|English | Español||February 8, 2016 | Issue #67|
Journalist Anabel Hernández Won't Stop Fighting Corruption in Mexico Despite Death Threats
Her Book, "The Lords of the Narco," Has Sold 75,000 Copies in Mexico and Will Soon Be Available in English
By Tadeu Breda
Photo of the book Los señores del Narco by Anabel Hernández. DR 2011 SDP Noticias
The threats were constant, but they intensified soon after Los señores del narco arrived in bookstores. Anabel learned that sectors of the Federal Police wanted her dead and had begun to plan her assassination. According to her, agents she has total confidence in listened with their own ears to the strategy and decided to tell her about it. The plan was to kill the journalist as if it was a common crime, mounting a farce that “happens every day in Mexico,” she says.
Fortunately, there was time to denounce this in the press and to ask for protection from the National Human Rights Commission. For security they offered her two bodyguards that currently follow her around where ever she goes, like twin shadows with mustaches and guns at their waists. The escorts offer some tranquility, but they are surprisingly small compared to the protection enjoyed by Roberto Saviano for example, a journalist who wrote the book Gomorra that reported the names of all of the Italian mafia. He counts on twenty security guards to protect his life from hitmen.
Nevertheless, the constant threats don’t take away Anabel’s spirit—well, yes, sometimes they do, but they’re not enough so that she abandons her investigations or flees the country. “A journalist who has to walk with bodyguards in an embarrassment for any nation. I constantly fear for my health and the health of my family, but the fear only drives me and lets me know that I’m on the right path.” Anabel says that she had the chance to leave Mexico when journalism associations from the United States offered her asylum. However, she didn’t accept it. “I have a role to carry out here. The moment has arrived where Mexicans can’t be cowards.” Soon the journalist will travel to the “hottest” places in the country to present and debate her book. Anabel should be visiting Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa, and warns that “I will go anywhere else where I’m invited to speak on the subject.”
The subject isn’t simple. Anabel explains that relations between narco-trafficking and the Mexican State have taken root since the 1970s. During that time the government already had agreements with drug kingpins. The main difference from the present day, she says, is that state institutions had total control over the drug trafficking groups. “The government was an authority over the traffickers, and it told them what they could and couldn’t do. The State had the strength to enforce the rules,” she remembers.
However, the scene began to change in 1980, with the introduction of cocaine into the Mexican drug market. “When they only traded marijuana the narcos didn’t have as much flight and importance,” Anabel analyzes. It’s understandable. Marijuana is harder to transport, it takes up more space, weighs more, and has to be sold in a huge quantity that offers sufficient profits. Cocaine is light and expensive. Huge shipments earn billions of dollars. To cite an example, Pablo Escobar, the mythical Colombian trafficker, bought an enormous hacienda after getting his first shipment of cocaine through to the United States. To do it he used an airplane, which was later retired to decorate the entrance to his new country estate.
“The Colombians with the Cali and Medellín drug trafficking groups collaborated with the Mexican narcos to bring cocaine to the US market,” Anabel explains. They wanted to explore the large, desert border between Mexico and the United States, once the routes used in the Caribbean Sea had already been found out. “So the traffickers began to have great economic power in Mexico. The connection to the Colombians gave the narcos a broader vision of trafficking, which began to be managed as a great business.”
The Central Intelligence Agency also played an important role in strengthening Mexican drug kingpins in the 1980s. To increase the support given to the Contras—a group that fought in the Nicaraguan jungles to overthrow the Sandinista government—the US intelligence agency made a pact with the Colombian and Mexican narcos. “They would turn a blind eye to transporting drugs to the US if the heads of trafficking helped finance the counterrevolution in Nicaragua. There are declassified documents that I have access to that prove this relationship.”
With more and more money, the narcos were corrupting Mexican institutions, governments, and security forces little by little until it got to the point where politicians began to finance their campaigns with drug money. So the kingpins began to transform themselves into the highest authorities of the country, until they reached the level that they currently have.
After the National Action Party (PAN) came into power, 40,000 deaths, widespread corruption, political abuse, forced disappearances, militarization of the country and insecurity in the streets were brought to Mexico. This doesn’t mean that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had control of the presidency for seventy years, has not collaborated with drug trafficking. “Until December 1, 2000, all Mexican politicians overlapped with the drug traffickers and protected them, all without exception. Each group had its territory and operated in it. They coexisted peacefully, since there was a market for everyone.”
Vicente Fox’s rise to the presidency changed the rules of the game, especially when it allowed Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa trafficking group, to escape from a maximum security prison. The escape occurred in January 2001, a time when, according to Anabel, the relationship between the narcos and the government began to radically change. “The government decided to protect Chapo and to fight his enemies with the State’s power. The State invaded territories that belonged to other groups with the Army, they forcefully threw them out, and then they let the Sinaloa organization take its place.”
However, the remaining trafficking groups were not dead. They had the fire power and the organization to do what they’re doing now: defending their turf through bloodshed. “Of course, they will not leave their businesses overnight,” Anabel explains. “If Vicente Fox had fought all of the traffickers the same we would not be witnessing the blood bath that we see everyday. There are official records that indicate the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI in Spanish initials) protected Sinaloa. The documents say it.”
Anabel says she has access to a letter sent to Army generals from the Zetas, another powerful Mexican trafficking group. According to her words, the text says “We will not let you take away our territory and give it to others. If the government wants to fight the narcos, OK, we are aware we’re involved with something illegal. But you must fight everyone, without exception.”
Despite having looked into the relationship between the PAN and the Sinaloa trafficking organization, Anabel still doesn’t have enough proof to explain it. In the end, why would Vicente Fox favor Chapo, and not any other kingpin? Nobody knows the truth.
Nevertheless, the journalist is sure that Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s policy and his war against narco-trafficking that began in 2008 has only increased the violence in Mexico. With that, Anabel has an explanation. “The war is not against narcos, but also between narcos, because the government is part of the drug trafficking groups. This is why the State’s security forces have lost notions of civil and human rights, and can calmly abuse their authority.”
According to the Newseum’s Journalist Memorial in the Untied States, in 2010 seven journalists were killed in Mexico. They were Carlos Alberto Guajardo, with Expreso de Matamoros, Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina, with La Tremenda, Hugo Alfredo Olivera Cartas, with El Día de Michoacán, José Luis Romero, with Línea Directa, Luis Carlos Santiago, with El Diario de Juárez, Valentín Valdés Espinosa, with Zócalo de Saltillo, and Enrique Villicaña, with La Voz de Michoacán. The country is no less dangerous than Pakistan when it comes to carrying out the job of reporting.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism