“No to Si­lence”: Mex­i­can Jour­nal­ists Fight Back

Trillions - - In This Issue -

Mex­ico's largest in­dus­try by far is the drug trade, at an es­ti­mated $35 bil­lion each year. Fight­ing drug gangs and tak­ing bribes from them is an­other mas­sive in­dus­try.

The drug trade has rad­i­cally al­tered Mex­ico as a na­tion and robbed it of hope for a fu­ture.

Caught in the mid­dle are or­di­nary Mex­i­cans and the jour­nal­ists who try to re­port on what is hap­pen­ing to their coun­try.

The as­sas­si­na­tion of vet­eran re­porter Javier Valdez on May 15 has launched an un­prece­dented re­sponse to do some­thing about jour­nal­ists’ deaths from the drug wars. This time, that re­sponse is not com­ing from the au­thor­i­ties, though. It is com­ing from the jour­nal­ists them­selves.

Valdez was like one of many who had been tar­geted in Mex­ico. He ran and was the co-founder of the only in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per in Cu­li­acán, a town lo­cated in the cen­ter of where the Si­naloa cartel is si­t­u­ated and a ma­jor part of the coun­try’s drug war vi­o­lence has taken place. Just three months be­fore his death, Valdez had in­ter­viewed some­one close to Dá­maso López, a for­mer close ally of well-known drug lord “El Chapo” Guzmán. The story claimed that López had been plan­ning the takeover of ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the Si­naloa cartel, only to be cap­tured by au­thor­i­ties in early May.

The ru­mor of the story Valdez planned to put in print was enough to en­rage Guzmán’s sons. They warned Valdez not to pub­lish the in­ter­view, but he went ahead any­way, de­spite those warn­ings. He did so in part be­cause he was so pub­lic in what he was do­ing as well as one of the most highly re­spected in his craft.

That was not enough to pro­tect him. On May 15, Valdez’s car was am­bushed in broad day­light. He was yanked from his car and killed dur­ing day­light hours near his of­fice in Cu­li­acán. Few leads as to pre­cisely who killed him have been found, but those who know Valdez well be­lieve the Si­naloa cartel as well as cor­rupt Mex­i­can fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are likely be­hind the mur­der.

Jour­nal­ists in Mex­ico who have ag­gres­sively in­ves­ti­gated cor­rup­tion in the govern­ment and the drug car­tels have paid dearly for their ef­forts. Since the year 2000, the Mex­i­can govern­ment has of­fi­cially logged 114 mur­ders of jour­nal­ists. Yet it has in­ves­ti­gated only 48 of these and only three sen­tences have re­sulted from those in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Be­sides the 114 jour­nal­ists killed since 2000, those that sur­vived were threat­ened on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. A hu­man rights re­port on the mat­ter, pre­pared by the U.S.

State Depart­ment, said: “Jour­nal­ists were some­times sub­ject to phys­i­cal at­tacks, ha­rass­ment, and in­tim­i­da­tion due to their re­port­ing. Per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lence against jour­nal­ists con­tin­ued to act with im­punity with few re­ports of suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ar­rest, or prose­cu­tion of sus­pects.”

While the jour­nal­ists fought their bat­tles with words and the drug cartel with bul­lets, the Mex­i­can govern­ment, rid­dled with cor­rup­tion in its ranks, was hav­ing lit­tle suc­cess do­ing much of any­thing to stop the drug busi­ness.

The United States Makes a Mess of Things in Mex­ico

The United States, home of many of the even­tual users and buy­ers of the il­le­gal drugs brought out of Mex­ico, has stepped up ef­forts to stop some of the car­tels. Many, how­ever, see what the United States has done as hav­ing at best stirred up the bloody fight­ing in the drug wars there and at worst hav­ing pro­vided aid to some of those re­spon­si­ble for those drugs.

Part of the U.S. ap­proach, re­vealed both in de­clas­si­fied State Depart­ment doc­u­ments and govern­ment leaks, has been to arm and fund the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary over the years to fight the drug wars, while also arm­ing the car­tels.

This in­cluded what has been named the Mérida Ini­tia­tive, a pro­gram co-de­vel­oped in 2007 by for­mer Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderón and then U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. It was launched in 2008 as a “se­cu­rity as­sis­tance pro­gram and counter-drug aid pack­age.” Since that time, it has ex­panded sig­nif­i­cantly un­der Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton and even con­tin­ues to­day in full force, fu­eled in part by Don­ald Trump’s fiery an­tag­o­nism to­ward Mex­ico over many is­sues.

