Writing against impunity - Latin America

In Mexico, El Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), is celebrated from 31 October - 2 November. Although a mortuary ritual, the fiesta's light-heartedness is expressed through the sale of sugar skulls, sweet breads and skeletal figurines. A table of ofrendas (offerings) is prepared with various objects, sweets, and drinks that were once enjoyed by the departed. To tempt them to return, their favourite food is lovingly prepared and laid out each night. Aromatic copal is burned, candles are lit, and the vibrant marigold flowers, known as cempasúchil, decorate and brighten their way. Religious images are placed alongside tequila and sugared skulls. A poem or hymn may be composed and left for them. Mexicans do not believe that the departed souls will consume what they have prepared, merely that the aroma will attract their spiritual presence and serve to remind them that they are not forgotten.

Mexico's cemeteries also take on a carnivaleseque quality at this time. Mexicans visit their relatives' graves for a nightly vigil, bringing with them food and drink and decorating them with flowers. They may even be accompanied by a mariachi band.

Newspapers join in the fun by printing satirical images of politicians and celebrities, drawn as skeletons, carrying on a tradition begun in the 1890s by Jose Guadalupe Posada. An engraver, based in the old heart of Mexico City, Posada started his career as a political cartoonist before becoming a commercial illustrator, drawing sensational events for broadsheets as well as depicting the daily horrors, murders, and tragedies of city life.

Today, journalists who attempt to investigate or draw attention to corruption in Mexico - whether engineered by state officials or the notorious drug cartels - are more likely to find themselves threatened for their work or even killed.

In 2011, PEN, the international association of writers, marked the Day of the Dead by remembering those journalists and writers who had been murdered in Mexico. Since 2000, over 80 writers, journalists and bloggers have been killed and another 15 have disappeared. Most of these crimes have not been properly investigated and there have only ever been a handful of convictions.

This year alone, nine print journalists and writers have been murdered in Mexico. Drug-trafficking is blamed for many of Mexico's ills and while it is true that much of the violence against those journalists who attempt to investigate their crimes comes from these quarters, there is also corruption amongst state officials and powerful businessmen who have the money to buy complicity or silence. Another inherent failure of Mexico's justice system is the apparent inability to punish and prosecute those in positions of power who abuse their office.

This year, PEN International and its centres have extended their campaign against impunity by launching a literary protest aimed at highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America. Self-censorship is a growing trend in Mexico, Honduras and Brazil.

According to PEN, in the first six months of 2012, more reporters were murdered in Latin America than in any other region worldwide. Mexico was the second most dangerous country in the world in which to be a writer or journalist, with Honduras and Brazil coming close behind.

Over 50 writers, journalists, students and PEN members from across Latin America and the Caribbean sent in poetry and prose in support of the campaign and to commemorate their murdered colleagues in the region. James Tennant, PEN International's Literary Manager, said 'the huge interest in and support for this campaign, and the fact that writers the calibre of Luisa Valenzuela, Sergio Ramírez, Gioconda Belli and Ariel Dorfman have contributed new texts, only serves to highlight the seriousness of the situation of impunity in today's Latin America - a region that has become a vast burial ground for writers and journalists'.

You can support the campaign by reading the contributions to Write Against Impunity and spreading the word. PEN is publishing texts on their website every day until the anthology's official launch on 23 November, the International Day to End Impunity.
Originally published by the Huffingonpost.co.uk  on 6 November 2012