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LA Times Reporters Jump on the Coffin of 14-Year-Old Javier Cortés in Atenco to Invent an Untrue Story

LA Timesmen Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martinez Wage a Knowingly False Smear Campaign Against Political Prisoner Ignacio Del Valle


By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in San Salvador Atenco

May 7, 2006

The yet-to-be-determined body count of those killed, disappeared, beaten, raped and imprisoned from the three-day police riot and house-to-house round-up of dissidents in and near San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, included the assassination, last Wednesday, of a 14-year-old boy.

Javier Cortés had been pronounced dead that afternoon and, immediately, officials from the government invented a myth designed to protect the assassins — its police forces — and to assign blame, instead, to protesting townspeople: They claimed that Cortés’ own neighbors, during a highway blockade, threw a “firecracker” that killed him as he walked to his grandfather’s house. The state prosecutor then snarled that he would bring homicide charges, too, against the protest leaders.

The autopsy results, when they were finally released, proved the official story to be false: A police bullet killed Javier Cortés.

And two Los Angeles Times reporters, Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martínez, knew it — the news had already been published in Mexico — when they filed a story about the boy’s Friday funeral, published on Saturday.

The LA Timesmen knowingly chose to withhold that fact from their newspapers’ readers, while inventing other claims that, a Narco News investigation reveals, are baseless and malicious, which is to say, what Enriquez and Martínez reported was knowingly false.

The key source for the Enriquez-Martinez story, a man named Teodoro Martínez Santillan, although the reporters did not tell you, turns out to be the masked police informant that accompanied 3,000 state and federal police in their house-to-house search on Thursday, according to multiple eyewitnesses that are neighbors of the scenes of the crime. Teodoro Martínez Santillan instructed the invaders as to which homes to raid. But you won’t read that in the LA Times, which portrays him as just a man on the street, a machinist, who laid flowers on the boy’s coffin.

A Tear-Gas Canister Shot by Media

Cortés’ death became, for two days prior to the autopsy results, a kind of media tear-gas canister tossed against truth to confuse, distort and chase the facts away from the story. As uniformed police stormed house-to-house in Atenco, as they beat and hauled away men, women and children from their homes, neighbors — who, fearing for their own lives, asked not to be identified — told the Other Journalism that they recognized the voice and the body of the masked man that signaled to the police commanders (often errantly) which were the houses of the “rebellious.” That man, say the neighbors (in fact, his name was mentioned to our reporters by dozens of local citizens as the perp), is Teodoro Martínez Santillan.

Some context about how the news of young Javier Cortés’ death spread through the media and across the Internet and how his murder was used to, falsely, lay the blame on the protestors….

From the May 4 Mexican daily La Crónica de Hoy:

“A 14-year-old youth, resident of the town of Acuexcomac, identified as Javier Cortés, died presumably when a petardo (literally, a “firecracker”) exploded, like those that were used as projectiles in the conflict.”

The Mexican state news agency Notimex then fixed the blame:

“Family members of Javier Cortés blamed Ignacio del Valle (leader of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of Land, in Atenco) for his death, after a firecracker exploded on his chest during the afternoon conflict between residents and federal police.”

And although the autopsy had not yet been concluded, Notimex paraphrased a supposed uncle of the boy as saying:

“Upon conducting the autopsy… it was proved that he was hit by a firecracker and not by a tear gas canister as the ‘atencos’ (protestors) had mentioned at first.”

This Notimex report and others like it were repeated as gospel far and wide throughout the media and the Internet. Few, if any, of the Myna Birds that indignantly decried the violence seemed to find the proper significance in a paragraph farther down in the story:

“For the moment, the uncle stressed, he has not received any economic support from the authorities and he trusted that the family would receive some indemnification to cover the funeral costs.”

In other words, the boy had not even been buried yet, and purported family members were already looking for money.

Funeral for Sale

The governor of the State of Mexico whose troops were responsible for the first waves of violence last Wednesday, Enrique Peña Nieto — he had sent, at first, 500 riot cops to subdue eight flower growers in the Texcoco market, the spark that lit the social explosion — wasted no time in answering the panhandling call by purported family members of the boy. Again, according to Notimex:

“Family members of Javier Cortés Santiago, the adolescent who died in the afternoon in Atenco, State of Mexico, informed that governor Enrique Peña Nieto offered them all the support that they need.”

