New America Media, News analysis, Jose Luis Sierra, In the wake of the massacre of 16 students at a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez, Mexican politicos pointed fingers at each other and stonewalled journalists while civilians all over the country reaffirmed their lack of confidence in their government at all levels.
The massacre of 16 young men gathered to celebrate a birthday party on Sunday January 31, 2010 in a working class neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez left many unanswered questions.
How can a convoy full of armed men move around unnoticed in a city patrolled by 10,000 soldiers and a few thousand more federal and state police? How can they roam around the neighborhood and shoot at a group of young people celebrating a birthday party, get back in their vehicles, and escape in a timely matter just a few minutes before the arrival of the military? And how can a journalist cover a story when the journalist himself fears getting killed –either by drug cartels or the authorities - if he comes too close to the story?
Just this week the trade organization, Reporters Without Borders, issued a communiqué prognosticating another year of “hecatomb” – cattle sacrifice to the gods - for journalists working in Mexico. It came at the heel of the murder of Jorge Ochoa Martinez, 55, an editor of the newspaper El Oportuno, in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, a southern state of Mexico. On January 29th, Ochoa Martinez became the third journalist assassinated in a month; and the 65th since the year 2000. This without counting hundreds of acts of intimidation, some of which are perpetrated by authorities against members of the news media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalist, 89% of the crimes against journalists are still unresolved. A similar percentage, perhaps even higher, can be applied to the killings of civilians in “the war on drugs.”
So who wants to talk about it? Be on record? Present enough evidence for an in depth story?
In-depth coverage in Mexico on any subject is difficult, let alone the underground world of drug trafficking -deeply entrenched for decades in the higher echelons of power. When journalist arrive at a crime scene, they are usually kept at bay, most often hundreds of meters away with no more resources other than their zoom lens and the usual speculative stories from the few neighbors who would talk. As the bodies are cleared, public officials arrive to declare that they are “launching an investigation.” In Juarez, this has become a daily routine.
Authorities are still busy with a full investigation of the massacre in Ciudad Juarez. But those investigations have already some “miraculous” results. Less than 48 hours after the massacre, members of the Army intercepted a vehicle “that looked suspicious.” They confronted an allegedly armed individual and his companion. They called a press conference soon after and informed journalists that they killed this armed individual in a confrontation and presented his companion who promptly declared that the man killed by the soldiers was the “mastermind’’ of the massacre of the 16 students early Sunday morning!
Case solved? Not quite.
The press conference lasted less the six minutes, according to news reports, and the man arrested was presented to the press with his “face against the wall.” No question from the press were allowed, and yesterday any charges to the surviving suspect on his alleged involvement in the killings where dropped, even though he declared publicly two days earlier that he had been assigned to be the lookout while the massacre took place.
More often than not, the only fact that the authorities provide is the number of spent jackets left by the killers during their operations.
So far, according to published records and official statements, last year in Juarez there were 2,635 killings, many of them in plain daylight and in front of dozens of witnesses. So far, according to numbers provided by the National Statistics Center from the Attorney General’s Office, known here as PGR, in the whole Chihuahua’s state only 54 suspects had been charged, many of them only with petty crimes and most of them exited faster than the time it took to put them in them in prisons.
Meanwhile, the death toll of the war on drugs has been increasing to the point that a new record was established. More than 16,000 drug-related killings have occurred since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels.
In Mexico it is not unusual for surviving victims and their family members to decline to testify in Court against their perpetrators, let alone talk openly to the press. It is not unusual that the civilian population fear the “narcos” as much as they fear the Mexican authorities. It has been proven time and again that many of play on both sides.
Case in point: on Feb 4, 2010, three policemen from Mexico City were arrested for allegedly being security guards to the man who shot Salvador Cabañas in the head on January 25th at a trendy disco in Mexico City. Cabañas is a famous soccer player from Uruguay- and a member of the well-known team, Club America.
Understandably, the civilian reactions to the Ciudad massacre on the internet - via facebook, twitters and comments posted in several newspapers’ web pages - have been those of scorns and cynicisms and total disbeliefs. As it has been proven in many previous cases, most people’s opinion was that the so called suspect was nothing else but a scapegoat -a strategy used too often by public officials to give the impression of effectiveness and rapid response. Some even joked that after the press conference “the suspect was taken to a bar for a few beers” for his effort.
The announcement of the arrest also raised the level of suspicions and disdain toward elected officials from all parties who are now gearing up for a political campaign season that promises to be more dirty than the daily doses of “telenovelas,’’ or soap operas. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) blamed the violence on the PAN (National Action Party); the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) blamed the PAN and the PRI, the PVEM (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico) blamed everybody else and the PT (Workers Party) blamed Obama and the US Latin-American policies.
What’s clear is that two years after Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched with great fanfare his no truce war against the drug cartels, there is hardly one state in Mexico that has not been affected by the violence. Last year Federal and States governments reportedly spent over 110 billion pesos (over 10 billion dollars) to finance the war on drugs. That number is ten times more than what was spent on other pressing issues like public health, education and transportation.
As it is, the recent massacre in Ciudad Juarez is only part of a greater tragedy, and the war on drugs might as well be called the war on the Mexican people.
New America Media, News analysis, Jose Luis Sierra,
In the wake of the massacre of 16 students at a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez, Mexican politicos pointed fingers at each other and stonewalled journalists while civilians all over the country reaffirmed their lack of confidence in their government at all levels.