A commendable new report by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission documents a horrific increase in the number of killings, disappearances and threats against journalists over the past 13 years. The mounting danger for Mexican journalists coincides with growing turf battles between that country’s drug cartels as they jockey for control of major export routes.
Make no mistake about the motives behind these threats and attacks: The drug cartels recognize that news reports help alert the public about the criminal menace in their midst. News media scrutiny puts pressure on state and local authorities to crack down, which is especially embarrassing if those officials are secretly colluding with the cartels.
By silencing journalists, the cartels gain a much freer hand to do their dirty work. “The battle to control information is underway at this very moment,” says Marcela Turati, a reporter for the weekly investigative magazine Proceso.
In America, press freedoms often are taken for granted because U.S.-based journalists rarely face the kinds of danger that Mexican reporters, editors and photographers encounter on a daily basis. In Mexico, reporters have been tortured and beheaded. Prosecutions are rare, which adds to the sense of impunity.
The human rights report lists the state of Tamaulipas, on Texas’ southern border, atop all other states in terms of violence against journalists. In Tamaulipas alone, 12 journalists have been killed since 2000. Two others have disappeared, and 10 others have been attacked in the past eight years. Nationwide, 85 journalists have been killed and 20 more have disappeared. Only 12 cases have resulted in convictions.
On June 25 in San Antonio, hundreds of U.S. investigative journalists sat spellbound as Turati described her profession’s dire situation. One Mexican reporter was strangled in her home. Another was killed as he took his daughter to school. One newsroom was attacked by gunfire three times. A hand grenade exploded in another. Cartel leaders dictated the stories that they required newspapers to publish.
She recounted one story in which a reporter in Veracruz received word that he was on a hit list. A colleague asked how she could help. The reporter asked for a pistol. “A pistol? ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it isn’t to kill them, it’s to kill myself if they come for me. Because now they don’t just kill you — they torture you as well,’” Turati recounted.
Citizen reporters have tried to fill the gap, posting YouTube videos and establishing websites such as Valor por Tamaulipas. But cartel leaders target them, too, and soon the silence returns.
Americans might not have much in the way of power to stop what’s happening in Mexico. But as Turati admonished her colleagues in San Antonio, we must not accept silence as the final answer. Most of all, we must never forget.
Dallas Morning News