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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The rule of law in Mexico

The editor of a paper located in a petro town on the Gulf was murdered yesterday. He'd been investigating contraband diversions of oil. This is from the LA Times:

“Mexico is among the more hazardous places in the world for journalists to ply their trade, said Carlos Lauria, coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It ranks 11th among countries in the number of journalists slain over the last decade, with nine killed. Iraq, Algeria and Colombia top the list.”

And this is from the Washington Post, last week, concerning the recent vote in the Mexican congress to strip Lopez Obrador, mayor of Mexico City, of his immunity:

“President Vicente Fox has said the case shows that the rule of law is working in Mexico and that anyone who breaks the law, no matter how popular or powerful, will be prosecuted. Fox, who was traveling Thursday to Rome to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, had no immediate comment about the vote in Congress.

Interior Minister Santiago Creel, the leading presidential candidate from Fox's National Action Party, acknowledged Thursday night that there had been many critics of the process but said it was worth the effort. "Mexico is at peace," he said. "It is a country of institutions and laws."

As is well known, a firm hand is required to make sure a country has the institutions and laws – or law enforcement – it needs. We are pleased that Fox and his interior minister are on the case. In furtherance of which, we thought we’d make a quick web survey of mayoral behavior in Mexico. Obrador’s crime was, apparently, disobeying a court order (which there is no proof he even knew about) blocking the completion of a road to a hospital in Mexico City, which is of a nature so serious that the congress had to investigate.

This, apparently, is a jail time crime. Here’s a more fun crime.

Meet Jorge Hank Rhon, the man who is Tijuana’s PRI mayor. While running, last year, the San Diego paper worked up a little profile of him. Deep in the profile were a few things that, were Hank to be running in, say, San Diego, might have been fronted to the first grafs:

“The most persistent accusation involves the 1988 killing of Héctor Félix Miranda, an editor for the Tijuana weekly Zeta; the newspaper has since devoted a page in each edition to accusing Hank of being the mastermind.
With last month's assassination of another Zeta editor, Franciso Ortíz Franco, Zeta is again pointing the finger at Hank as a possible suspect, as Ortíz had been delving into the state's investigation of Félix Miranda's murder on behalf of the Inter American Press Association.

Hank denies any role in either killing and says he does not believe that two of his bodyguards who were convicted in the Félix Miranda case were involved in that assassination. A spokesman for the Baja California attorney general's office said "any political motives that might be linked to Jorge Hank Rhon have not been ruled out," but Hank has not been called in for questioning.”

Hank comes from one of the great PRI families. One that happens to have been investigated, during the Clinton administration, for its ties to narco millionaires. As is not well known (although it should be), the Clintonistas treated the Mexican government with the policy of two eyes shut that it also applied to Yeltsin. Thus, it was an embarrassment when a unit of the Justice department, under Janet Reno, issued a report about the Hank family that put into government sponsored print what everybody already knew. Drug politics -- you can go to jail for selling or smoking marijuana in this country, but the Federal government reserves a large leaway of helping supply Americans with that marijuana if they feel it serves the interest of our allies, whoever they may be. Thus the famed Cocaine Coup in Bolivia under Reagan, and thus the stifled curiosity about who was on the narco payroll in the Zedillo government under Clinton.

This attitude spills over into the American press. That Jorge’s bodyguards got a little over-enthusiastic about shutting up journalists (which might be the logical extension of the Hank family habit of suing journalists in the U.S. for defamation every time the bothersome narco accusation came up) should have been fronted in the SD article about the man -- but a little matter of a corpse here and there was shunted way down to like the tenth graf.

Ah, but in the land of laws and institutions, under the benign rule of Fox, threatening journalists, or killing them, is definitely secondary to those crucial due process hearings that Lopez Obrador so criminally ignored. There are priorities, after all.

This is from the IPI’s review of press freedom in Mexico

“It was a bleak year for Mexico's journalists, who continued to suffer harassment, death threats and violent attacks. In particular, journalists investigating drug trafficking and official corruption in the northern states bordering the U.S. were targeted by those seeking to prevent the media from exposing their activities.

Four journalists were murdered in 2004.

On 19 March, Roberto Javier Mora García, editorial director of the daily newspaper El Mañana, was stabbed at least 20 times by an unidentified attacker outside his home in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. El Mañana is known for its reporting on the Golfo drug cartel and the alleged involvement of local police in drug trafficking activities. None of Mora's belongings were taken, ruling out theft as a motive, police said. On 28 March, police arrested two of Mora's neighbours, Mario Medina Vázquez and his partner Hiram Olivero Ortiz. Police said Medina, a U.S. citizen, confessed to killing Mora in a crime of passion, but Medina later said he confessed under torture. On 13 May, he was killed by a fellow prisoner in Cereso Prison in Nuevo Laredo.

Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-founder and senior editor of the weekly news magazine Zeta, was killed on 22 June by unidentified gunmen in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California state. He was driving his car through the city's Marrón district when masked gunmen in a pickup truck pulled up to his car and shot him four times with an AK-47 automatic rifle, police said. His children, who were also in the car, were unharmed. Federal prosecutors linked the murder to the Arellano Félix drug cartel in Tijuana.
Zeta's coverage of drug trafficking and official corruption has made its editors frequent targets of violent attacks. In 1987, the weekly's plant was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Zeta editor and columnist, Héctor Félix Miranda, was murdered in 1988. In 1997, Zeta's publisher, J. Jesús Blancornelas, narrowly escaped assassination when he was severely injured in an attack that left his bodyguard and friend, Luis Valero, dead.

