Saturday, 26 September 2015

Journalism a dangerous trade, in Mexico and around the world

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Being a journalist is a dangerous occupation in many countries, Mexico among them. Around the world, 46 journalists have been murdered so far in 2015, 9 of whom were in Mexico. Photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril, who was found murdered in Mexico City last month became the latest addition to the count, bringing the total number of victims in the country since 2000 to 89.

Espinosa worked for AVC (a Veracruz news outlet), Proceso (a national investigative magazine) and Cuarto Oscuro (a photo agency), and had fled to the capital in early June, following death threats in the state of Veracruz where he was based. He was at one time the official photographer for the governor of the state of Veracruz, however resigned as his criticism of the violence against journalists in his state was incompatible with a government job. He later publicly accused current Veracruz governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa of direct responsibility for violations of media freedom in the state, as well as for the threats against him personally. Veracruz is considered one of the most dangerous states for journalists in Mexico, as The Yucatan Times reported last month; however the danger followed Espinosa to Mexico City where he sought refuge.

Reporters Without Borders / Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) of which this writer is a member, tracks threats to press freedom around the world, including murder and imprisonment of journalists, and their figures tell a troubling story. In addition to 46 journalists murdered worldwide since the start of 2015, 144 have been imprisoned, with 12 netizens/citizen journalists killed and 170 imprisoned.

The worst country in which to be a journalist according to RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index is Eritrea, ranked at number 180, closely followed by North Korea and Turkmenistan. Mexico is ranked 148, keeping company with Russia, Gambia, Democratic Republic of The Congo, Turkey, Malaysia and Bangladesh. The best? Finland at number 1, followed by Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden, while honorable mentions go to Canada (8), Ireland (11), and Costa Rica (16). The United Kingdom is ranked 34, while the USA is at 49, below Burkina Faso (46) and El Salvador (45).

We can consider ourselves fortunate that Yucatán is probably the safest state in the country for journalists (as indeed for everyone), with no murders of journalists recorded in modern times. However, we pause for thought and remember the great risks our colleagues around the country and around the world take every day to report on events and bring the details to us.

For more information about RSF, to learn about threats to journalists worldwide, and to view the interactive 2015 World Press Freedom Index map, visit

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Where in the world is Ellen Fields?

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Merida’s “expat community” has in recent weeks been rocked by revelations posted online by Romero Books ( – a blog which, as per its own “About” page, is writing “Stories… ripped from the headlines and told from the perspective of the people who are the protagonists… these are true stories of Americans run amok south of the border.”

Sounds dramatic? Well it’s been quite a ride so far, with the promise of more to come. One of the main characters in the stories is “Gringa Zapatista”, aka “Helen Shields”, proprietor of a fictitious website called “Living in Yucatán”.  Perhaps a complete coincidence that Ellen Fields, proprietor of an actual website called “Yucatan Living” seems to have followed a remarkably similar path over the last 9 years?

Perhaps… but I doubt it.

Chapter nine of the “Gringa Zapatista” saga revealed that the fictitious “Helen Shields” fled Mérida in 2011, following a fourth citizen’s report of her engagement in immoral activities endangering the welfare of Mexican children, which triggered a federal investigation into sex tourism and the activities of the proprietors of the fictitious website “Living in Yucatán”. Following an overland trip to California, the fictitious “Helen Shields” set herself up as a masseuse. Perhaps a complete coincidence that Ellen Fields, proprietor of “Yucatan Living” appears to have departed Mérida in 2011, making an overland trip to California, and has not been seen in town, except fleetingly, since?

Perhaps… but I doubt it.

If, as appears to be the case, Ellen Fields and her husband James have not been resident in Mérida since 2011, it seems to be at the very least somewhat dishonest that they continue to publish their articles on “daily life in Mérida” as if they are here, experiencing “daily life in Mérida” for themselves.

I set out to locate Ms. Fields, and set the story straight. I advised her I had some interesting information to share with her, which, she responded to say, she was eagerly waiting to receive. My initial email requested a meeting at her office in Mérida, however only served to confirm that she is not in México at this time; in fact she openly admitted she “wouldn’t be back until October”.  I dug a little deeper, and noted that her Facebook page lists her as a CMT at Plus Massage in California, since February 2014.

The Plus Massage website certainly makes it appear that she is living full time in California: Sources tell me that James Fields is in Las Vegas, although I was unable to independently confirm this.

I confronted Ms. Fields with this evidence; unfortunately her initial eagerness to talk suddenly vanished, and since then, my emails have not been returned.

Where in the world is Ellen Fields? Certainly at time of writing, she is in California, where it would seem she has spent much of the last 4 years. Does this qualify her as an expert on “daily life in Mérida”? It would seem from chatter around town that her loyal readers are beginning to have their doubts.