Mexican Drug Cartels Threaten Freedom Of Press; Bilateral Solution Needed, Panel Says

October 20, 2010 6:30 am 1 comment

Mexican Journalist Carmen Aristegui.

NEW YORK — Luis Carlos Santiago’s last moments were spent in a shopping mall parking lot in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez.

Around two in the afternoon on September 16, Santiago, a photographer for the Ciudad Juárez newspaper El Diario, was on his way to lunch along with his colleague Carlos Sánchez Colunga when gun fire erupted in the parking.

Moments later Santiago lay dead in the car, while Colunga struggled for for his life.

No suspects were named by local authorities, but many pointed the finger at Mexico’s drug cartels that battle daily over the city. Three day’s later, in a shocking move, El Diario ran a Sunday editorial asking the cartels what the newspaper should do.

“We’d like you to know that we’re communicators, not psychics. As such, as information workers, we ask that you explain what it is you want from us, what you’d intend for us to publish or to not publish, so that we know what is expected of us,” the editorial said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Over a month later, with Santiago’s murder still far from being solved, journalists in Mexico are still questioning how to safely report on the drug war.

“We are living in an emergency situation,” said Rocío Gallegos, the head of El Diario, at a panel discussion in New York on censorship. “El Diario asked for a truce to ask what was happening and why.”

What is happening in Mexico is that journalists are more frequently becoming targets in the ongoing drug war, according to the group of Mexican journalists and members of journalist rights groups gathered in Cooper Union’s Great Hall Tuesday evening.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office on December 1, 2006, 30 journalists and media support workers have been killed or disappeared in Mexico, with eight of the dead or missing coming from the highly contested border region with the United States.

“Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which was one of the sponsors of the discussion entitled “State of Emergency: Censorship by Bullet.”

Mexico is now being mentioned alongside places like Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to the violence against journalists, Simon added.

The members of the Mexican media present focused much of the blame on Mexico’s federal and state governments, which they said were corrupt and allowed the cartels to function with impunity.

The Calderón administration cannot keep the public safe and has failed in preventing the cartels from taking over large swaths of Mexico, said Carmen Aristegui, who hosts the show “Carmen Aristegui” on CNN en Español and is a ubiquitous persona in Mexico’s media.

“The government is incapable of identifying the number of people killed and exactly where that happens,” Aristegui said. “The Mexican state has failed in the most basic responsibilty to provide safety for their citizens.”

All the Mexican journalists on hand agreed that the problem of violence in Mexico was a bilateral issue that both Mexico and the United States needed to address. The drugs that flow north into the U.S. allow the cartels to gain the wealth to buy the firearms that flow south, continuing the violence in Mexico, said José Luis Martínez, founding member of the newspaper Milenio Diario.

“The problem is that drug-trafficking and violence in Mexico can’t be solved unilaterally,” Martínez said. “This means that everyone needs to take on the responsibility.”

Author and staff writer for The New Yorker Jon Lee Anderson was supposed to attend the event, but was unable to attend because he was reporting in Afghanistan. He sent a letter that was read by Larry Siems of the PEN American Center, another event sponsor.

“People only kill journalists because they think they can get away with it, and in Mexico they usually can,” Anderson wrote. “Let’s put an end to Mexican censorship by the bullet by finding who pulled the trigger.”

Image: chableproductions @ Flickr.

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