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A dangerous place in a dangerous country: an interview with Fernanda Ferral

Monday 15 June 2020 - 6:09pm

Fernanda Y Maria Elena Ferral

By Lucina Kathmann*

The first time a journalist is violently threatened or attacked, her/his life changes. This happened to journalist and law student María Fernanda de Luna Ferral, director of the El Quinto Poder de Veracruz website. Her life was transformed on 30 March 2020, the day her mother, the journalist María Elena Ferral, was murdered, the result of receiving at least three bullet wounds, thus becoming the first journalist killed in 2020 and the twelfth during the mandate of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico.

For two decades, Mexico has been in a upward spiral of murders of journalists. The figures show that since 2000, 133 communicators have been assassinated and impunity in the investigation of cases exceeds 90%.

Despite the fact that María Fernanda de Luna Ferral is protected by bodyguards, on 24 May 2020 she was the victim of a firearm attack. Therefore, the voice of María Fernanda Ferral during a telephone interview that took place on 8 June 2020, illustrates the reality that reporters live under threat in Mexico.


I am María Fernanda de Luna Ferral, journalist and director of El Quinto Portal de Veracruz online newspaper and the daughter of María Elena Ferral, a prizewinning journalist.

I am from Papantla, Veracruz, a city which has been named one of the Pueblos Mágicos. We have a beautiful mural dedicated to the Totonac culture created by the artist Teodoro Cano in the centre of our city and a church on a hill with the traditional Plazoleta of the Voladores dancers in front of it, where the pole for the flying dancers (better known as “Los Voladores de Papantla”) is located and where the ritual is carried out.

Papantla is the center of the Totonac culture, and we are very proud of our Totonac people. They are still very much in evidence here, but like many indigenous cultures they are at risk of extinction because the young people don’t want to use the language, they want to be more integrated with the new media.

On 30 March, my mother, María Elena Ferral, was murdered. She was a strong person, absolutely passionate about her work as a journalist, a winner of state and national prizes in recognition of her journalistic work. I have understood for many years that one day I might have to face what I am facing.

My mother had been under threat for 14 years. During much of that time she had security protection, at least of some sort, but unfortunately, after 2017 the protection was withdrawn from State Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists. If it had continued, it is likely that she would be alive today.

Most of the time our security guards have been people we know and have confidence in. Now my security is not well backed up. For reasons nobody has explained, it has not been strengthened as it should be. In fact the security personnel are sleeping in my garage as there isn’t enough support for them to have a proper apartment, among other resources necessary for my security.

My mother had security bodyguards for years, so having escorts is not new to me. I have learned to live with security personnel. Apart from their having my complete trust, I owe my life to them. This way of life is not as strange to me as it could be to other people. I am grateful for their protection.

On the day my mother died, I solicited protection from Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB), from the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) and from State Executive Commission for Comprehensive Assistance to Victims (CEEAIV).

I got it immediately, starting the next day. I have this protection for 60 days and I have solicited an extension. I am not in Papantla now and in fact since the attempt on my life I am forbidden to return for six months unless I make special arrangements in advance.

This is how the attack against me happened: On May 24 at 11 am, I was traveling with my bodyguards. The first sign of danger I noticed was when the driver said someone was following us. The guard in the back seat covered me with his body. When someone in the other car began to shoot, he returned fire and we were able to escape.

I have only two months left to finish my course at the Universidad Veracruzana in Poza Rica to become a lawyer. I am trying to do everything at once so that I will be able to finish on time and somehow to survive the danger.

For example in the county of Gutierrez Zamora, there were four candidates for mayor. Three were killed, as well as my mother, before the election. As far as who is doing all this shooting in our area, it is about control of the territory. We are located on the only exit to the sea, at Tecolutla. My mother wrote an important article about this. And yes, it is a systemic problem, it is not a situation of one criminal or group of criminals or another. There are always more criminals and criminal groups to take their place.

My mother and I have always seen the role of the journalist as key in this situation. If there is no investigative journalism and nobody denounces what is going on, the dark forces will be able to take over completely and without any form of control. We upset them by telling what they are doing and we must continue.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the country to practice journalism, and it is in a country which is one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism. So I want to ask everyone’s help to keep us from being forgotten, and in fact to keep me alive!

*Lucina Kathmann is a Vicepresident Emerita of PEN International

Photo: Reporteros Without Borders (RSF)