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Journalism in Mexico Is a Dangerous Business

New America Media, News Report, Jos Luis Sierra Posted: May 09, 2009

Editor's Note: No one knows exactly why journalist Armando Rodriguez was gunned down at his home in Ciudad Juarez last November. But his colleagues believe it was a warning to the rest of the local media that writing about drug cartels is a dangerous business. Six months later, journalists are still scared about talking about their experiences reporting. NAM contributor Jos Luis Sierra interviewed reporters in Ciudad Juarez who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Being a journalist in Ciudad Juarez is a very unhealthy proposition.

Sometimes we know who did it, but we also know authorities arent going to do anything, so why risk it? Thats the gist of the situation in this city, according to a reporter who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity. He has been a journalist for almost 30 years and works for one of the citys two leading newspapers. But he also has a family to take care of.
Armando Rodriguez Armando Rodriguez
Photo courtesy of El Diario de Juarez

No story is worth a life, and we all know it. But even with all the precautions we had casualties, he says, referring to the case of Armando Rodriguez, a journalist from El Diario de Juarez, who was killed in November of last year as he was leaving his home. Like thousands of casualties in the war against the drug cartels, to this day the case is technically under investigation, a term used by authorities to stave off questioning.

Friends and family of the victim have even appealed to the highest authority, President Felipe Caldern, but as with the claims of the more than 40 journalists killed since 2000, there has been no response.

When we realize that coming out with some kind of information could jeopardize our safety, we use staff as the byline, to cover our identities. But we never know where the beast is going to attack. Sometimes we have to be careful about the questions because you never know if its going to bring you deadly consequences, adds another colleague, who also prefers not to be identified.

This is a job where death threats are an almost daily event. For many of us, its like a confirmation that we are doing our job, says a young reporter who claims she is still learning the ropes.

Learning the ropes means staying clear of trouble, and in order to do that, reporters must develop a special sense of the kinds of questions it is safe to ask.

No one knows exactly why Rodriguez was gunned down while getting into his car in the early morning of November 13, 2008, as he was getting ready to drop off his daughters at school and go to work. But several of his colleagues believe he was just a scapegoat to warn the rest of the local media that reporting on drug cartels could get you in trouble.

We all work under pressure and we cant really trust anyone. We manage to let people know whats going on, but its practically impossible to investigate. Public officials just give you the run around or the prepared statement. Its true that journalism has changed in Mexico, but we are far from presenting all the facts of what is going on. It is just not safe, says A.D. in a phone interview.

Ciudad Juarez first got worldwide attention because of its high number of femicides. Official figures register more than 400 women killed there since 1993. However, while some of these cases are related to organized crime, just last year, more than 1,500 people were killed in Juarez, and authorities have not found the perpetrators.

Three former mayors of the city recently declared that a lack of resources makes it impossible for the local government to deal with organized crime.

It is impossible for the local government to deal with this problem under the current circumstances. No major or municipal government can deal with it without the judicial, or the budget support, Ramon Galindo Noriega, former mayor of Juarez, said at an April 24 roundtable.

Most local political figures agree that organized crime is so entrenched in the government here that arrests only result in small-time dealers, while the drug cartel leaders are safe.

Weve tried to clean house. But the bottom line is that we turn the cases over to the federal government and then everything stops, or its out of our jurisdiction, adds Galindo.

The PGR (federal attorney generals office), declined to speak with New America Media, and even sent a guard to escort the reporter out of the building.

Its a waste of time to ask. They never want to talk, said a local reporter who agreed to talk but was afraid to give his name.

The fact of the matter is that we turned suspected criminals over to the PGR, but sooner or later they were released. There is a very high degree of corruption, said Galindo.

The level of corruption is so high that a local Mexican police chief, Saulo Reyes, was arrested at the border after trying to smuggle marijuana into the United States, according to public records.

Galindo, now a state senator, is a longtime PAN (National Action Party) member. Like most of the Panistas, he claims that the majority of the drug cartels are associated with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the party that ruled the country for more than four decades.

The narcos dont have loyalties to anyone. They deal with whoever is in power and have a very special tool to do it. They offer you a choice: silver (money), or lead (bullets), said a reporter from the newspaper El Norte. 

Related Articles:

Is Mexico's War on Drugs Unconstitutional?

Militarys Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorizes Civilians

A City Under Siege

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