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Journalists under fire in Mexico as drug war rages on

August 4, 2010 |  8:06 pm

Newspapers mexicoThe kidnapping by a drug gang of four reporters has highlighted the dangers journalists face every day in Mexico. Since the start of President Felipe Calderon's assault on drug-trafficking cartels in December 2006, at least 30 journalists in Mexico have been killed or have disappeared, and numerous offices of news organizations have been attacked with bombs and gunfire.

Self-censorship is rampant across the country and cases rarely result in arrests or prosecutions, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Journalists are terrified," Carlos Lauria, a CPJ coordinator, said during a recent interview on Fox News.

Attacks against the press are steady. On July 1, the CPJ reported that two journalists, a husband and wife, were killed in Guerrero state. On July 6, a newspaper owner and editor was found dead in the state of Michoacan.

Cartels are increasingly more brazen as they seek to control and intimidate the press in regions where they operate. The recent kidnappings, which occurred in Durango state, were said to have been carried out by a group tied to the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

The cartel wished to pressure the journalists' employers to transmit information damaging to a rival group, the Zetas, and local news organizations complied with the Sinaloa cartel's request. Two of the journalists were rescued by federal police and two others released.

The issue is trickling further into the U.S. and international press. The Times' Ken Ellingwood reported earlier this year how an upsurge of cartel violence silenced newspapers in Nuevo Laredo on Mexico's border with Texas, an outcome repeated to this day in many other parts of the country. "We can't publish anything," one newspaper executive told Ellingwood. 

Meanwhile, media advocacy organizations are calling for a demonstration Saturday at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City to push for more protections for news gatherers (links in Spanish).

An effort is also underway to lobby for a law that would ensure journalists' rights in Mexico as the drug war wages on, claiming at least 28,000 lives so far.

In a recent column in the daily El Universal headlined "Journalists, what are we going to do?," veteran reporter Ricardo Aleman alludes to the historically wrought nature of his profession in Mexico (link in Spanish). For decades, the press operated under the pressure and watch of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which led Mexico as a one-party state for more than 70 years. Now, it appears, journalists are under the eye of the drug cartels.

Aleman writes: "But more than the cowardice of the crime barons and the rabid social hatred against journalists, what frightens, alarms, and outrages me most, and is most intolerable, is the apathy of journalists themselves before what is the greatest crisis that we've lived since the days of the 'single party' and the 'sold-out press.' "

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A newsstand in Mexico City. Credit: Worldpress.org

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