"Explain to Us What You Want from Us" -- Mexican Newspaper Asks Drug Cartels for Publishing Guidelines
JUAN GONZALEZ: In Mexico, the editors of a local newspaper in the town of Ciudad Juárez have set off a national debate after they published a front-page editorial directly addressing the drug cartels that have terrorized the city. El Diario de Juárez published the editorial on Sunday, days after a young photographer at the paper was shot dead as he covered celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s revolution for independence from Spain. The victim, twenty-one-year-old Luis Carlos Santiago, was the second reporter from El Diario to be killed in the drug violence that has besieged Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: In the editorial, the editors of the newspapers directly addressed the drug cartels. They write, quote, "Explain to us what you want from us, 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." They go on to write, quote, "It is impossible for us to do our job under these conditions. Tell us, then, what you expect from us, as a newspaper...This is not a surrender. This is about a truce with those who have imposed the force of their law in this city, so that you will respect the lives of those who dedicate themselves to the job of informing the public."
JUAN GONZALEZ: Pedro Torres, the top news editor of El Diario, defended the decision to address the drug cartels directly.
PEDRO TORRES: [translated] If the authorities aren’t able to give us the guarantees to carry out our work, if the authorities can’t guarantee the safety of our citizens, or that they have the right to be informed, then we want to know who can. If it’s them, then we want them to tell us how. That is the first intention. But we also want to create awareness and create a positive reaction.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The editorial touched a nerve across Mexico as the country reels from violence in a drug war that has claimed more than 28,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón took office more than three-and-a-half years ago. More than 6,000 people have been killed in Ciudad Juárez alone.
Many news organizations in Mexico have all but stopped reporting about the cartel violence. More than thirty media workers have been murdered or disappeared since December 2006, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. They write, quote, "As vast self-censorship takes hold, Mexico’s future as a free and democratic society is at risk."
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two Juárez journalists. Joining us on the telephone from Juárez is Julián Cardona, an award-winning journalist and photographer who’s been reporting on border issues from Ciudad Juárez over the past seventeen years. He writes for the Mexico City bureau of Reuters and has collaborated on several books with writer Charles Bowden. Joining us from Vancouver in Canada is Luis Horacio Nájera. He spent a decade reporting in Ciudad Juárez and along the Mexican-US border for La Reforma. He and his family were forced to flee Juárez in late 2008. He was recently granted refugee status in Canada. He has just received an International Press Freedom Award from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go down first to Juárez to talk about what exactly is happening there. Julián Cardona, can you talk about the situation and the letter, the appeal, the editorial, that has just been released?
JULIÁN CARDONA: What happens here is we have almost a hundred percent of impunity in the city. El Diario recently published a study last month where it was stated that only three percent of the homicides—[inaudible] more than 2,000—are under investigation, not even that they are solved, but that only three percent of those murders are under investigation. What we are seeing now in Juárez is what is [inaudible] impunity is the only thing that happens in the city. We have been under this for three years—more than 6,000 homicides. In fact, 6,600 homicides we have had in this city. And what we are seeing now is that the state has been replaced for a kind of parallel state, which charges taxes to people, to businessmen. They charge quarter—a fee for operating, cooperating. Most of the business have been—have moved to El Paso to—many people have fled. And this has led to Ciudad is under discomposition. That’s basically what is happening in the city.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Julián Cardona, given the fact that the President of Mexico has brought so many troops into the streets and federal agents, why is the violence continuing to spiral, even under the eyes of so many law enforcement agents?
JULIÁN CARDONA: Well, we have the answer by themselves several weeks ago. A group of federal police protested against their bosses and described in detail the way they operate and how they kidnap people or how they open the area for killers or for drug groups to move drugs in the city, and how they are blaming innocent citizens, civilians, and being put in jail and being drugged by the federal forces. And it was said by themselves. It was transmitted live, nationwide. So I don’t have to add anything. They are describing how—they describe how the federal police operate.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Luis Horacio Nájera into the conversation. You’ve just been granted refugee status in Canada. Describe your experience reporting in Juárez until you left at the end of 2008.
LUIS HORACIO NÁJERA: Good morning.
