Tully Award to Mexican Journalist: Lydia Cacho exposes child trafficking

Photo (c) Dr. Alejandro Garcia, used with kind permission.

"When in trouble, start more."

You could easily miss Restaurante El Tropical, the tiny storefront at 719 South Geddes Street. It's tucked in the block across from the boarded-up gas station that sits on the triangle where Grand Ave. splits off from Geddes. Behind the white grills on the windows and door, the staff is friendly, the wall mural of palm-lined beaches vividly reminds you it's not really snowing everywhere, and the chicken and the flan are out of this world.

Last Monday El Tropical was the scene of a two-and-a-half hour lunch hosted by La Casita, the Syracuse University project to strengthen ties with the city's Latino community, for Mexican journalist and writer Lydia Cacho. Cacho was in town to receive the Tully Award for Free Speech on Tuesday evening at SU's Newhouse School of Public Communication. Cacho, 45, is an investigative print reporter, with a background in radio and TV, who wrote a series of articles for the newspaper "Por Esto" in Canc n about child trafficking, sexual tourism and the political protection afforded to organized crime in that upscale resort.

After Random House Mexico asked her to write a book, she published these findings in 2005 as "Los Demonios del Ed (c)n" (Demons of Eden: The Power that Protects Child Pornography). In particular Cacho focused on the fates of some 200 children at the hands of Jean Succar Kuri, the wealthy Lebanese owner of Sol y Mer Villas resort, and his cohort, international textile magnate Kamel Nacif. Nacif had a well-established relationship with Mario Mar n, governor of the state of Puebla, where some of his plants were located. Eight months later, at Mar n's orders -- Nacif was suing her for defamation, then a criminal charge that could put her in prison -- Cacho was arrested, driven across Mexico and on the way tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to force her to recant her work. Last Monday, Cacho was clear that her captors would simply have killed her in the end -- she recounted in chilling detail a cell phone call and the terse phrase "change of plans" that interrupted their stop at a dark beach -- had not a network of callers from Amnesty International, PEN International and other groups bombarded both Mar n and the media, and one friendly state senator showed up at the Puebla jail holding Cacho.

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