Mexican journalist lives in exile after denouncing corruption at Pemex: Interview with Ana Lilia Pérez

In June 2012, journalist Ana Lilia Pérez joined the ranks of at least 15 other Mexican journalists living in exile after receiving threats, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Pérez claims that the threats against her come from public officials after she started investigating corruption at the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. She is the author of the books Camisas azules, manos negras (Blue Shirts, Black Hands) and El cartel negro (The Black Cartel), and is the winner of the German Leipzinger Mendienpreis Prize in 2012.

"I didn't know where these investigations were going to take me but my exile reflects the enormous corruption drowning Mexico," she told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in a telephone interview from Germany.

Pérez fled Mexico after the authorities there were unable to provide her protection following a series of death threats. "It's time to end this dishonest account that attacks on the press are from organized crime. My case comes straight from the state," she said.

Recently, Pérez received notification that Mexican authorities were proceeding with a lawsuit against her while she is in exile. A Mexican legislator who appears in the pages of her book Camisas azules, manos negras filed the lawsuit.

Pérez was a psychology student who became interested in journalism after sitting in on some classes taken by a friend at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM in Spanish. By 19, she had started publishing investigative reports in national newspapers like La Jornada, El Universal and Excélsior.

The Knight Center spoke with Pérez about her reporting and experience in exile. Click here to read the full interview in Spanish.

What inspired you to investigate corruption at Pemex?

I traveled to the state if Tabasco, a region of the country with golden years of exploiting "black gold" but after the initial enthusiasm, the state was left neglected. A community was suing for a cleanup in their area and so I started investigating one of the companies implicated in serious acts of corruption. Following the money, I was able to document the links between the companies, public officials and political leaders. I started to investigate the discretional use of public resources by Pemex but I ran into drug cartels that were doing business with the state enterprise.

What threats have you received since then and how have you handled them?

I received threats over the fax at the office where I worked, on my cellphone and others as photographs. There was an attempted attack [while I was in a] vehicle and the whole time my telephones were tapped. I denounced these before the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists but they told me it would be difficult to proceed with my complaint considering the power of the people I was writing about. After the first death threats I received, along with the physical and legal attacks, I was forced to take security measures recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I had to accept a personal escort and take several other security precautions.

How is your life in exile?

Leaving my country is the price [I've had to pay] for not bowing or silencing my investigations. It's a very high, unacceptable price in a country where supposedly there is freedom of expression but there was no other way to guarantee my safety. If I were killed, I didn't want them to blame it on another cartel attack. I was publishing about the serious corruption between the public and private sectors.

Are you still practicing journalism in exile?

I participate actively in conferences about investigative journalism, I publish in German outlets and magazines. I am also a commentator for radio and analysis programs. I can't unplug myself from what's happening in my country and an industry that I've spent so much time investigating.

Read the full interview in Spanish here.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.