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Monday, August 16, 2010

Mexico's journalists kidnapped, tortured and killed-Calderon won't investigate

Mexican journalists protest
  • photos of dead journalists, from 8/7/10 protest in Mexico, left from Fresno Bee, right from harvestCanadaEast
A new word has been written into the lexicon of Mexico's drug war: narco-censorship. It's when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been
  • intimidated, kidnapped and killed.
That big shootout the other day near a Reynosa shopping mall? Convoys of gunmen whizzed through the streets and fired on each other for hours, paralyzing the city. Those recent battles between the army and cartel henchmen in Ciudad Juarez? Soldiers engaged "armed civilians," newspapers told their readers.
  • As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers' chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.
"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed,
  • did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.
  • "We don't like the silence. But it's survival."
An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels in December 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.
  • But a ferocious increase in violence, including the July 26 kidnapping of four reporters, has pushed the profession into a crisis never before seen, drawn renewed international attention and spurred fresh activism on the part of Mexican newsmen and women.
The United Nations sent its first such mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression. On Aug. 7, in an unprecedented display of unity from a normally fractious, competitive bunch, hundreds of Mexican reporters demonstrated throughout the country to demand an end to the killings of their colleagues, and more secure working conditions. and the climate of impunity leads to more bloodshed, says an upcoming report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • "It is not a lack of valor on the part of the journalists.
  • It is a lack of backing," said broadcaster Jaime Aguirre.
On the popular radio talk show he hosts in Reynosa, Aguirre chooses his words carefully. He often finds himself issuing warnings to the public on which areas of the city to avoid. Listeners don't have to be told why.
  • It is in Mexico's far-flung states where narco-censorship is most severe.
From the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua and into the central and southern states of Durango and Guerrero, reporters say they are acutely aware that traffickers do not want the local news to "heat the plaza" — to draw attention to their drug production and smuggling and efforts to subjugate the population. Such attention would invite the government to send troops and curtail their business.
  • And so the journalists pull their punches.
When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April. After two of his reporters were briefly detained by Zetas paramilitaries later that month in the same region, Ciro Gomez Leyva, head of Milenio television, announced he was imposing a blackout on events in Tamaulipas. "Journalism is dead" in the region, he wrote. "This happened to me for … writing too much." Contacting reporters in the region can seem a scene out of "The Third Man," with meetings in discreet locations and discussions that involve code: The Zetas are referred to as "the last letter" (of the alphabet), while the Gulf cartel is the "three letters" (CDG — Cartel del Golfo). Reporters and editors in Tamaulipas and Durango say they routinely receive telephoned warnings when they publish something the traffickers don't like. More often,
  • knowing their publications are being watched and
Or they stick to just-the-facts government bulletins that may confirm an incident but won't offer details.... The journalists also keep an eye on certain websites known to have affiliation with drug cartels: If they see that a shootout or a grenade attack is being reported, they know it's OK to publish the same information.
  • That's why the Reynosa shootout two weeks ago wasn't reported.
But a car bomb at police headquarters in the Tamaulipas state capital, Ciudad Victoria, two days later got front-page play because, editors say, the dominant Gulf wanted the rival Zetas paramilitaries (presumed authors of the bomb) to look bad.
  • Not that regional Mexican papers are squeamish. They will publish
  • any number of grisly photographs of
severed heads and battered corpses dangling from bridges. Social media networks such as Twitter have filled some of the breach, with residents frantically sending danger alerts. And a secretive "narco blog" has started posting numerous videos of henchmen and their victims, no matter how gruesome. But, residents say,
  • who use the system to spread rumors and stoke panic.
In Durango, where more newsmen were killed in 2009 than in any other state, broadcast reporter Ruben Cardenas said journalists could no longer do their job. A few weeks later, when The Times ventured into the Durango city of Gomez Palacio to report on the kidnapping and slaying of Los Angeles civic leader Bobby Salcedo, local Mexican reporters initially shared enthusiasm for the story.
  • But after a couple of days of publishing reports, employees at one newspaper said they were ordered, presumably by Salcedo's killers, to cease. The news, attracting attention in Los Angeles and Washington, was "heating the plaza."
Durango was also the scenario of the July 26 abductions. Four journalists were covering disturbances at a Gomez Palacio prison where it had just been revealed that The reporters' employers received instructions to broadcast homemade videos from one cartel that linked its rival to corrupt cops.
  • The videos showed police who had apparently been abducted and
  • were "confessing" at gunpoint.
Journalists around Mexico mobilized like never before, spreading the word, demanding action from authorities and staging demonstrations. Eventually the reporters were freed.
  • five days of torture,
  • beatings with a plank,
  • threats of an ugly death.
A happy ending? The men were rescued or released only after
  • their news outlets met the traffickers' demands and
  • aired the cartel videos.
It was the latest twist: news coverage as ransom." via Poynter.org/Romenesko
  • CALDERON DOESN'T SPEAK UP ABOUT MEDIA BLACKOUT which keeps organized crime in charge. All the stories about the military just provide cover. ed.
3/11/10, "Mexico drug gang hushes killings with news blackout," Reuters, R. Emmott
  • ""Our newsrooms have been infiltrated by these (gang) reporters, they monitor what we write,

  • they know where we live. With this system, the narcos have direct control over us," said a local newspaper editor who declined to be named for safety.

Many of the rogue journalists do little to hide their dealings with traffickers and have been seen arriving at news conferences or crime scenes in flashy new SUVs accompanied by armed men, often to prevent news of any killings getting out.

  • One reporter in the border town of Nuevo Progreso said his job involved taking cash from corrupt local police in the pay of the Gulf cartel and distributing it to local reporters.

Others caught by the army at sporadic checkpoints have struggled to explain the hundreds of dollars bulging in their wallets when most local reporters earn less than $400 a month.

  • Directors at El Manana and La Prensa in Reynosa were not immediately available for comment.

'NO TROUBLE HERE'

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, said it is aware some journalists are working for cartels.

  • "We know this is happening. It is a consequence of the huge level of influence these criminals exert," said Carlos Lauria, the committee's senior coordinator for the Americas.

Desperate to spread news of the new outbreak of violence, residents in and around Reynosa have turned to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to post cell phone videos of shootouts and report suspicious activity.

"One of the fundamental human rights has been taken away in this part of Mexico and the

  • federal government is not speaking out about it," said Alberto Islas, an independent security analyst in Mexico City.

Some honest reporters choose not to report the violence out of fear for their safety. Cartel attacks have made Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media, the CPJ says, with at least 24 journalists killed here since 2006.

  • So-called narco-reporters may be at an even greater risk of getting caught up in the turf wars. Five reporters suspected of working for the Gulf cartel went missing two weeks ago in Reynosa.

"We don't know who they angered but it wasn't because of their journalism. Two of the reporters hadn't published anything in months," said a colleague of the missing journalists.

  • Local politicians say the Gulf cartel, which controls a third of narcotics shipments into the United States, is keeping its war with the Zetas as quiet as possible to avoid provoking army deployments that could disrupt its smuggling operations.

Calderon has sent thousands of troops across Mexico to curb drug gang operations, but the army presence around Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros

  • is still relatively light.

"The Gulf cartel's message is: there's nothing happening here," said a town councilor in Rio Bravo next door to Reynosa.

via BigPeace

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