In a sign of just how extreme the Mexican drug war has gotten, a newspaper in crime-ridden Ciudad Juarez has published an editorial asking the drug cartels to tell them what they should and shouldn’t publish.
The newspaper’s seeming capitulation to organized criminals — whose bloody battle among themselves and with Mexican authorities has cost the lives of 28,000 people in the past four years — has caused an outcry among politicians and press observers, who fear the country’s fragile freedom of press is the latest victim of the drug war.
And it has prompted Mexican President Felipe Calderon to announce changes to Mexican law that would make attacks on journalists a federal crime.
Following the death last week of El Diario photography intern Luis Carlos Santiago in what appeared to be a gang-related shooting, the newspaper published an editorial, entitled “What do you want from us?,” in which the newspaper offered editorial control to unnamed gang bosses, in exchange for sparing the lives of newspaper staff. Santiago was the second El Diario staffer to be killed in the past two years.
The editorial, addressed to “leaders of the different organizations that are fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez,” stated: “The loss of two reporters from this publishing house in less than two years represents an irreparable breakdown for all of us who work here, and, in particular, for their families. We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.”
“You are, at present, the de facto authorities in this city,” the editorial stated.
That claim sparked anger within the corridors of Mexico’s government, which saw the move as an act of surrender to organized crime.
“It simply is not appropriate in any way shape or form, for any party to try to make agreements with, promote a truce with, or negotiate with criminals,” said Alejandro Poire, spokesman for security matters for President Felipe Calderon.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that news media around the world were “surprised” by the paper’s decision. The Houston Chronicle describes the move as a “warning sign” that “cannot be ignored by the United States. The term ‘failed state’ should not be used casually. But neither should it be excluded from the discussion of Mexico’s troubles out of concerns about courtesy and politeness.”
“A clear example of the chilling effects journalists’ murders have on the local media, El Diario‘s editorial is also an indicator of the urgency with which the government must intervene in the crisis affecting the Mexican press. Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media, with nine journalists killed in 2010,” the Committee to Protect Journalists stated.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon told journalists’ organizations Thursday that he plans to launch a program to provide protection to journalists at risk of being targeted by organized crime. He also proposed a law that would make “attacks against freedom of expression” a federal crime.
“We categorically reject any attack against journalists because this is an assault against democratic society,” Calderon said, as quoted by CPJ. “It pains me that Mexico is seen as one of the most dangerous places for the profession.”
CPJ reports that at least 30 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the past four years, “a number that rivals war-wracked countries such as Iraq and Somalia.”
— With reports from AFP