Mexican newspaper takes stand against drug cartels

Members of the Mexican police carry a dead man inside a garage in Ciudad Juarez where five corpses were found. Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. Photo: Getty (Alcazar)

The murder of a photography intern at a prominent Mexican newspaper earlier this month has finally prompted Mexican media to stand up to the drug cartels

Members of the Mexican police carry a dead man inside a garage in Ciudad Juarez where five corpses were found. Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. Photo: Getty (Alcazar)

The murder of a photography intern at a prominent Mexican newspaper earlier this month has finally prompted Mexican media to stand up to the drug cartels.

The Ciudad Juárez paper, El Diario, addressed an editorial on its front page to the leaders of organized crime concerning the murder of the intern that read, “We want you to explain to us what you want from us.”

Border violence surrounding the trade of drugs and weapons has crippled the area where Mexico and the U.S. meet, but Ciudad Juárez, a border town paired with El Paso, Texas, has seen more than its fair share of death.

The intern, Luís Carlos Santiago, at least 30 additional journalists since 2006, thousands of Mexican citizens, democracy and free press have all fallen to the strong grip that drug lords have over our neighbor to the south.

El Diario is one of the last Mexican media outlets with a voice. Drug lords count on the media to report their exploits on front pages every morning. It’s essentially free publicity.

But the Mexican government is desperate for a good rep as well, and if news outlets only put splashy headlines of murder and homicide on their front pages day in and day out, people are bound to start believing them.

Organized crime drives tens of thousands of frightened border residents away every year, and Ciudad Juárez now looks like a ghost town.

El Diario, frustrated by conflicting interests, made its entire front page an open letter to drug lords the day after Santiago’s funeral.

An excerpt reads, “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. What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by?”

Never before has anyone from the Mexican media confronted the cartels, or undermined the government, so directly. But it represents long-building animosity toward the violence that has scared so many of El Diario’s counterparts into silence.

Santiago and another unidentified photography intern were in a car in a shopping mall parking lot when gunmen attacked Sept. 16. They later left a note hung on a street corner warning that police would share the same fate as Santiago.

It makes one wonder: What picture had Santiago just snapped? Who, and what, did he catch in an undesirable act? Why did he pay for it with his life?

President Felipe Calderón has since pledged renewed support to help the media, but El Diario journalists are skeptical. Since Calderón waged military action against the cartels four years ago, 28,000 people have lost their lives.

In Ciudad Juárez, only about 3 percent of those murder cases actually go to trial. According to the paper’s editor, Gerardo Rodriguez, reporters aren’t waiting for the government’s help. El Diario writers now wear bulletproof vests and some have recently taken out life insurance policies.

A journalist’s foremost obligation is to tell the truth, but as border violence grows more and more serious, there is no longer any guarantee that anyone will be left to report what happens in Mexico. The Committee to Protect Journalists found “vast self-censorship” to be occurring among Mexican media outlets.

Frankly, this comes as no surprise. Most are not prepared to die for their job, especially not a 21-year-old intern.
What I hope survives the drug war, for the sake of the Mexican people, is free thought and expression.

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