Mexico's Deadly News
by John Ross
The Nation, December 22, 1997
The murderous Thanksgiving Day assault that left crusading
Tijuana editor Jesus Blancornelas gravely wounded and cost the
life of a valued assistant should come as no surprise. Three Mexican
journalists have met violent deaths this year, and a score more
have been beaten, bullied or otherwise intimidated as a consequence
of the diligent practice of their profession.
Despite much-ballyhooed economic recovery and break through
in a political system that has been dominated for nearly seven
decades by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), 1997 has
not been a good year for human rights in Mexico. A renewed zest
for torture by security forces is epidemic. More disappearances,
extralegal executions and arbitrary jailings have been recorded
here by Amnesty International than at any time in the past decade.
In early September, a nascent death squad within the newly militarized
Mexico City police slaughtered three youths and distributed their
body parts in the south of the city with as much homicidal elan
as Salvadoran authorities ever displayed. Defenders of human rights
have narrowly escaped ambushes, as testified to by Bishop Samuel
Ruiz's recent brush with PRI linked assassins in northern Chiapas.
When Amnesty's secretary general, Pierre Sane, flew to Mexico
to direct President Ernesto Zedillo's attention to what the organization
describes as "a human rights crisis," Zedillo refused
to see him.
On the blade of this terror have been editors and reporters
who focus on corruption, drugs and repression. Mexico City television
journalists who filmed flagrant police complicity in criminal
acts have been kidnapped and threatened and had their Hard Copy-like
shows yanked from the airwaves. Machine gun-toting federal agents
laid siege to the nation's oldest daily, El Universal, to arrest
its publisher on alleged tax evasion charges after his paper became
critical of the Zedillo administration. Even The New York Times
has not been immune from such harassment- correspondent Sam Dillon
was threatened with arrest for reporting on a D.E.A. dossier that
implicated two PRI governors in drug trafficking. But the real
mayhem is reserved for the locals.
Benjamin Flores, editor of La Prensa in San Luis Rio Colorado
on the eastern California border, was murdered this past summer
after he blew the whistle on the theft of 1,000 pounds of cocaine
from the local justice ministry. In Guerrero, print journalist
Jesus Abel Bueno Leon was shot and burned alive after he penned
a piece suggesting that a high-ranking state official had contracted
the killing of a leftist lawyer. If big-city newshounds are under
the gun, danger is a daily staple for those brave souls who ply
the provinces. The name of Maribel Gutierrez of El Sur in Acapulco,
who has won international recognition for investigative reporting,
was put on a government list of fifteen journalists said to be
sympathetic to the guerrilla Popular Revolutionary Army (E.P.R.).
and in Oaxaca, Razhy Gonzalez, editor of Counterpoint, was kidnapped
and tortured for three days after attending an E.P.R. press conference.
The intrepid La Verdad in Villahermosa, Tabasco, is the regular
recipient of death threats to staff and firebombs from angry PRlistas.
Zeta, the outspoken Tijuana weekly Jesus Blancornelas co-founded
and has edited for a dozen years, is the starting point for much
of this mischief. Years of government attack (both the state and
the feds withdrew all advertising) and hardship (local printers
refused to work on it because of its antigovernment content) have
steeled the publication for the worst. Early on, the son of one
of the most powerful men in Mexico, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, was
so offended by Zeta that co-founder Felix (El Gato) Miranda was
executed on a Tijuana freeway by Hank body guards. Now another
article in Zeta, which details the dovetailing of the sons of
Mexico's elite with the narco-mafias, is said to be at the bottom
of this latest hit-but any one of a dozen stories in recent months
might have incited retaliation.
Journalists working in Mexico these days have become like
canaries in the coal mine. Their daily travails measure the poisonous
gas seeping to the nation's surface even as Zedillo hypes Mexico
as a new, improved neighbor. Tragically, the mirage of the market
so dazzles Washington that no one much notices the bad news leaking
John Ross is based in Mexico City, is author of the newly
released The Annexation of Mexico: From the Aztecs to the I.M.F.
Human Rights, Justice, Reform