Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mexican journalist’s courage to be honored with Wallenberg Medal

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a Mexican journalist, feminist and human rights activist, uncovered the most sordid secret of Cancún, the idyllic vacation resort, when she denounced a child prostitution and trafficking ring hidden in luxury hotels that was organized by businessmen and protected by politicians and thugs.

In recognition of Cacho’s determination to defend powerless children and women from violence and exploitation and to insist on her right and responsibility to write the truth, she will be presented with the U-M Wallenberg Medal at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in Rackham Auditorium. After receiving the medal, Cacho will deliver the Wallenberg Lecture.

Cacho’s book “The Demons of Eden” (2005), which captured national and international attention, details the role of the businessman Kamel Nacif Borge, known as the “King of Denim,” in protecting Jean Succar Kuri, an associate and hotel owner implicated in the operation of a child prostitution and trafficking ring. The book brought nationwide attention to systemic corruption involving powerful business interests, politicians, law enforcement and judges.

After publication of her book, Cacho was arrested, beaten and threatened with rape. Taped conversations between the governor of the state of Puebla and Nacif Borge, in which they discussed plans for her detention, including the threat of rape, subsequently were published in the press, causing national outrage.

Cacho became the first woman in Mexico to file a federal lawsuit against government and judicial officials for corruption. By a narrow vote, the Mexican Supreme Court rejected the report of its own commission and dismissed her case, resulting in a renewed public outcry. The perpetrators in turn accused her of defamation, but the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the content of her book was true.

According to International PEN and Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists and writers. Since 2000, 55 journalists have been killed and eight disappeared. Many have been forced into exile. Despite ongoing threats to her life and harassment, Cacho remains a determined and outspoken journalist and activist. She directs CIAM, a community-based organization in Cancún that works to bring attention to sexual exploitation and violence against women and children, and aid to its victims.

Cacho has received wide recognition for her work as a humanitarian and a journalist, including the State Journalists Prize in 2000, the Amnesty International Ginetta Sagan Award for Women and Children’s Rights in 2007 and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Freedom of Expression Award in 2008.

The Raoul Wallenberg Endowment, established in 1985, recognizes those whose courageous actions call to mind Wallenberg’s extraordinary accomplishments and values. A 1935 graduate of the U-M College of Architecture, Wallenberg, as a Swedish diplomat, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II.