So, now the boy’s funeral — later to be attended by a pair of lazy LA Times reporters — itself had a financial sponsor: The State. Based on the LA Times report on Saturday, and shameless stories in many less-than-ethical Mexican media companies, the governor got his money’s worth from the advertising.

Notimex, again, spun the story:

“….tomorrow will be the burial of Javier Cortés Santiago, who died presumably from the explosion of a firecracker thrown by residents of Atenco when he went to his grandfather’s house to get some tamales.”

The governor’s appointed state prosecutor, Wilfrido Robledo Madrid, then added “homicide” to the list of charges against protest leaders. According to La Jornada, Robledo called them, “kidnappers, murderers, people for whom it is quicker to tell which crimes they have not committed than to list the crimes in which they have been involved.”

The prosecutor told the daily El Universal that the protest leaders would be charged with the homicide of the 14-year-old boy.

This is what Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos referred to Friday night in Atenco when he denounced “the lynch mob campaign” by the Commercial Media against “the good and noble people” of San Salvador Atenco, and challenged the media to “tell the truth.”

The media drumbeat that accused the protestors of killing a 14-year-old boy who was just trying to get some tamales from his grandfather’s house proved to create a potent myth. In the sweep of hours, so much innuendo and dishonesty has been heaped upon the story as to leave many — especially those trying to follow it from afar — confused. And these included some in and near Atenco, who, at first, believed that the boy had been hit by friendly fire… until the autopsy results were made public.

The myth-making was also stirred up by provocateurs and police informants inside Atenco, as is the usual script for this kind of conflict in Mexico and elsewhere (something that some activists and bloggers should have known prior to posting the official story as gospel). One of these provocateurs, Teodoro Martínez, befriended the two Los Angeles Times reporters at the funeral, and he spun those two guys like tops…

Enter the LA Times

There are so many things wrong with the May 6 LA Times story by “staff writers” Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martínez that to combat each and every untruth, one risks making the story even more confusing. We shall try to do it clearly, because the lies told there are the kinds of malicious statements that lead to more death and destruction if left unanswered.

The first thing wrong is the headline and subhed chosen by the LA Times:

Mexico Town Sees Hope in End of Riots:

Many residents say a 14-year-old’s death may mark the defeat of a separatist movement.”

No honest reporter who has spent recent days in San Salvador Atenco would be able to honestly claim that “hope” is a dominant mood, or even a significant minority feeling, in this town so wracked by violence and pain in recent days. But Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martinez, interviewing a total of five people (a city official, a priest, an aunt, another funeral attendee… and an interested police informant and politician that the writers do not reveal is a longtime political rival of those he defames), invented this “hope theory” out of thin air.

According to all the Narco News reporters that have been in Atenco in recent days — Bertha Rodríguez Santos, Juan Trujillo, Quetzal Belmont, Chan Kin Ortega, Barbara Polin, Amber Howard and your correspondent — the zeitgeist in every home, every face and in every voice in Atenco is not hope: It is fear.

As Rodríguez Santos reported about Thursday morning’s house-to-house raid by 3,000 riot cops:

“They dragged all the youths, men and women out of the house and threw them to the ground, pulling peoples’ shirts up to cover their own faces. The policed forced some people a squatting position and put everyone in a single line. One of the police began counting them by hitting them in the head one by one with a club. As he reached the end, he said, “Ay, I’ve lost count, let’s go back to the beginning,” and indicated to his partner to repeat the whole operation. But in the end, the other policeman said that he couldn’t count either, and so now they needed to count down in reverse order, beating the prisoners as hard as they could. The prisoners, especially the girls, cried out for them to stop the beating, but rather than listening to them the police kicked them without mercy, shouting, “shut up, you troublemaking assholes!”

“Many had lost consciousness, and the police kept beating them,” lamented the Atenco resident, who guessed that the operation lasted until 2:00 p.m. “If as many people as are here today had been there, we would have all come out of our houses, but we were very few. What’s more, when the police saw that we were watching everything they did, they pointed their teargas guns at us and ordered us to get inside because if we didn’t they would come for us.”

“The brute force of the police temporarily silenced this town…”

It is obvious from the citing of just five sources that the two LA Times reporters — interviewing an average of two-and-a-half people apiece, and only at the funeral — did not go to the homes and shops of Atenco to seek to learn the general mood of the populace. But they had to be aware of the fear. Or do they really believe that men, women and children simply start smiling after a six-hour armed police occupation, the arrests of hundreds of relatives and neighbors, and the murder of a teenager, waxing poetically about “hope”?

