<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
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Another Grenade Attack Against Por Esto! Brings Out Civil Society to Defend the Newspaper

“Taxi Driver Sentinels” Now Patrol the Streets of Mérida as Another Mexican State – Yucatán – Heads Toward Social Conflict

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

September 4, 2006

A poor, largely indigenous Mexican state known internationally for its ancient ruins, traditional cuisine, and other tourist attractions… a repressive governor that protects organized crime and narco-traffickers… a crusading daily newspaper in a historic capital city that exposes him… as repeated violent attacks against that newspaper and its reporters spark citizens to defend it, assuming the job that the government won’t do… The story sounds eerily familiar. But the state is Yucatán. Its capital is Mérida. The newspaper is Por Esto! And the governor who is playing with fire is Patricio Patrón Laviada.

Unexploded fragmentation grenade in the Por Esto! offices
Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
On Friday morning, September 1, attackers tossed two fragmentation grenades into the lobby of the daily Por Esto!, a newspaper known to Narco News readers whose publisher, Mario Menéndez Rodríguez was our victorious co-defendant in the 2001 Drug War on Trial case. It is a busy lobby frequented by journalists, pressmen, receptionists, secretaries, delivery staff, advertisers, news sources and representatives of every strata of Civil Society (your correspondent has stood there hundreds of times). One of the grenades exploded, splintering the front desk, shattering glass doors, and breaking the time-card clock which now immortalizes the hour of the attack: 7:25 a.m. Security guards and staff in the adjacent room were wounded by flying shards of glass and temporarily deafened by the sound of the explosion. Fortunately, no one was in the lobby, because this kind of grenade is a weapon designed to kill. The other grenade failed to explode. Soldiers of the Mexican Army, experts in explosives, successfully removed it and detonated it in an isolated field.

Ricardo Delfín Quezada Domínguez
Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
It was the third violent attack against Por Esto! reporters in eight days, the second in the city of Mérida, and the latest in a long string of attempts to silence the press on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. However, this time, the guilty parties overplayed their hand. In lieu of pursuing the perpetrators, who escaped in a blue Explorer van, the state attorney general (handpicked by the governor) went and rounded up an anthropology professor and collaborator with the newspaper, Ricardo Delfín Quezada Domínguez of the Autonomous University of Yucatán, and in a mockery of justice detained him for the crime. “He’s my brother!” don Mario told Narco News as the professor was being interrogated in jail. “This is the man who has denounced all the environmental crimes by the government and its oil company!”

Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
The reaction by Civil Society was swift and on a scale not seen since the 1990s when Banamex-Citibank director Roberto Hernández Ramírez – exposed for cocaine trafficking on his lands by Por Esto! – unsuccessfully sued the newspaper 17 times in Mexico and once in the New York Supreme Court. In some ways it has been larger, particularly in the media, where large dailies from Mexico City to New York, and international press freedom organizations, that remained silent in the face of the powerful narco-banker attacks on the paper, quickly reported the story this time (perhaps an encouraging sign of a new era of journalistic solidarity in Mexico and América during an hour of moral crisis). But it was on the ground in Yucatán and in the streets of Mérida where public outrage over the attack has boiled over into direct action.

Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
More than two hundred taxi drivers flocked to the scene of the crime on the corner of 60th and 73rd Streets near downtown Mérida, across the street from the Libertad Menéndez public school. The combative union president, Nerio Torres Ortíz told publisher Menéndez Rodríguez that his members will patrol the streets, office and homes of Por Esto!’s journalists, converting themselves into “taxi driver sentinels” to assume the job that the government of Patricio Patrón Laviada and his keystone prosecutors would not do.

“We come here today full of rage, full of consternation, because it is not possible that in a land like ours, accustomed to living in peace and tranquility, they want to silence, with violence or terrorism, the only information source that speaks truthfully and in favor of the people of Yucatán,” said don Nerio to don Mario and the crowd that gathered in front of the newspaper headquarters.

The attackers fled in this getaway van, found abandoned near the city’s bus terminal
Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
“We come here today to say to our friend, to his family, to his reporters, that we are awaiting the unfolding of events in the coming days, so that the investigations come to a happy ending,” warned Torres Ortíz. “We don’t want what has always happened to happen again, when criminal acts are committed and the story stops there. Today we want this case solved because it is not only your safety at stake but also that of all of us who live in Mérida.”

“By unanimous decision of the taxi drivers, of every single one who goes out in the streets to feed his family, we will be caring for the safety of our publisher and his family,” the muscular union president vowed. “That’s why I ask you not to think it strange if you see taxis on the corner by your home because we will be here, the taxi driver sentinels… And if needed in the days ahead, Mario, just pick up the phone and our entire organization will be here with you.”

Photo: D.R. 2006 Por Esto!
Representatives of dozens of organizations – farmers, teachers, unions, evangelical churches, the Democratic Front of Yucatán, and outraged men and women on their own – also arrived at the newspaper offices and formed a human chain for the length of 60th street between 71st and 73rd to protect the newspaper offices. Many of their placards were directed at Governor Patricio Patrón Laviada: “Governor! The police corps are for protecting citizens, not to repress, harm, threaten or beat those who, with their taxes, pay their salaries!”

The popular rejection of these violent attacks on a crusading newspaper (with the third-largest circulation in all of Mexico) is increasingly focused on the unpopular and repressive governor.

On Saturday, a special prosecutor specializing in attacks on the press from the federal attorney general’s office in Mexico City took the investigation away from Patrón Laviada’s state prosecutors. After interviewing the wounded and other eyewitnesses, they released professor Ricardo Delfín Quezada Domínguez from custody on Sunday afternoon, citing the complete lack of evidence against him. But the real bombers are still at large, with the apparent protection of Patrón Laviada. Friday morning’s explosion at 7:25 a.m. in downtown Mérida was the spark in the basement full of gasoline created by the repressive and corrupt governor, during these September days of a growing national rebellion. Yucatán, and particularly Mérida, now enter the list of Mexican states and cities on the verge of a sweeping historic tide.

To be continued…

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