Well, as Julián described it perfectly, the situation for journalists in—not just in Ciudad Juárez, I would say in basically all over the border, the US-Mexico border, but there are some hot spots, I would say, where generally Ciudad Juárez is one of them. The situation for journalists is—it’s complicated. And the thing is, we are seeing now an eruption of violence against the press, but I would say the violence against journalists in the border is—sadly, it’s a common issue, because, Julián could say, for many, many years, we, as journalists, we have to face threats, we have to face attacks, we have to face intimidation from both the drug or the criminal organizations and the authorities, as well. So the problem is that now, since 2008, 2007, in Ciudad Juárez, that things have become worse because of this federal effort to, they say, to try to catch these mafia bosses or try to fight against the criminal organizations. And this brings to the city a lot of impunity and a lot of—the sense that you as a journalist are not safe any place, because sometimes—or it’s quite common that you are trying to take some pictures, trying to get some information, and the authorities or criminal organizations, hit men, they follow you, they try to take out your cameras or whatever, your equipment. And these kind of things are becoming worse with—through this—I would say, through 2007, but the worst is 2008 from now. I mean, the situation is, it’s very—it’s hard. And several journalists are—as myself, we had to fled from Mexico. Just in El Paso, Texas now, there are three people asking for asylum. And in several places are journalists trying to flee, or now they are trying to find refuge.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Luis Horacio, you fled and sought asylum in 2008. You wrote at one point, "I sometimes think that I was like a frog in an experiment, placed in water whose temperature is raised bit by bit until it dies." Could you talk about some of your personal experiences and why you decided to flee your homeland?
LUIS HORACIO NÁJERA: Well, basically, I—as you mentioned, the text that I wrote this special report for Committee to Protect Journalists, basically I was caught between two fires, I would say. At one point, in the middle of 2008, I was doing some investigations, journalistic investigations, regarding the powerful or the arise of this by national gangs that operates in both sides of the border of Mexico and US. And in that moment, there was a massacre of several gangsters inside of the rehab center in Ciudad Juárez. When I was there taking notes and pictures and getting information, several witnesses told me that when the hit man came to this rehab center, they were protected by military, and they said that at least one car or one patrol, undercover patrol from the local state police. That was the first—after that, I started to being followed. I started to be harassed.
And maybe toward two weeks later, I start another investigation that—regarding the abuses from the militaries who supposedly came to Chihuahua to fight against the narco-traffickers. But on that time, September 2008, the Human Rights Commission in the state, they had documented around a hundred-and-something of announces for kidnaps, illegal kidnaps, torture, lots of abuses, human rights.
So I had a police officer, a source of mine. He was well known among all this investigation and things. He just let me a—he gave me a warning, and he said that I need to be very careful, because he had some information about these militaries are mad with me because they don’t like to be under this kind of investigation. So, at one point, I noticed that my phone was tapped. My wife, one day she was followed, and just outside of the house, two men were always following her. They just park outside of the house and made some—with their hands, they made some signs trying to—we think that it’s kind of a intimidation. So I—well, I’ve been a journalist for eighteen years. So, in my experience and information that I got, I think that—I thought that there’s a point that you can be risking your life or risking your family’s life, so that’s why we decided to flee.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Luis Horacio Nájera, just granted refugee status in Canada—he lives in Vancouver now, was a reporter in Juárez—and Julián Cardona, reporting still from Ciudad Juárez, has been for the last seventeen years. We’ll come back them after break, and then we’ll speak with the well-known public intellectual, former foreign minister of Mexico, Jorge Castañeda. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour on Mexico and US drug policy towards Mexico. Our guests are Luis Horacio Nájera, just granted refugee status in Vancouver, Canada. Julián Cardona is with us from Ciudad Juárez. Over the past seventeen years, he writes for the Mexico City bureau of Reuters and has collaborated on several books with Charles Bowden, who we’ve had on Democracy Now!, doing this story today as one reporter after another is injured or gunned down—the latest, Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco.
Julián Cardona, did you know him? He was twenty-one years old.
JULIÁN CARDONA: I met him a couple of days before his killing. He was very young. I have a very good relationship, a friendship relationship with my colleagues of Diario, because I work for Diario. We both, Luis Horacio and me, work for Diario sometime, and we worked together doing reporting. He may remember that time. And I met this young Luis Carlos Santiago a couple of days before his killing. I called my friend Ernesto Rodriguez, who is an old photographer for El Diario, and we just met to just share some drinks on the middle of the day, at noon. And we were talking, and he was there. I have seen him before, but this was my first chance to speak with him, to talk to him. And it was just very casual, nothing like—and they were sending their photographs, filing their photographs to the newspaper from a convenience store. They were having some food. And that’s why—how I met this young photojournalist.
And when I heard—I heard the shots from my house, because he was killed a couple of blocks away from my house. And it’s an area where I hear sometimes shots. To give an example, next night after his killing, I heard—at 3:24, I heard shots of another killing. Next day I learned eight men were killed in a bar.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Julián Cardona, President Felipe Calderón announced this week that he is now going to be seeking federal penalties for people who kill journalists, something that many journalists—not only in Mexico, but throughout Latin America—have been urging him to do. And he also announced finally the arrest of a suspect in the 2008 murder of another journalist, Armando Rodriguez. Do you think the government is doing enough—I mean, obviously now only in terms of the general drug war, but in terms of the specific problems of this impunity when it comes to the killing of journalists?
JULIÁN CARDONA: No, in fact, no. Any of the government moves to federalize things or to open new offices for protecting special groups has failed over the past years. And we are the same as the beginning. As I said before, the only thing that imports here in Juárez and in Mexico is impunity. While we have a hundred percent impunity in our country, nothing can protect anybody. And what we are seeing now in Juárez is nothing. The government cannot protect its citizens. It’s not just only journalists who are facing big danger in the city, but any common citizen. We are talking about a place where anybody can be the next victim—the kindergarten teacher, the mechanic, the vendor of the burritos stand, an architect, a doctor—everybody. And the President can say anything. He can say—he can promise everybody. But as Diario stated clearly, that the President of Mexico or the elected powers of Mexico cannot protect the citizens.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what’s been the impact of the violence on the general economy of—especially of northern Mexico, obviously, the situation with the maquiladoras that are still, many of them, in Juárez, with tourism? And I understand that a lot of people have fled Juárez in recent years.
JULIÁN CARDONA: Yes. There is an estimate from the local university, the University of Juárez, that put 220,000 people who have fled the city. And many have gone to the other Mexican states, and almost half, according to that study, has gone to the US. And we have entire districts empty. Like, to give you an idea, the Pronaf district is dying. All the businesses are closed. It was business for night life, doctors, dentists, curiosities. And there are many colonials, new colonials just erected under the Fox administration, who are now like ghost places. Specifically we have, to give an example, Rivera del Bravo, a place which is right on the border on the east side of Juárez. You find many, many empty houses with a lot of paintings by the gangs in the houses. And all the people—many of the people there are trying just to survive. Most of them are maquila workers. So you find many people, from professionals, professors, addicts—everybody has been a victim in the city. It is not proper to describe just this as a drug between cartels. This is bigger than a drug between cartels. This is much, much bigger than that.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you weighing leaving, Julián Cardona?
JULIÁN CARDONA: I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Are you considering leaving? How do you protect yourself as a reporter in Ciudad Juárez?
JULIÁN CARDONA: No, I’m not considering leaving. I’m a reporter, and I think Juárez is one of—among the best places to be reporting. And I think I’m not yet—I have not been targeted. But there are some things that you have to start to see before you decide to go. Like Luis Horacio described, when you are being followed, when the son of your colleagues is kidnapped, or—there are some things that alert you to go. And I have to remark Luis Horacio’s experience, because in many cases, the authorities are the mafia, much like in Horacio’s case and in many cases. And they usually blame the narcos. They are together, the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Luis Horacio, are you weighing returning ever to Juárez, or are you making your home now in Canada?
LUIS HORACIO NÁJERA: Well, that’s a good question, because I don’t see in the early future how the things are going to change in Mexico, not only in Juárez, just in Mexico, because, unfortunately, after the PRI, this political party who run the presidents for seventy years, after—when Vicente Fox won the presidency for the PAN, the states, the local, the state governments, became like small countries or fields, I’d say, where the governor is like, I would say, like a king in his own territory. And now, with this war that Felipe Calderón started against the organized crime and the war among the criminal organizations, the state governors, they have more power now inside of their own states. So, unfortunately, this is one of the bad experiences about—Mexicans are learning from democracy, because now you have governors from PRI, you have governors from PAN, you have governors from PRD, so—and each of these governors has a power—six years only, but it’s power, at the end. And they can’t—I don’t see in the future how these different forces, different interests, and even different relation with criminal organizations could end in a big effort from the government at all levels, from the municipal government to the federal government, to be united and to fight together, regardless the political opinions, against the organized crime. So I don’t see in the early future I can go back to Mexico. Now Canada gave me refugee, and this has been hard. This has been a hard experience. But, well, at the end, you are—here we are with my family. I’m alive, and my family is alive. So that’s my feelings now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Luis Horacio Nájera, just granted refugee status in Canada, speaking to us from Vancouver, and Julián Cardona, reporting from Ciudad Juárez still, over the past seventeen years writing for the Mexico City bureau of Reuters.