans that have gone missing, and a record that shows at least one journalist is assassinated ever month. So, they don’t want to admit to their failure, and the United States doesn’t want to admit that the economic resources collected via taxes that are destined to the Merida Plan, which is used to combat narco-trafficking and organized crime in Mexico is a bottomless pit. That is only training assassins, and by far, most of the money is going to American company’s that sell firearms and training and they obviously don’t want to lose those contracts. We are talking about two failures.
Soto: The process is long. The lawyers are barely becoming famous off the suffering of exiled Mexicans to whom they “gift” their work to “pro bono.” They began to abandon us searching for the reflection of the cameras, with new cases in search of fame for their firms. In regards to employment, in the State of New Mexico and in the place were we live, Las Cruces, unemployment is at a very high rate, but we must keep enduring just a bit longer. Now that my son is in college, changing my place of residence becomes a lot harder in every sense of the word. It’s a long-term campaign, as the immigration politics of the United States require it. We will have the opportunity to migrate to different places with greater opportunities to have greater emotional tranquility. What most affected us was leaving our home, family, friends, and homeland.