The money the United States has paid for this pro­gram runs to at least $2.6 bil­lion and likely more. It in­cludes funds used di­rectly by the Pen­tagon and the Jus­tice Depart­ment, but much of it rolls through U.s.-based se­cu­rity firms that pro­vide – at high prof­its and there­fore high costs to Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers – so­phis­ti­cated train­ing for Mex­i­can se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions along with a va­ri­ety of kinds of equip­ment. That equip­ment in­cludes ad­vanced he­li­copters, in­tel­li­gence equip­ment, armed ve­hi­cles, sur­veil­lance air­craft, night-vi­sion sys­tems and satel­lite tech­nol­ogy. An­other bil­lion dol­lars or so is also pro­vided to Mex­ico, with the bless­ing of Un­cle Sam north of the bor­der via weapons con­trac­tors in the form of di­rect sales of arms and mu­ni­tions.

As to how these were to be used, the United States asked Mex­ico to pur­sue a “kill or cap­ture” tar­get­ing strat­egy against the drug-cartel lead­ers in Mexi- co. It even bor­rowed a few tricks from the so-called “high-value tar­get­ing,” or “HVT,” op­er­a­tions used in the past two decades in Iraq, Afghanistan and more.

Like those strate­gies in the Mid­dle East, the ap­proaches the United States brought to Mex­ico – and bought and paid for with Amer­i­can tax­payer funds – of­ten ended up mostly stir­ring the hor­net’s nests of the drug car­tels with­out killing most of them. As noted in for­merly clas­si­fied files on one ex­am­ple of this – files re­leased un­der a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest – in 2010 one of those high-value killings, of Ig­na­cio “Na­cho” Coronel Vil­lar­real, who was one of the Si­naloa cartel’s four main lead­ers, ended up light­ing the fuse to a ma­jor in­crease in fight­ing af­ter­wards in 2010. That fight­ing was be­tween the Ze­tas and other or­ga­nized crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions who saw an op­por­tu­nity in the void and the re­main­ing Si­naloa cartel forces who fought to re­tain their ground.

As the United States in­vested fur­ther, it stum­bled fur­ther into what it was at­tempt­ing to do and cre­ated even more trou­ble. In 2010, drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions flour­ished in the face of what U.S. Em­bassy of­fi­cials called “com­pro­mised lo­cal se­cu­rity forces” in the north­east­ern part of Mex­ico. Yet the United States con­tin­ued to flow weapons and mil­i­tary war­fare into the re­gion, of­ten end­ing up train­ing some stage and lo­cal of­fi­cials al­ready in the pock­ets of the Ze­tas. The re­volv­ing door out of the Mex­i­can po­lit­i­cal, po­lice and mil­i­tary forces con­tin­ued in the back­ground, with oc­ca­sional ar­rests of re­tired law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in places like Nuevo León mostly only shin­ing a light on how the United States was in fact as­sist­ing the cor­rupt to be more suc­cess­ful in their crimes.

As an­other ex­am­ple of the United States cre­at­ing more havoc just by its in­volve­ment, take the case of what is known as the Al­lende mas­sacre. The U.S. Drug En­force­ment Agency (DEA) had man­aged to con­vince a mem­ber of the Ze­tas group to get them the cell­phone iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers for two of that group’s most wanted: Miguel Án­gel Tre­viño Mo­rales and his brother Omar. The DEA, see­ing an op­por­tu­nity, shared the in­for­ma­tion se­cured from those cell­phones with a Mex­i­can po­lice unit al­ready flagged for in­ter­nal cor­rup­tion and leaks to the cartel. Then that in­for­ma­tion got leaked.

The Tre­viño Mo­rales broth­ers, know­ing some­one had be­trayed them and hav­ing a good idea of who had done it, then launched their own mini-war re­sult­ing in the bru­tal tor­ture and killing of those they sus­pected of leak­ing the in­for­ma­tion, along with their fam­i­lies and any­one else close to them.

The vengeance the broth­ers ex­acted on those who had

spilled the in­for­ma­tion to the DEA was quick, sav­age and bru­tal. As José Juan Mo­rales, the in­ves­tiga­tive di­rec­tor for “the dis­ap­peared,” as they are called, in the Coahuila State Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice, de­scribed it, “We have tes­ti­mony from people who say they par­tic­i­pated in the crime. They de­scribe some 50 trucks ar­riv­ing in Al­lende, car­ry­ing people con­nected to the cartel. They broke into houses and looted and burned them. Af­ter­wards, they kid­napped the people who lived in those houses and took them to a ranch just out­side of Al­lende. First, they killed them. They put them in­side a stor­age shed filled with hay. They doused them with fuel and lit them on fire, feed­ing the flames for hours and hours.”