The reporters did not disclose that the dominant, most-quoted, voice in their story, that of Teodoro Martínez, is the informant of Black Thursday.

Neighbors say that Martínez did not limit his Thursday-morning finger-pointing to homes in which a family member participated in the protests this week, but also, meticulously, he brought this brutality upon everyone considered a leader of the town’s successful 2002 fight against an International Airport; upon every one of their kids, their wives or husbands, and upon anyone else with the bad luck to have been present in those homes. According to eyewitnesses, he also pointed police to homes of families that had always been apolitical and neutral in these battles, but which included people he apparently did not like for whatever sick motive. “They raided my aunt’s house, and took my cousins away,” one young man told the Other Journalism. “But they have never been with del Valle, they have always been neutral.”

Teodoro Does L.A.

If the two LA Times reporters had made any sincere attempt to speak with townspeople, they would have heard the words “Teodoro Martínez” from voices on every block, as our reporters heard again and again. “We know who the informant is,” said one, then another, then many others, to each of our reporters over the course of recent days. “He can’t think that we didn’t recognize his voice and his body because he was wearing a ski mask!” said one man, in tears, as his wife nodded and added, “it was Teodoro Martínez. Everybody knows.”

In that context, listen to Martínez, at the boy’s funeral, spinning the two LA Times reporters against his mortal enemy Ignacio “Nacho” del Valle, the leader of the People’s Front for Defense of the Land in Atenco:

“The only law was the law of the machete,” Teodoro Martinez, a 40-year-old machinist, said outside the church.

Martinez even claimed to be a sympathizer of the 2002 fight against the airport, while at the same time distorting the fight as one over the mere “emotional value” of the land…

“The fight was a good one, to defend the land,” said Martinez, adding that he has known Del Valle since they were children.

Even though much of the soil here is barren, and prices for corn and beans have plummeted, Martinez said, land passed from father to son has tremendous emotional value.

Martínez is portrayed by the LA Times reporters as a mere machine worker, an everyman; not a hint about his political ambitions (he ran for mayor in 2003, and blames Del Valle and the FPDT for not receiving the post), or his direct role in the airport conflict as a pro-airport activist.

Meet the Real Teodoro

A simple Google search by either of the lazy LA Times reporters would have told them more about their source and his true position regarding the proposed airport four years ago. On September 9, 2002, the daily La Jornada reported a march by proponents of the International Airport project in Atenco:

“(In the march) led by PRI (Institutional Revolutionary) party members Teodoro Martínez, Isidro Castro, Alejandro Santiago and the former officials Leoncio Morales and Pilar Medina, the group of 80 people carried white balloons and always spoke in favor of constructing the airport.”

But today, the LA Times allows Martínez to pretend he was a sympathizer with the anti-airport struggle. Again, a simple Internet search for the man’s name, or a walk down any street of Atenco to interview residents, would have revealed Martínez to be an incredible and interested party with a history that contradicts the claims he made to the LA Times.

In October of 2003, Teodoro Martínez appeared in the news again, as perpetrator vigilante actions against Del Valle and those who oppose the airport. These were reported by Mexico’s largest daily, El Universal, on October 11, 2003:

“San Salvador Atenco, Mexico: Citizen brigades of the group named ‘For the Peace’ and PRI party militants will guard, beginning at six p.m. this Saturday, the main entrances to the municipality of San Salvador Atenco, to prevent the entrance of outside ‘subversive’ organizations that arrive to support Ignacio del Valle Medina and the rebel ejido farmers that on two previous occasions boycotted local elections.

“This announcement was made by Teodoro Martínez Santillán, leader of the group ‘For the Peace,’ who said that some 300 citizens and PRI party militants will form vigilante brigades and block access to stop all suspicious people as well as unknown cars and buses from entering.”

From the AFP press agency, the reporters could have learned that Teodoro Martínez was a candidate for mayor in 2003, of the PRI party, but that his March 9 election was annulled due to irregularities including that twenty-percent of the polling places were unable to open due to protests by the airport opponents. Does that, perhaps, establish motive for Martínez’s words today?

When, by October of that year, his own PRI party had abandoned him for another candidate, Martínez, the magazine Via Libre reported, participated in violent confrontations against Del Valle and the FPDT:

“The campesinos retreated to the auditorium. There were a few minutes of peace, but the PRI members — among them Teodoro Martínez, Reyes Pedraza, Daniel Medina, Alejandro Santiago, Rafael Silva and Odilón Medina — came back to confront the ejido farmers, who were led by Ignacio del Valle, América del Valle, Jorge Flores and Felipe Alvarez, among others.

