Mexico drugs war editorial sparks national debate

A NEWSPAPER’S stunning, front-page editorial of seeming surrender to drug capos has set off a national debate from the presidential palace to Mexico’s equivalent of the water cooler – its ubiquitous town squares.

“What do you want from us?” El Diario de Juarez asked the cartels whose war for control of the border city across from El Paso, Texas, has killed nearly 5,000 people – including two El Diario journalists – in less than two years. “You are currently the de facto authorities in this city ... Tell us what you expect from us as a newspaper?”

For many Mexicans, it was a voice that finally exposed in a very public and unusual way the intimidation felt across the country.

“We weren’t speaking directly to (drug gangs). It was an open message,” El Diario director Pedro Torres said of the editorial.

“We wanted to provoke a reaction that would call attention to what’s happening in Juarez, and in the end, I think we met our objective.”

The editorial has dominated headlines and talk shows and Torres said he received calls from as far as Russia and Japan.

It also brought a volley of accusations of collusion and incompetence between government and media, whose adversarial relationship is still evolving a decade after the end of tight controls under Mexico’s single-party rule.

And it exposed the dissonance between Mexicans who must deal with violence daily and those who live in quieter parts of the country for whom little has changed since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels in late 2006.

“There are many parts of the republic that don’t want to understand that things have changed a lot for some people ... into a state where they’ve lost control,” said Jose Carreno Carlon, a journalist and professor who headed media relations for former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. “There are cases of journalists who are pressured by criminals – who have to consider that in their work, who have to address the de facto authorities every day.”

The editorial could be a turning point for Mexicans, pushing them to recognise the corrupting forces on freedom of expression in a country considered the most dangerous in the Americas for journalists.

El Diario captured a feeling of helplessness that resonates nationwide, said newspaper editor Jose Martin Mayoral Lozano, who has limited coverage of organised crime since his car was torched in 2005 as a threat.

“This is something unusual,” he said. “I see it as a call to the people, a call to awaken society to what’s happening in our country.”

With last week’s killing of El Diario photographer Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, a total of 65 news workers have been slain since 2000.


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