The pristine, sandy beaches of Cancun draw more than just visitors looking for a little fun and sun. Those with a penchant for little girls as young as four have found their way to this region.
Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho is exposing the players in these Cancun-based sex rings, and risking her life for it.
Her empathy for human rights began at a young age when she played with the children in the slums of Mexico while her late mother, Paulette Ribeiro Monteiro, an early Mexican feminist, gave contraceptive information to their mothers. Cacho discovered that “there are things you can do to help your fellow men and women.”
Her awareness led her to a life of activism and journalism. She started a high-security shelter for abused women in Cancun where children opened up to her about the dark underworld of child porn rings and prostitution.
As a result, she says, “I’ve been taken to jail for telling other people’s stories. No one imagines that Cancun has this dark side.”
The underage sex rings she has exposed include Mexico’s rich and powerful. Mexico is a country that doesn’t take kindly to exposure of corruption and greed.
Currently the country is in the crosshairs of a violent drug war and some 17 journalists have been killed in the past five years for attempting to expose the corruption. Cacho, herself, is a target.
Cacho, considered one of Mexico’s most prominent and imperiled journalists, was recently in San Francisco and Los Angeles on a nationwide speaking tour after being awarded Amnesty International’s 2007 Ginetta Sagan Award.
In her groundbreaking book on child prostitution, “Los demonios del Edén” (The Demons of Eden: The Power that Protects Child Pornography), published in spring of 2005, she documented the ties between child porn rings, Mexican politicians and prominent businessmen.
She identifies Jean Succar Kuri, a multimillionaire hotel owner, as the head of a group who sexually abused young girls in Cancun.
“Succar Kuri would get these poor girls from the area and have sex with them, then send photos by email to his wife in Los Angeles, who would then forward them to Las Vegas,” stated Cacho.
Lebanese-born Succar Kuri has been under arrest in Mexico since July of 2006, after his extradition from the United States. He faces charges of arranging child porn parties in Cancún, money laundering and organized crime.
Cacho, who published all the names of the politicians and policemen who were involved in protecting Succar Kuri, told El Tecolote, “I did this quite conscious that I could be killed for this, but there was no other way.” She has been under police protection since receiving death threats last year.
“By the time I started writing the book, we knew there were 200 kids in this ring, most of them poor, without any protection from the Mexican state, because if you are poor, there is no way you can get attention from justice or the police.”
On December 16, 2005, Cacho was arrested and denied access to her lawyer and medicine. She spent the night in prison and was then released on $9,900 bail.
“I was arrested with four cars and many armed policemen. They took me from Cancun to Puebla some 20 hours away,” she said. Police jammed guns against her face, threatened and taunted her with death and rape threats.
She was charged with defamation, a criminal offense in Mexico, for writing that one of Mexico’s powerful businessmen, textile magnate Kamel Nacif, used his power to protect suspected child molestor Succar Kuri.
Cacho remembers being marched to the edge of the ocean thinking she was going to be killed. At the last minute, recounts Cacho, the cell phone of one of her captors rang. The attitude of her guards then changed and they began treating her very well.
Fortunately, after hearing of her arrest, Cacho’s supporters quickly mobilized and reached out to human rights organizations around the world.
“That’s when Amnesty International got involved. For any one of you who wrote one of these urgent action letters, thank you very much, it saved my life. I’m living proof of what Amnesty International can do when you sit in your house and write a letter or when you email it.”
But she still was considered guilty and spent the year going to jail every week. “I got my freedom back in January 2007. I could demonstrate I did not commit libel.”
Cacho filed a counter-suit for violation of her human rights. She became the first woman in Mexico to file a federal suit against a governor, district attorney, and judge for corruption and attempted rape in prison.
“I am the first Mexican woman in Mexican history to take a case to the Supreme Court. The Court is not interested in citizens. They are interested in politics. So they only listen to politicians. I am trying to take the governor of Puebla to trial. He was involved in getting me in jail and allowing them to plan my rape and beating. I don’t know if I’m going to win that, but I’m taking it one day at a time.”
She has some powerful enemies. “All the experts I interviewed believe it is an international mafia also involving Las Vegas.” Cacho’s life is repeatedly threatened and she has to travel with armed guards. Despite these dangers, she continues to champion the advancement of human rights for all children and women through her writing and advocacy work. “I don’t want revenge,” said Cacho, “I want accountability and transparency.”
As for the children… “most of the kids are going through psychological therapy, and we don’t know if they will ever really regain their lives. But some are real survivors, they are changing their lives and are taking their souls and reconstructing them every day.”
For more information go to www.lydiacacho.net.