In the last years, we have learned to not have too many illusions about the state of Mexico and its future. Documentaries like Gianfranco Rossi’s El Sicario, Room 164 (2010) and, more recently, Dark Suns by Julien Elie (2018) have informed us on what happens within a society that is deeply infiltrated by criminal activities on all levels, including the high government, judiciary, police, and military. Of course, we are not simply speaking about corruption, but about systematical torture, murder, and kidnapping, especially women, activists, and political opponents. Prostitution, torture, and murder take place even in official governmental buildings, police stations and military camps. The victims are often buried on private or military grounds never to be found. Where there is no evidence there is no crime is the simple rule. Even parents, friends, neighbours, who ask many questions, or even start to investigate, risk their lives, sometimes even warned by the officials in charge to stop their activities.
Gianfranco Rossi documented the perfect crime strategy by a system; working with different groups, each specialized on a special task from kidnapping, torturing, killing, and burying the bodies. Julien Elie brought light to the historical background and the development of cartels as a different kind of criminal group and their interaction with the political, administrative, and executing authorities.
Juliana Fanjul’s Radio Silence is focused on the role of the press and media in this violently perverse context. Indeed a kind of «amnesty» for journalism came to an end around the year 2008. From this date, every year a rising number of disappeared or killed journalists could be observed. One of the sequences shows a very quickly proceeded head shooting in the street, recorded by a control camera. Her film starts with the commemoration of the just murdered influential critical journalist Javier Valdez in May 2017. But the leading line of her work is a portrait of Carmen Aristegui, one of the most courageous voices of Mexico’s journalism as resistance. Her radio program documented, besides other key subjects, the crimes of the most corrupt political Mexican party, the PRI, in power from 1929 to 2000, when it was shortly defeated, which declared war on cartels, yet often taking migrants as their victims.
Adoration & respect
The filmmaker’s adoration is expressed in her comments clearly focused on Carmen’s ongoing activities, even after she gets thrown out from her radio station, which works with 80% of its budget coming from the government. Carmen had just documented an illegal deal between the president and a Chinese train company. None of her colleagues risked offering her another job in public media, even if her broadcasts were the most successful. 200,000 signatures demanding her return were posted in vain.
Without hesitation, Carmen built her own internet station. Some time later, she watches as the intrusion of her offices is recorded, evidently by professionals, who do not hide their faces and look directly into the camera, most probably state agents.
At a $30 million cost, a Pegasus surveillance system allowed the state to follow and intimidate all Carmen’s team members. Even her son, after she had placed him outside the county. Such spy software is able to localize users, transfer complete calls and address books, besides other functionalities.
Fanjul follows Carmen in her day-by-day activities. Soon, though, she starts to remark that cars without license plates are following her. At this moment, for the spectator, it starts to dawn that it is a miracle both are still alive as, just in the weeks before the new elections, 523 politicians and civil servants were murdered.
In the last years, we have learned to not have too many illusions about the state of Mexico and its future.
Carmen confesses that optimism in such circumstances is a moral obligation. The only alternative would be to give up. With that, Fanjul’s impressive documentary ends with the fact, that three months after the new defeat of the PRI on1 July 2018, Carmen’s program is rebroadcast in alliance with the country’s largest radio station.