Travel Writers' Resources
|Mexico Paper, a Drug War Victim, Calls for a Voice|
Randal C. Archibold - New York Times
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September 21, 2010
Mexico City - It was by turns defiant and deferential, part plea and part plaint, a message as much to the drug gangs with a firm grip on Ciudad Juárez, the bloodiest city in Mexico's drug battles, as to the authorities and their perceived helplessness.
|The funeral of Luís Carlos Santiago, 21, an intern at El Diario in Ciudad Juárez who was killed. (Alejandro Bringas/Reuters)|
"We want you to explain to us what you want from us," the front-page editorial in El Diario in Ciudad Juárez asked the leaders of organized crime. "What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling."
In Mexico's drug wars, it is hard to pinpoint new lows as the atrocities and frustrations mount. But Ciudad Juárez belongs in its own category, with thousands killed each year, the exodus of tens of thousands of residents, the spectacle of the biggest national holiday last week observed in a square virtually devoid of anybody but the police and soldiers, and the ever-present fear of random death.
The question now is whether anyone there will dare to continue documenting the turmoil in Ciudad Juárez, a smuggling crossroads across from El Paso that is battled over by at least two major criminal organizations.
El Diario's open letter to the city's drug lords and the authorities it believes have failed to protect the public ran Sunday, the day after the funeral of Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, a photography intern at the paper who was shot dead while leaving a shopping mall after lunch. A car drove up. A barrage of bullets. Mr. Santiago, shot in the head, died instantly while another intern, who was wounded, stumbled and dragged himself to safety in the mall and is recuperating.
All along the border, news organizations have silenced themselves out of fear and intimidation from drug trafficking organizations, but El Diario had a reputation for carrying on - and paying a price. One of its reporters was gunned down two years ago.
Had Mr. Santiago snapped some offending picture? Was it the car he was driving, which belonged to a friend who happens to be a prominent state human rights official? Was it related to a run-in with other young people he reportedly had weeks ago?
The Mexican government, while condemning acts of aggression against journalists and dismissing the idea of striking truces or negotiating with criminal organizations, highlighted the theory of the run-in on Monday, saying state prosecutors were looking at some personal grievance as the "probable motive."
But officials made no mention of the common calling card of Mexico's drug gangs: a message left hanging on a street corner warning the police that they would meet the same fate as Mr. Santiago.
Such investigations have a history of shifting theories and little resolution. The killing of Armando Rodríguez Carreón, the police reporter for El Diario shot dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter in 2008, remains unsolved; the investigation suffered a devastating setback when the lead prosecutor on the case was killed as well.
"There is a record of impunity in these cases that is frankly staggering," said Joel Simon, executive director the Committee to Protect Journalists, which in a report this month chronicled the deaths and disappearances of more than 30 journalists in the four years since fighting among the groups intensified.
For its part, El Diario editors sought to clarify that they were not surrendering to the drug gangs but that they might modify their approach.
While its editorial called for a truce between crime groups and the media - noting that "even in war there are rules" that "safeguard the integrity of the journalists who cover them" - the paper insisted on Monday that it would not back down.
"We will not stop coverage," Pedro Torres, the assistant editor, said in a radio interview. "But we also have to assure ourselves that this doesn't happen again, because two deaths now is paying too much for something we didn't ask for. We are going to wait for a reaction not just from those the column was directed at, but we hope it sounds an alarm bell in the public's conscience."
Altogether, more than 28,000 people have been killed in the nearly four years since President Felipe Calderón began his offensive against the nation's drug organizations, with the gangs escalating fights over turf and dominance as the federal police and military try to stamp them out.
As the violence continues, few in the public sphere have proven off limits to it. On Wednesday, some international organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, are scheduled to meet with Mr. Calderón to demand more protection for the journalists who cover the nation and its drug war, many of whom have succumbed to self-censorship as a means of survival.
Acts against news organizations this year have included the kidnapping of four journalists, who were released after one station broadcast videos that their abductors demanded be played on air, and a car bomb detonating last month outside a regional office of Televisa, the leading national network.
Since February 2006, Mexico has had a federal prosecutor in charge of investigating crimes against journalists. Gustavo Salas Chávez, a former Mexico City prosecutor, took over the position in February, but he declined to comment on the Ciudad Juárez case.
Since the special prosecutor's office was formed, it has opened 68 investigations, according to its most recent report. Only one of those so far has resulted in a conviction.