<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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“They Are Killing in the Name of Democracy”

Mario Menendez Indicts U.S. Drug War, Calls for Decriminalization


By George Sanchez
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar

February 14, 2003

During the opening sessions of the “Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century” conference, Mario Renato Menéndez Rodríguez, the editor of Yucantan’s Por Esto!, gave a broad overview of drug prohibition today. The prolific Mexican journalist had lectured students and visitors of the School of Authentic Journalism the previous afternoon. Though speaking generally at times, his words were nonetheless provocative.


Mario Menédez Rodríguez with Bolivian indigenous leader Felipe Quispe Huanca in Mérida
Photo D.R. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky 2003

Without a written speech, the sixty-six year old editor began his nearly one hour discourse by that stating drugs and narco-trafficking stem from economics and quickly become a political issue with social repercussions. It is a problem, says Menéndez, which can only be solved by the decriminalization of drugs. The proposal begins with drug legalization that is supported by institutional health care centers on a local level. County health clinics in the United States would monitor freely distributed drugs, while simultaneously offering rehabilitation, counseling, and therapy, said the charismatic speaker. All of this would lead to a drop in drug related crime, continued Menendez.

Ultimately, said the Por Esto! editor, this reform must also establish a campaign of drug education that begins in primary school grades. The failure of drug prohibition comes from a business as usual attitude that is rife with meaningless treaties that only shift the blame, said Menéndez. This proposal, he explained, is not about free drugs or merely legalization, but solving the problems created by drug prohibition.

Using Iran-Contra Key witness and former Republican Senate candidate Oliver North as an example, Menendez Rodriguez indicted the United States for its complicity in drug trafficking. The editor illustrated the drug prohibition in a social context, stating that narco-trafficking has led to lawless militaries through out Latin America, countless deaths, and the addiction and prostitution of his region’s youth.

Echoing sentiments he had voiced at a similar conference sponsored by Columbia Law School in 2000, Menendez maintained that narco-trafficking must be discussed in relation to the economic reality that NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – has imposed upon Mexico. Narco-trafficking is a business that reaps billions of dollars per year; its unintended side effects include increased criminal activity and rising prison populations, said Menéndez.

Though the Mexican journalist caught the attention of many Americans in 2001 following the famous Narco News/Banamex Libel suit, his name has been familiar to Latin American readers for decades. Menéndez made a name for himself in the 1960s as the first foreign journalist to interview Fidel Castro. The editors’ body of work spans Latin Americas history of armed revolution since the early 1960s.

His magazine Por Que? (“Why?”) – which later became Por Esto! (“That’s Why!”), was the first magazine in Mexico to accurately report the Tlateloco Massacre on October 2, 1968, publishing the first photos and estimating the death toll to be in the hundreds. Only recently has the Mexican government admitted the actual death toll, after it had previously stated that less than twenty people died that night. Towards the end of his speech, Menendez emphasized the importance of journalism in fighting drug prohibition.

“If we wish to have a healthy world, we must start speaking with the truth. [The Mexican and United States governments] are lying,” said Menéndez, face blush as he spoke to the assembled audience. “They are killing in the name of democracy and we are not for that.”

Pacing back and forth on stage before a theatre of nearly three hundred people, Menéndez’s booming voice and projection made the use of microphones unnecessary. Dressed in his customary guayabera shirt with black pants, the former championship wrestler closed his speech with a journalistic call to arms, saying we have a duty to tell the truth authentically.

“We must fight so that truth is known in the far realms of the nation,” said Menendez Rodriguez.

Receiving a standing ovation, his presentation moved at least two audience members to tears.

“He has a vision of the integration of drug policy in a broader, social, economic, and political dynamic that is correct and often vitally missing in discussions of drug policy,” said Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Though an easily approachable dissection of drug prohibition, one American audience member felt his speech was vague on specifics.

“I’m not sure that he was necessarily up there to pull facts,” said Lindsey Vietor of New York. Agreeing with his proposal to move money into treatment and education rather than military spending, Vietor felt Menéndez’s passion and delivery made up for a speech that fell short of quantitative support.

Authentic Journalism was the topic of discussion the day before, as nearly fifty students and guests listened to Menéndez Rodríguez during a mid day lecture. Dressed in a black guyabera and black slacks, the white haired editor, coiffed like a teenager from the 1950s, spoke with calculation. Responding to Narco News editor Al Giordano’s praise and introduction as the father of Authentic Journalism, Menéndez Rodríguez said such journalism is not about individual reporters.

“Authentic journalism cannot be the work of one person. It has to be the result of a team,” said Menéndez Rodríguez, who translated his words in Spanish and English to the mixed audience.

Authentic journalism comes when reporters seek the community’s voices for a wider understanding of the issue at hand, said Menéndez. Journalism must listen to the voice of the public and advocate on its behalf when the government fails in its duties, said the editor. Journalism’s quest ultimately, according to Menéndez, is to transform the social environment and the journalist.

“A true journalist should feel with the right cheek the blows that his fellow man receives on the left cheek,” said Menéndez.

Menéndez and his work, admittedly, is controversial. The three month investigation of Roberto Hernández Ramírez’s role in narco-trafficking landed him in court in both the United States and Mexico. Though both cases were thrown out, with a Mexican judge ceding Menéndez’s reporting were indeed factual, his work has continued to be dismissed by some. But Menéndez is not bothered by his critics.

“My capital is the credibility and the confidence that people have in our newspaper,” said Menéndez. “They know we will never let them down.”

Full Disclosure: The author wishes to acknowledge the material assistance, encouragement, and guidance, of The Narco News Bulletin, The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, publisher Al Giordano and the rest of the faculty, and of the Tides Foundation. Narco News is a co-sponsor and funder of the international drug legalization summit, “OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Ending Prohibition in the 21st Century,” in Mérida, Yucatán, and is wholly responsible for the School of Authentic Journalism whose philosophy and methodology were employed in the creation of this report. The writing, the opinions expressed, and the conclusions reached, if any, are solely those of the author.

Apertura total: El autor desea reconocer la asistencia material, el ánimo y la guía de The Narco News Bulletin, La Escuela de Narco News de Periodismo Auténtico, su Director General Al Giordano y el resto del profesorado, y de la Fundación Tides. Narco News es copatrocinador y financiador del encuentro internacional sobre legalización de las drogas “Saliendo de las sombras: terminando con la prohibición a las drogas en el siglo XXI” en Mérida, Yucatán, y es completamente responsable por la Escuela de Periodismo Auténtico, cuya filosofía y metodología fueron empleadas en la elaboración de esta nota. La escritura, las opiniones expresadas y las conclusiones alcanzadas, si las hay, son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor

Abertura Total: O autor deseja reconhecer o material de apoio, o propósito e o guia do Boletim Narco News. a Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, o editor Al Giordano, o restante de professores e a Fundaçáo Tides. Narco News é co-patrocinador e financiador do encontro sobre a legalizaçao das drogas Saindo das Sombras: terminando com a proibiçao das drogas no século XXI em Mérida, Yucatan, e é completamente responsável pela Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, cuja filosofia e metodologia foram implantadas na elaboraçao desta reportagem. O texto, as opinioes expressadas e as conclusoes alcançadas, se houver, sao de responsabilidade do autor.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America