The Rise of Indige­nous Power and the Evo­lu­tion of the Za­p­atis­tas

In the face of the Mex­i­can drug wars and govern­ment cor­rup­tion, some have sought out other ways to deal with the cri­sis. A re­cent one came in the form of the se­lec­tion of María de Jesús Pa­tri­cio “Marichui” Martinez, a prom­i­nent indige­nous leader in the coun­try, as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date rep­re­sent­ing the Na­tional Indige­nous Con­gress in the next Mex­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, in 2018.

What makes the choice of Martinez so un­usual was that she will be backed this time by the Za­p­atista Army of Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion, most com­monly known by the Span­ish acro­nym EZLN. The Za­p­atis­tas have fought against the Mex­i­can state and its cor­rupt pol­i­tics for over two decades, first be­com­ing known in­ter­na­tion­ally when they at­tacked sev­eral Mex­i­can mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions on Jan­uary 1, 1994, on be­half of the indige­nous peo­ples against NAFTA and con­di­tions in Mex­ico. While the Za­p­atis­tas have made some progress in fight­ing for their causes, they have seen mas­sive re­pres­sion from the Mex­i­can and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, pri­vate landown­ers and others and have had to op­er­ate as outlaws of the state.

This time, they are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent path and have cho­sen to sup­port Martinez to drive a ma­jor change in the way pol­i­tics is run in the coun­try. Martinez, who has strong back­ing from the indige­nous peo­ples across the coun­try, is a tra­di­tional doc­tor in her lo­cal town of Tux­pan, a Nahua com­mu­nity in the state of Jalisco. She also founded Calli Tecol­hua­cateca Tochan, an im­por­tant health cen­ter there since 1992, and is a long-term leader of her people.

The Jour­nal­ists Fight Back

For the jour­nal­ists who con­tinue to fight their own dan­ger­ous war of words against the drug car­tels, work­ing with the govern­ment to stop their killings and find jus- tice for those who have died has been fruit­less, for the most part. With the govern­ment it­self im­pli­cated in the crimes and few will­ing to have the courage to face those re­spon­si­ble for the deaths, re­porters across the af­fected re­gions have banded to­gether to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion.

From June 14 to 16, over 400 of those jour­nal­ists came to­gether in Mex­ico City to dis­cuss how best to deal with their at­tack­ers and to cre­ate plans for all. As the Agenda de Pe­ri­odis­tas (Jour­nal­ists’ Agenda) web­site (agen­dade­pe­ri­odis­tas.mx) de­scribes the gath­er­ing, “Given the con­text of sys­temic vi­o­lence against jour­nal­ists … we in­vite all people in­ter­ested to par­tic­i­pate in build­ing an agenda with short- and medium-term goals to pro­tect jour­nal­ists.”

The event was pulled to­gether by Hor­i­zon­tal Dig­i­tal and as­sisted in fa­cil­i­ta­tion by Fun­dación Ci­u­dadano In­teligente of Chile. It was struc­tured in the form of six work­ing groups, all in­volved in how to pro­tect jour­nal­ists and the crit­i­cal need for free­dom of ex­pres­sion in Mex­ico. Many ap­proaches were dis­cussed, and more will be con­sid­ered in the days to come, with one par­tic­i­pant, jour­nal­ist Marcela Tu­rati Muñoz, who de­scribed it well when she said that “these di­a­logues have raised the an­chor and filled the sail, ready to nav­i­gate the dream barely be­gun.”

What the move­ment and the gath­er­ing did ac­com­plish was to bring those jour­nal­ists chal­leng­ing the crimes around them to­gether.

Javier Valdez, the jour­nal­ist whose death gal­va­nized the new move­ment to hap­pen, was equally driven to do some­thing big about the bru­tal­ity and cor­rup­tion sur­round­ing the deaths of his col­leagues. When Miroslava Breach Vel­ducea, a jour­nal­ist as­so­ciate, was as­sas­si­nated in March just like he was later, he said, per­haps fate­fully but in words that are burned into all in his pro­fes­sion now: “Let them kill us all, if that is the death sen­tence for re­port­ing this hell. No to si­lence.”

Amer­i­cans won't stop tak­ing il­le­gal drugs and em­pow­er­ing the deadly drug car­tels so the only so­lu­tion is to le­gal­ize and reg­u­late nar­cotics. By mak­ing them le­gal but taxed the drug trade can go from a hor­rific drain on so­ci­ety and source of mis­ery and death to a sig­nif­i­cant source of rev­enue for ad­dic­tion treat­ment pro­grams.

Photo by John S. and James L. Knight Foun­da­tion, CC

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