On 31 August, Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a hard-hitting columnist for El Imparcial, El Regional, Mercurio and El Cinco, among other regional publications, was killed in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas state. Saldierna, who had been beaten and tortured, was found outside the local offices of the Red Cross and brought to a nearby hospital, where he died of a heart attack later that day. On 24 September, police arrested Raúl Castelán Cruz, a member of the Golfo drug cartel, who confessed to participating in Arratia's killing.

On 27 November, Gregorio Rodriguez Hernández, a photographer for the daily newspaper El Debate, was gunned down in Escuinapa, Sinaloa state. Rodriguez was dining with his wife and children at a restaurant when unidentified gunmen shot him at least five times. One arrest was made in December, but the motive for his killing remained unclear.

Irene Medrano Villanueva, a journalist for the daily newspaper El Sol de Sinaloa in Culiacán, Sinaloa state, reported receiving several deaths threats via telephone, beginning in December 2003. Medrano believed the threats were linked to a series of articles she published about child prostitution in Culiacán that criticised local authorities for not taking sufficient action against the abuses. On 8 December 2003, Medrano found the word "death" had been painted on her car. Three weeks later, while driving to work, she tried to stop at a stop sign, but her car's brakes did not work and she crashed into a taxi. A mechanic at an auto repair shop told her that the brakes had been tampered with.

On 16 January, after officials from the Sinaloa Public Prosecutor's Office traced the threatening telephone calls to the Office of Mayor Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez, Medrano publicly denounced the threats in a press conference. The mayor called for a thorough investigation into the matter and for those responsible for the threats to be punished, but refused to speculate who the perpetrators might be.”

Medrano’s work is reviewed more specifically in this letter, sent by the Committee to Protect Journalists.


”The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York­based independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about Mexican journalist Irene Medrano Villanueva, who has been threatened and harassed during the last two months in connection with her journalistic work.Medrano, a reporter with the daily El Sol de Sinaloa, based in the state capital of Culiacán, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, received several death threats after she wrote a series of reports on the proliferation of child prostitution in Culiacán.From August to October 2003, Medrano wrote a series of reports alleging that some local brothels and massage parlors were employing minors and criticizing local municipal authorities for not going after brothels and massage parlors that employ minors.On December 6, 2003, Medrano published the series’ last report, claiming that minors were being recruited in public and private schools to work as prostitutes. Her stories contained testimony from the victims and information from the National System for the Integral Development of Families, the government agency for the protection of minors and families, which also criticized local authorities for not taking action against the abuses. The same day the last report was published, the threats began. An anonymous caller phoned the newspaper and told a security guard that Medrano was going to die. Later that evening, an anonymous man called the journalist at her home and told her that she had signed "her death sentence." On December 8, 2003, after finding that the word "death" had been painted on her car, Medrano filed a complaint with the Sinaloa Public Prosecutor’s Office (PGJE). That evening, an anonymous caller phoned the journalist at home and told her that she was an informer who had caused her own death sentence. The PGJE then assigned Medrano a police agent to escort and protect her for five days.On December 13, 2003, while Medrano was driving to work in the company of the police agent, a car without license plates came from behind, hit her car three times, and fled. On December 14, after discovering that her car’s windshield had been smashed, she called the state police, who inspected her car the next day to search for evidence. Medrano was again assigned a police agent.Feeling pressured, Medrano told CPJ, she then took a few days off from work. While she was driving to return to work on December 28, 2003, Medrano tried to stop in front of a stop sign, but her brakes did not respond and, as a result, she crashed into a taxi. She then took her car to an auto shop, where a mechanic told her that her car’s brake lines had been tampered with.In early January 2004, the threatening phone calls intensified. On January 8, PGJE agents installed caller ID and a recording device on her home phone to trace the threatening calls. On January 12, after an initial call from a public telephone, another threatening phone call was registered. According to Medrano, PGJE agents told her that the calls came from the office of Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez, the mayor of Culiacán. Because the investigation into the threats is still in its preliminary inquiry phase, the PGJE is not allowed to disclose any information except to the parties involved.On January 16, Medrano denounced the threats in a press conference she held with the support of Sinaloa’s two main journalists’ associations. According to the Mexico City daily El Universal, on January 19 Hernández Chávez came to the PGJE offices in Culiacán to deliver his testimony in writing regarding the threatening phone calls made from his office. The mayor is not a suspect in the investigation, but officials have questioned him since the calls originated from his office, according to local news reports. The Sinaloa newspaper Noroeste reported that Mayor Hernández Chávez has called for a thorough investigation and for those responsible for the threats to be punished. He has also expressed his support for Medrano’s work, according to Noroeste, but has not made any statement to the press regarding the incident, saying he refuses to speculate.”

Fox, however, is unmoved by such irritations on the body politic – he is a straightshooter who goes for the heart of the matter. A little prosty solicitation among fifth graders in Sinaloa? Peanuts. A little journalist killing in Tijuana? Ho hum. Mexico is, after all, a nation of laws and institutions. The interior minister himself, a Pan-ista and future presidential candidate, has assured us of this. We all feel so much better.

Coup? What coup?

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