Pubdate: Thu, 30 Aug 2001
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2001 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Author: Mim Udovitch


In 1978, Al Giordano, now forty-one, was arrested for criminal trespass 
while protesting a nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. He was sentenced 
to 100 days in jail, but succeeded in causing enough trouble to get kicked 
out after twenty. Since then, he's been causing various kinds of trouble as 
a political organizer and a reporter and, in general, continues to afflict 
the comfortable. Now he's being sued by a multi-billion dollar opponent who 
isn't having a whole hell of a lot more luck with him than the New 
Hampshire jailers.

The deal with the current litigation is this: In 1997, Giordano had gone to 
Chiapas, Mexico, to hang with the Zapatista rebels. He was then 
thirty-seven and had been, until the previous year, the political reporter 
at the Boston Phoenix. "I wanted out of journalism," he says, "I had been 
covering politics, but nothing was happening in politics." He began to read 
Spanish-language newspapers. "And I found that even though Mexican 
journalists are subject to much more repression and danger than journalists 
in the United States they're far more courageous in reporting on difficult 
subjects like the Drug War."

Consequently, in the spring of 2000, Giordano launched, a 
nonprofit pro-legalization site that presents Giordano's reporting on the 
Drug War as well as the best of the Latin American reporting in 
translation. ("Pro-legalization is just the train," Giordano says. "The 
destination is much more sweeping - authentic democracy, peace with 
justice, human rights.") The lawsuit, which was filed in New York State 
Supreme Court last August by the National Bank of Mexico - Banamex - 
alleges libel, slander and interference with prospective economic 
advantage. The alleged defamatory statements involve reports that major 
narcotics trafficking was occurring on property owned by Roberto Hernandez, 
the bank's owner and president.

It is probably safe to say that this suit is not about money. Since filing 
the suit, Banamex was sold to Citigroup for $12.5 billion dollars and 
Hernandez, who ranks 387th on Forbes magazine's list of the wealthiest 
people on earth, is worth about $1.3 billion. Conversely, Giordano's most 
valuable possessions are a $1,200 laptop and a guitar.

It is also probably safe to say that in filing this suit, Banamex didn't 
know with whom it was picking a fight.

If you took it in a straight line from the dissatisfaction with the world 
he began to express as a student at Mamaroneck High School in suburban 
Westchester, New York, to the present, the Bronx-born Giordano's biography 
would go like this: In 1976, when he was sixteen, he went to Albany and 
testified before a legislative commission in the state senate against 
nuclear power, felt completely ignored and concluded that the tactic of 
lobbying the government was futile. He was arrested for what would be the 
first of twenty-seven times on May 1st, 1977. When he was twenty and living 
in a cabin in Rowe, Massachusetts, running the Rowe Nuclear Conversion 
Campaign, which ended in the first-ever shutdown of an operating nuclear 
power plant in America, he met Abbie Hoffman, who called him "the best 
political organizer of his generation." The two worked together until 
Hoffman's death in 1989, opposing U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and 
fighting to save the Delaware and St. Lawrence rivers. He also occasionally 
worked on political campaigns, notably for senator John Kerry.

Around 1988, after winning more than twenty referendums and political 
campaigns in a row, it occurred to Giordano that he could also effect 
social change through journalism. For the next eight years he worked as a 
political reporter, ending up at the Phoenix, where he still occasionally 

Unhappy with what he saw as the decline of journalism in the U.S., he wrote 
an essay to that effect called "The Medium Is the Middleman," which his 
friend the late Jeff Buckley adapted into a song called "The Sky Is a 
Landfill," (it appears on Buckley's posthumous 1998 record Sketches for My 
Sweetheart, the Drunk.). Shortly after that, Giordano moved to Mexico.

Obviously, given the sale to Citigroup, Banamex can afford to continue 
filing suits against Giordano in as many cities, countries or universes as 
they can find a pretext for, effectively turning Giordano into a full-time 
international defendants. "This is a harassment suit," says Giordano, who 
is currently $200,000 in debt from his legal battles. "Narconews is the 
canary in the coal mine, and if that bird stops singing, then all the 
miners of authentic journalism will have to evacuate the mine." 
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