Pubdate: Wed, 10 Aug 2005
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2005 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author:  Susana Hayward, Knight Ridder News Service


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.

That means they don't follow up on the 173 people who've disappeared
since last fall throughout the state of Tamaulipas, deemed by
journalism organizations the most dangerous place for reporters to
work in Mexico. Twenty-three others missing are Americans from Texas.

There've been at least 108 execution-style murders since

"We still inform the community of what's happening but are more
careful of what we say. It's a painful decision. We are hostages to
self-censorship, and it's worse than censorship," said El Manana's
publisher, Ramon Cantu Deandar.

Cantu, 39, has grown cynical about covering organized crime in this
city of nearly half a million people. "What's the point of
investigating? We can't win. Drug mafias have billions and billions of
dollars. They own this city: They buy police, government officials,
investigators, you name it," he said. "It's better to write a crime

In the past 18 months, six journalists have been killed along the
border: four in 2004 and two in 2005. Two other journalists have been
killed elsewhere in Mexico.

Their editors regarded the six as hard-core investigators of the
prolific violence that's erupted since 2003, when the leader of the
Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cardenas, was jailed, sparking a battle for control
of Nuevo Laredo, the largest land port to the United States and the
crucial crossing point to Interstate Highway 35, which runs north
across the United States to Canada.

"We're completely alone in this business. We don't trust any state or
federal authorities, and crime keeps on growing. It's more visible,
and there's seldom any punishment," said Jorge Morales, the editor of
El Imparcial, in the Sonora state capital of Hermosillo, south of
Arizona. The company also owns two papers in Baja California.

Morales dismantled El Imparcial's investigative team after one of its
crime reporters, Jose Alfredo Jimenez Mota, disappeared April 2 after
telling colleagues he had to meet a source he was afraid of.

Gunmen attacked Jorge Cardona, a reporter for the Televisa TV network,
on Feb. 7 at his home in Monterrey, in northern Nuevo Leon state,
after he aired a report in which a masked informant accused a
paramilitary group associated with the Gulf Cartel, called the Zetas,
of involvement in the disappearances of Americans in Nuevo Laredo. The
source said the Zetas were backed by municipal police and had an
informant in the army.

The FBI later told The Associated Press that the report was generally
accurate, including information about captives being fed to lions.

Cardona fled to an unknown location.

In the newsroom of El Manana, a memorial to Mora was taken down long
ago. Cantu said it was simply too sad for the staff to be reminded
every day of what had happened.

Police now guard the entrances to the paper's two-story headquarters,
though there are few other signs of stepped-up security. It wasn't
till early this month that a new editor took Mora's place.

"I have to live up to Mora's reputation as a moral, ethical and
probing journalist," said Omar Eli Robles, who'd been a reporter at
Monterrey's El Norte newspaper. "Of course, I'm a little afraid, but
danger is part of the job."

Asked, however, if he'd tell his reporters to go back to investigating
drugs and corruption, he demurred. "When and if this war ends," he
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