NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico—A drug war is ripping apart northern Mexico, but you won’t find many details about who’s behind it in the local newspapers. Journalists—after their colleagues have been killed, kidnapped and threatened with death—have stopped investigating organized crime.
“It’s the new trend of drug gangs: Journalists are warned, paid off or killed,” said Daniel Rosas, the managing editor of the daily El Manana, the oldest newspaper in this border city south of Laredo, Texas. “Drug battles have become bloodier, and gangs have no code of ethics. They don’t respect human life; why should they respect reporters?”
El Manana, founded in 1932 after the Mexican revolution with a motto to promote freedom of expression, has been self-censoring itself since its editor, Roberto Javier Mora Garcia, was stabbed to death on March 19, 2004.
Earlier this year, a former El Manana reporter, Dolores Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla, died after being shot outside her home. She’d gone to work for a radio station and had named some officials as involved in the drug trade before she was killed.
El Manana, whose walls are covered with images of past front pages, now reports only official news, its editors said. Other major newspapers along the northern frontier followed suit after their reporters were killed, kidnapped or threatened. They said corruption, impunity and lack of police support made it almost impossible for journalists to research rampant violence accurately.
The only newspaper that’s still digging into the drug underworld is the Tijuana weekly Zeta, whose owner, Jesus Blancornelas, is something of a legend in Mexico and travels with bodyguards and bulletproof cars. Zeta’s editor, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, was killed June 22, 2004, after the paper published the names and photos of people it said were members of the Tijuana drug-trafficking cartel.
Eight journalists have been killed in the past 18 months in Mexico, six in areas where a drug war rages. None of the cases has been solved, and all are thought to be drug-related.