By Adriana M. Chávez
El Paso Times
A Mexican journalist who was allegedly kidnapped by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel and then released is seeking political asylum in the United States.
Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, a cameraman for the Televisa network, and three other members of the Mexican media were kidnapped in July in Gomez Palacio, Durango. They were held captive for almost a week, allegedly tortured, starved and beaten.
Their captors also threatened to kill them if their television stations didn't air videos that threatened Los Zetas, a rival drug cartel based in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
Hernandez Pacheco said he and his family have asked U.S. officials for asylum with the help of El Paso attorney Carlos Spector. Spector declined to say where Hernandez Pacheco and his family are living.
U.S. immigration officials said they are unable to confirm they've received an asylum request from Hernandez Pacheco and his family.
During a news conference Tuesday, Hernandez Pacheco said he no longer felt safe in Mexico, especially after government officials presented the captives at a large news conference after their release and declared that the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, was responsible for the kidnapping.
Spector, who is helping three other journalists seeking asylum, said Hernandez Pacheco is asking for asylum on the grounds that, as a journalist, he has been persecuted in Mexico, where government officials "can't and won't protect him."
Hernandez Pacheco said that after the Mexican government hosted the news conference, officials further made him and his fellow captives targets of the warring drug cartels.
"My family and I aren't comfortable there (in Mexico). I'm scared for my life," Hernandez Pacheco, who has been a journalist for about 17 years. "They hung us on a cross. I'm proud to be Mexican, but you can't work under those conditions, and I'm scared."
On July 26, Hernandez Pacheco and Televisa reporter Hector Gordoa Marquez traveled to Gomez Palacio to report on the arrest of Cereso prison director Margarita Rojas, who was accused of releasing prisoners at night to carry out cartel-ordered assassinations. The report had been scheduled to air on a Mexican television program, "Punto de Partida," a few days later.
After leaving the prison, the two men were carjacked, bound, blindfolded and taken to a home with two other kidnapped journalists. The men were allegedly tortured, and their captors threatened to kill them if they didn't call their bosses and demand that they air the cartel's videos.
Some TV outlets complied, but the producers of "Punto de Partida" refused to air the videos. Instead, they made a brief statement about the kidnappings and then broadcast a blank screen.
Hernandez Pacheco said that after about a week in captivity, his captors ordered the men into a car, drove them to another area and set them free in the same Gomez Palacio neighborhood where they were held captive.
"I don't know why they freed us. When they moved us, I thought they were going to kill us," he said. "They told us to run, and about three blocks away we saw federal police officers."
Hernandez Pacheco said his initial instinct was not to trust the officers. Hours after their release, police told the men they were going to be flown by helicopter to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and be hailed as heroes. Instead, they were met by dozens of cameras from Mexican and international media organizations.
"I felt used," Hernandez Pacheco said.
Spector said the men weren't offered food, showers or medical care by the Mexican government, which held the men for almost a month.
"The federal government responsible for protecting him used him and put him in danger," Spector said.
Hernandez Pacheco said he left Mexico last month with the clothes he wore and some documents, including his laser visa. His wife and children left Mexico a few days later. His family is also seeking asylum.
Spector said it could take months, if not years, to find out whether the U.S. will grant asylum to Hernandez Pacheco and his family, but Hernandez Pacheco can apply for a work permit in five months.
"If you have a job for me in five months, let me know," Hernandez Pacheco jokingly told reporters at Tuesday's news conference.
Spector said Hernandez Pacheco and his family will have to wait two months to learn whether the U.S. government will grant them asylum. If their application is denied, then they can fight the decision in court, which may take two years or more.