Applause and hoots of laughter can be heard from the steep stairs that lead up to the small room at the Gimnasio de Arte Cultural Center in Mexico City, where an auction to benefit the family of murdered journalist "Goyo" Jiménez is taking place.
This May 3 event was the first time the guild of Mexican journalists has gathered for one specific goal — to financially assist Carmela Hernández, the widow of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz. Jiménez, affectionately nicknamed Goyo, was kidnapped from his home in the southern state of Veracruz on February 5. He was found six days later in a common grave along with two other bodies, in the nearby city of Las Choapas.
Goyo had been freelancing for the local newspapers Notisur and Liberal del Sur, covering police activity and kidnappings in the state, which is one of the most violent in Mexico. He sold his articles for 20 pesos ($1.50) a piece. “It is shocking to think that he was killed over a 20 peso article,” Luis Ramirez, a journalist for Press TV in Mexico, told VICE News.
In the room, the majority of the bidders are Goyo's colleagues. Many of the photojournalists here produced the 106 images that hang on the walls. His widow sits in the front row, excited and confused by the level of solidarity and joy. Interestingly, she pointed out the total absence of government institutions.
The effect produced by this reunion is bizarre. Unlike your typical auction, all of the bidders attempt to reach the highest possible price for the photographs — whistling, applauding, and cheering every time someone outbids the previous offer. Someone bids 3,000 pesos ($230), then the whole room explodes with excitement and the buyer is treated like a hero.
'We are so outraged by the murders, by the violence against journalists, that we decided to do something.'
The overwhelming turnout is partly due to the fact that Goyo has become a symbol of the violence against journalists in Mexico. According to organizations that fight for press freedom and to defend journalists, this aggression is often carried out by civil servants.
The state of Veracruz maintains that Goyo was kidnapped, murdered, and left in a clandestine grave as the result of a “passion crime.” His death, therefore, was unrelated to his work.
Gina Domínguez, a Veracruz spokesperson, claimed that the motive behind the homicide was personal revenge caused by “a romantic relationship between the journalist’s daughters” and the sons of Teresa de Jésus Hernández, who allegedly paid hitmen 20,000 pesos (about $1,500) to do away with Goyo.
In Mexico, passion crimes are a common excuse delivered by government representatives to explain the murder of journalists. The official stance is that it is only a coincidence that these journalists happen to be executed while investigating sensitive issues, like corruption, narco-political ties, and kidnappings.
Goyo’s family, as well as the guild of journalists, refuses to accept the “passion crime” hypothesis. Justice has not been served, the responsible parties have not been located or sentenced, and now his widow, Mrs. Jiménez, has been left alone. She has been left without support from the media outlets — that her husband loyally served for years — or the Mexican government.
'We assumed that we would have about 10 photographs, but colleagues donated 106.'
This is one of the reasons why a group of journalists decided to intervene. Lucía Vergara, a photojournalist who organized the event, told VICE News: “We are so outraged by the murders, by the violence against journalists, that we decided to do something. We also took into account the amount that Gregorio earned and the intolerable situation that his wife is in.”
In November 2013, an auction of cartoons was organized, in support of displaced journalists in general. “We decided, six colleagues and I, to hold a similar event, but this time in support of a specific family. The turnout surpassed all expectations,” Vergara continued. “We assumed that we would have about 10 photographs, but colleagues donated 106. The participation was impressive, and this is due to the overwhelming number of murders and attacks, and the lack of results, which have united a growing number of people to the guild in defense of our colleagues.” The initiative was supported by NGOs such as Article 19, Reporters Without Borders, Periodistas de a Pié and Foto Reporteros MX.
Mrs. Jiménez sits in the auction room — tolerating the intensely humid heat, which is common in her hometown in Veracruz — and waits for the event’s finale. In the end, the auction raised a total of 131,000 pesos ($10,000), or the equivalent of what her husband would have earned by publishing 6,550 articles.
In a brief interview with VICE News, Mrs. Jiménez felt obliged to thank her late husband’s colleagues: “I am thankful for everything they are doing, but it is the duty of the newspapers — and the people who run them — to help us. They don’t even give us insurance or medical attention or anything. If it weren’t for the solidarity of fellow journalists, I wouldn’t know what to do.”