Lydia Cacho and Anabel Hernández on the risks of speaking truth to power

In Mexico, where life is held cheap, journalists who voice inconvenient truths are likely to be murdered or ‘disappeared’. According to the human rights charity Article 19, more than 100 Mexican journalists have been killed in the course of their work since the year 2000. And as 95 percent of reported crimes never come to trial, criminals, cartel overlords and corrupt officials act with impunity, with the result that civic society and the rule of law are thoroughly undermined. Journalists like Lydia Cacho and Anabel Hernández, who are relentless in their pursuit of the truth, find out sooner rather than later the consequences of good journalism.

In her half of the Harriet Martineau lecture to be given at the Norwich and Norfolk Festival later this month as part of a seven-date seven-day UK tour, Anabel Hernández (left) says: "As a result of my work my life has been under threat since 2010, when a powerful group of corrupt police chiefs (who remain in power) ordered my death because I uncovered their links to the Sinaloa Cartel, which, according to the United States, is the most powerful drug trafficking organisation in the world. Ever since, I have lived with 24 hour protection, if you can call that living." The threat never goes away. On 21st December 2014, a dozen men armed with AK-47 rifles and handguns closed off the street where Hernández lived, and started asking her neighbours in which house the journalist lived. They de-activated the security cameras in the immediate area, including those that were installed in Hernández’s house. Fortunately she was not at home.

Lydia Cacho (right), who will jointly give the Harriet Martineau lecture, says: "When I first became a journalist, I published an article about violence against women, so a man came to the door of my office and at gunpoint told me: 'Do not mess with my personal life.' I was 30 years old when I realised all those years learning classical ballet with an implacable Russian teacher had taught me to bend without breaking.'

Lydia Cacho’s work first saw publication in the UK in Slavery, Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking (Portobello, 2012), and focuses on violence against and sexual abuse of women and children. Despite being incarcerated, brutally tortured and threatened by corrupt officials for her work, she has become a leading advocate of freedom of expression and human rights in Mexico.

As for Hernández, as well as contributing two essays on the kidnapping of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico’s impoverished Guerrero province and the aftermath of that mass ‘disappearance’ to The Sorrows of Mexico, Anabel Hernández is also the author of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers (Verso, 2013).

With 50 years of journalism between them - most of it lived it at risk of imminent death - Anabel Hernández and Lydia Cacho are still very much alive and as resolute as ever. They will visit Britain to promote the paperback edition of The Sorrows of Mexico (Maclehose Press, May) from 22nd to 28th May:
Mon 22 May  5.30pm   Birkbeck College (Eventbrite event), University of London, Room B33, Malet Street main building, WC1E 7HX
Wed 24 May  1.00pm Humanities Building, Warwick University, CV4 7AL
Thur 25 May 5.30pm    Cambridge University,  Alison Richard Building (SG1, 7 West Road, Cambridge, BC3 9DT
Fri 26 May     12.00   Norwich and Norfolk Festival (Harriet Martineau Lecture), Adnam’s Spiegeltent
The Frontline Club, London, 7.00pm
Sat 27 May     11.00am   Bristol Festival of Ideas, Bristol, At-Bristol , BS1 5BD
Sun 28 May   5.30pm    Hay Festival, Wales, Starlight Stage

Bill Swainson is a freelance editor and literary consultant.