Deported Journalist Gianni Proiettis Speaks from Rome
By Al Giordano
(Gianni Proiettis with Mercedes Osuna in Chiapas, Mexico, in front of a military vehicle. Date of photo unknown.)
Ever wonder what it will be like to be deported from Mexico? Gianni Proiettis, the first journalist to be expelled by the Mexican regime since the 1990s (when the government of then-president Ernesto Zedillo kicked more than 400 journalists and human rights observers out of the country for having visited rebel indigenous Zapatista territory in Chiapas) today relates the story of his twenty-first century deportation.
Reached by Narco News on Sunday at the home of his sister in the Italian capital, Gianni – legal resident of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico since 1993, professor at the Autonomous University of Chiapas (UNACH, in its Spanish initials) and correspondent for the Italian Il Manifiesto newspaper with a weekly blog on its front page about Mexican news – narrated, step by step, his unexpected transatlantic journey.
“On Friday morning I went to the immigration offices in San Cristóbal to renew my FM2 visa like I do every year. I had already given them all the required papers,” Gianni begins. “Two days earlier the office director had called me and asked for my passport with an excuse that now they process the applications via Internet. I suggested that I bring her a photocopy. She said, no, she needed the original. I gave it to them last Wednesday.”
(Technically, a passport is property of the government that issues it, and no other government, under international law, has the right to take it away from a foreign citizen, one of the multiple irregularities in this case that may lead to Gianni’s eventual, or even swift, return to his home of eighteen years.)
“She gave me an appointment for Friday at 10:30 a.m. The only thing left to do was to pay the annual fee. I got there punctually at the hour she had given me. They had me waiting for more than an hour, while they let others ahead in line. Every five minutes or so an agent would come up to me and say ‘five minutes.’ Everything seemed normal. Then one said, ‘Can you come in here to the room on the right?’ When I entered that room, there were five men in uniforms of the National Immigration Institute. One of them said, ‘From this moment now, you are under our custody.’
“I had in my pocket a protective order that a judge had issued last December, preventing my arrest, that Mercedes Osuna had gotten for me. I called to the office director, but she had disappeared. She wouldn’t show her face. An officer said that my protective order had already expired. I said, ‘Then return it to me.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, it will be traveling with you.’ From that moment on, I never got my protective order back, nor the receipts that proved I had given them all the necessary documents to renew my annual visa. They had taken away the proof.
“They put me in a van with five immigration agents. It was preceded by a federal police cruiser which moved at high speed to the airport in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. They escorted me into the government section, and quickly to a small executive jet which brought a pilot, a copilot, two agents, and me to Mexico City.
“Ninety minutes later I was in the Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, again in the government area. They offered me a steak or a fish but I said, ‘no thanks, you have taken away my appetite.’ It was already getting dark. I didn’t have a watch so I can’t tell you what time it was.
“One of the immigration officials in Mexico City told me, ‘You are being deported because you did not renew your visa. We gave you an order to leave that you did not obey. So we have deported you.’ I told him that that was totally false. Nobody had ever given me an order to leave. They invented the accusation out of thin air."
Yet the San Cristóbal office of the National Immigration Institute had signed a receipt back on April 5 when Gianni submitted his visa renewal forms with all the necessary paperwork. That receipt was among the documents taken from him by immigration agents on Friday, and never returned. However, the national headquarters must surely have a computer record of those transactions (didn't the local delegate tell Gianni that "now they process the applications via the Internet"?). Somebody broke the law, and it wasn't Gianni Proiettis.
“Then they escorted me to an Aeromexico flight to Rome via Madrid. Two agents came with me on the plane. It was strange. What was I going to do, escape from the plane mid-flight? But they insisted, ‘We will bring you to Rome.’
“Thirteen hours later, in the Barajas International Airport of Madrid, they brought me to a police office. I was still under arrest by two Mexican immigration agents. I noted the illegality of the thing. How is it possible that two Mexican police are detaining me in a Spanish airport when I have no criminal charges or legal obligations in Spain, or Italy, or even in Mexico, where expulsion is an administrative process?
“I tried to explain this to the Spanish police, that I should be free to go right there. They said, ‘We always do it that way.’ I said, ‘This isn’t an extradition, it is a deportation, Mexico no longer has authority over me.’ It was totally absurd. I was in Spain, but I was not free to go.
“At 8 p.m. on Saturday night we boarded a plane for Rome, still with the two Mexican agents. Then they made us get off the plane. As individuals, we were already documented with boarding passes. Of course I had no luggage. But in cases like this there is another layer of bureaucracy. The Spaniards said, ‘you can’t leave, more papers need to be filled out. You have to wait until the morning.’ So we stayed in the offices of the police. There were cells in the basement with cots, but the Mexican agents and I all tried to sleep on some benches in the office area.
“At some point I convinced them to take me to the airport restaurant area. The Mexican agents were actually nice kids. So we ate there in the restaurant area. Then we tried to sleep a little on the benches. At 6:30 a.m. they took us in a van to below the airplane, and we boarded.”
After a journey that began on Friday morning, 10:30 a.m. Mexico time, in the immigration offices of his city, Gianni Proiettis landed in Rome on Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. Italian time (40 hours later). Gianni invited the two Mexican immigration agents to his sister’s house there, where they accepted the invitation for a coffee. (I would have gotten them drunk on limoncello, taken them to a bordello, and snapped some useful photographs, but Gianni, you can see, is a gentleman.) A little while later they left, and Gianni spoke with Narco News by telephone.
"But Gianni," I said, "remember back in the 1990s, when all our friends and colleagues who got expelled were given a letter by the Mexican government informing them that they had been banned from Mexican soil for a period of ten years? Did they give you any such letter? That letter is a very valuable thing. You could then use it for the opening chapter of what would surely be your international bestselling book titled, 'BANNED IN MEXICO!'"
“No,” he answered. “I signed a paper that confirmed they had returned my passport to me, and that was all.”
“Al, when will you be in San Cristóbal again so we can spend some time together?” Gianni asked.
“Because,” he added, matter-of-factly, “that is where you will find me.”