Mexican partner college reopens student paper after abrupt closure

As quickly as staff members at Mexico's Universidad de las Americas-Puebla (UDLA) student-run newspaper La Catarina had their publication taken away from them by the university's administration, it was given back.

The newspaper, which was shut down on Jan. 16 after the publication of controversial cartoons and opinion columns, was given complete freedom on Feb.1 to continue to publish, according to Astrid Viveros, a reporter and columnist for the paper. "The Chancellor arranged a meeting with our old editorial board and announced his decision. On this meeting, the chancellor, the provost and the chair of communication science promised that the newspaper will maintain its independent[sic], autonomy, critical thought and above all our freedom of speech," Viveros said in an e-mail.

According to Viveros, at the Feb. 1 meeting University Chancellor Pedro Palou accepted that mistakes had been made by his administration in closing the newspaper, but said that La Catarina has room for improvement and change. "The administration also promised to make it easier for us to get information and to help us recruit more members," she said.

The official explanation for the closure from administrators at the university, with which Geneseo has dual-degree, faculty, and student exchange programs, was that the newspaper was being reorganized as part of the university's social service requirement. This program mandates that all students must complete 480 hours of community service in order to graduate. UDLA communication science department chair Martha Laris said in an interview following the incident that the paper was not shut down as a result of censorship and that politics played no part in the decision. However, according to Viveros very few students actually worked on the paper as part of the social service program, and the paper did not depend on their services for its publication. Viveros also said the paper, established in 2000 and one of the first of its kind in Mexico, was not initially set up to be a social service opportunity for students.

According to Viveros, the closure of the paper on Jan. 16 was extremely abrupt, and was preceded by an e-mail to Editor in Chief Sergio Zepeza only two hours before University officials and security guards arrived at the paper's office and told staff members to leave. Viveros said that staff were forced to remove everything from the office and were not allowed to back up computer files. Eventually, the electricity supply to the office was cut.

Following the closure, Laris had said that the paper would continue to publish albeit under new leadership, but the incident was widely viewed by local media, newspaper staff, and some UDLA faculty as punishment for the articles and political cartoons the paper had recently run criticizing Palou's relationship with Mario Marin, the governor of the state of Puebla.

Marin has become a controversial figure since Mexican national media revealed audio tapes of the governor's conversations with textile giant Kamel Nacif, a figure accused of child molestation by a local newspaper reporter. On these tapes, Nacif is heard thanking Marin for Marin's promise to silence the reporter. Marin has denied that it is his voice on the tapes.

Palou recently invited Marin to speak at the university, and La Catarina published photographs of the two walking together, along with cartoons and columns that were critical of their association and Palou's decision to invite Marin to speak. Viveros said that in a meeting with Provost Luis Foncerrada following the closure, Foncerrada said these items were "overly critic[sic] and had a lack of respect for the university."

Viveros said that at the time of the Feb. 1 meeting with administrators, no written agreement had been made regarding the future of the paper. "We are aware that this is not the end of the issue," she said. "We will work hard on restating La Catarina to what is was before. We will always fight for our independence and freedom of speech."