“Within an hour there were three violent confrontations which left ten people injured by rocks or having been hit with seats….”

Other news stories archived throughout the Internet demonstrate that Teodoro Martínez, beyond having been a political candidate, violent vigilante “For the Peace,” and PRI party militant, has often played the role of “press spokesman” for his party; no rookie at spinning the press corps.

Either Enriquez and Martinez of the LA Times got spun worse than a cub reporter for a shopper’s rag, or a more cynical game is at work. Other parts of their LA Times story on Saturday suggest that their motive was not to report the facts, but to smear the protestors and their leaders.

The Specter of “Separatism”

The ideological bent of LA Timesmen Enriquez and Martinez (who last January called Marcos “the Bolshevik Bad Boy”: see John Gibler’s fact-filled smackdown of that report — in which he documented “the reporters’ utter oblivion to the subject of their article” — in Z-Net) astounds in the context that the Los Angeles Times trumpets itself as an “objective” news organization.

They tag the social fighters of Atenco as “separatists” because they fight for autonomy and home rule on the local level, free of political parties. (An absurd claim, among other reasons, because they wave the Mexican flag high and proud along with other adherents to the Zapatista Other Campaign). They claim that Del Valle and his compañeros “overthrew democratic rule” in Atenco during and after the anti-airport fight. The townspeople are portrayed as terrified of the protest leaders (rather than, say, the 3,000 cops that invaded the sanctity of so many people’s homes on Thursday) and as greeting the invaders as liberating heroes. All of it, blatantly false.

The malicious claims by Enriquez and Martinez drift so far from the reality that is today lived in San Salvador Atenco and documented by reporters here and elsewhere that have spent real time in the community since 2001. For more credible information, see Other Journalist Gregory Berger’s documentary, “Land, Yes! Airplanes, No!” available here online; or Maria Botey’s two-part series in Narco News, from 2002: “How the Victory at Atenco Was Won.” Or meet the real Ignacio Del Valle, today a political prisoner, through video footage from planning meetings in the Lacandon Jungle last summer — the man who the LA Times characterizes as “a man who only thinks of violence” in a story the two writers filed earlier last week — from today’s Other Journalism video: “We Are All Atenco.” Or a dozen reports in the past week from the Other Journalism by reporters who, unlike the lazy duo of the LA Times, Enriquez and Martinez, did their homework, spoke with the people, and took down the facts as they really are.

Sam Enriquez and Enrique Martinez did a byline “toe-touch” in San Salvador, Atenco, wielding a 14-year-old boy’s funeral as a weapon in a propaganda war. In their Saturday story, they hid one of the most important facts — that it was a police bullet, and not a protestor’s “firecracker,” that murdered Javier Cortés.

The LA Times story, purportedly about the young man’s Friday afternoon funeral, was published the next day. But before the funeral had occurred, the autopsy results came out. Daniel Blancas of La Crónica de Hoy reported, also on Friday:

“‘Shot by bullet.’ Dr. Julio Ramos Nolasco, of the Texcoco morgue, thus described the cause of death of the adolescent Javier Cortés Santiago.”

The story is dated May 5, but Google News reveals that the newspaper posted it to the Internet on May 4, the night prior to the funeral.

The medical report disproved the version of the story about a tear-gas canister or firecracker, as was initially claimed… in the death certificate, file number 060150663, signed by the same Dr. Ramos, obtained by Crónica, states that the death was consequence of “a wound produced by the firearms projectile, penetrating the thorax.”

The newspaper interviewed the boy’s father:

“‘In the conflict, Ignacio del Valle as well as the police authorities were blamed. But the death of my son has, directly, only one guilty party: the government of the State of Mexico,’ accused Felipe Cortés, Javier’s father.”

Did the LA Times reporters interview the father at the funeral? Did they even try? Why not? Or had they read his words in the press — and on the Internet — and, finding his words inconvenient to their spin, choose intentionally to avoid what they knew he would say? Were these writers dupes, tricked by an informant-hustler? Or did they set out with a dishonest agenda?

Either the reporters — Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martinez — are incompetent slobs or they are complicit liars. Let the reader — and their editors, if, at the LA Times, a shred of conscience still exists there — decide whether either quality is acceptable for a major daily newspaper reporter.

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