Raising a white flag

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Editorial by Staff

In a display of submission, the newspaper in Juarez, Mexico, raised a white flag to drug cartels last week.

The staff of El Diario de Juarez ran a front-page editorial Sept. 19 pleading with drug cartels to stop violence against their journalists. On the day the editorial was published, the image of the Mexican flag, which normally appears in the paper’s nameplate, was depicted dripping with blood.

The newspaper’s letter came in response to the shooting of one of their own. Luis Carlos Santiago, a photographer for El Diario, was killed in a parked car outside of a shopping mall in Juarez.

He was out to lunch with an intern who was also injured. The editorial ran in the paper on the same day as the photographer’s burial.

After Santiago’s death, the Mexican newspaper has decided to cut its drug coverage, concluding the situation has become too dangerous for journalists.

“We do not want more deaths,” the newspaper’s letter to the cartels said. “We do not want more injuries or even more intimidation. It is impossible to exercise our role in these conditions. Tell us, then, what do you expect of us as a medium?”

El Diario is the most popular paper in Juarez, and it has made a reputation for aggressively covering drug violence in the past. Investigative reporting in Mexico is very dangerous, but, up until now, Juarez has had the best coverage of any border city. Many other cities simply don’t cover crime news anymore.

In Juarez, the journalists have challenged and stood up to the cartels. But with the photographer’s death, the newspaper staff appears to have reached its breaking point.

It’s a real tragedy to see the last defender of free speech in the area forced to surrender to the drug lords.

In the letter to the cartels, the newspaper said, “You are, at present, the de facto authorities in this city because the legal institutions have not been able to keep our colleagues from dying.”

The editorial goes on to say, “This is not a surrender. Nor does it mean that we’ve given up the work we have been developing. Instead it is a respite to those who have imposed the force of its law in this city, provided they respect the lives of those who are dedicated to the craft of reporting.”

El Diario’s editor, Pedro Torres, reiterated that the editorial does not indicate the paper’s submission to cartels.

“We’re not surrendering to the people who belong to these groups. We’re asking for a truce because we don’t want them to kill any more of our companeros,” he said.

Torres cannot deny that the cartels are in charge in Juarez, though.

“We said this clearly. There is no authority anymore, except for the de facto authority of the criminals. We live under their law.”

Despite the editor’s words, raising a white flag is exactly what El Diario is doing, not because they wish to, but they are being forced to surrender in an effort to protect their own.

As rival drug cartels fight for control of the city, Juarez has witnessed eight to 12 homicides a day.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. More than 30 journalists and other media workers have been killed or vanished since December 2006.

Santiago is the second journalist from El Diario to be killed in the last two years. In 2008, a crime reporter for the paper was shot outside his home.

A security spokesman for Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that no group should negotiate with organized crime.

But the president and his posse aren’t doing anything to remedy the situation.

This crisis is greater than the city of Juarez. It affects the entire nation of Mexico.

The Mexican government needs to protect its journalists immediately. Sending security personnel to news buildings and keeping bodyguards close to reporters and photographers in the field are ways it could defend them.

If the government does nothing to provide aid in Juarez, it will send a clear message to its citizens and the rest of the world: the cartels run the country.

As U.S. journalists, we hold the right to freedom of the press in paramount esteem. For El Diario to give it up, the staff must fear for their lives. This is their last resort to ensure their own safety.

Freedom of the press is a right guaranteed by good governments. If the Mexican government cannot protect this right, are the drug lords the  true monarchs of the country? In the editorial, the newspaper is effectively calling the cartels “boss,” after all.

The situation can only worsen if the government does not act. It’s time to take the country back from the cartels, starting with the press.

Author: The Bells Staff

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