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Narco News 2001

January 8, 2001

The story breaks in Mexico...

Banamex to US Court for Narco

Lawsuit vs. Two Journalists

This column, by award-winning journalist Carlos Ramírez, appeared this morning in 25 Mexican newspapers including the nation's largest, El Universal. The original, in Spanish, can be read by clicking here.

NEW on Tuesday: Narco News Letter to Akin Gump...

"There is an Order from the Judge"

Banamex, to US Court for Narco

By Carlos Ramírez

A long litigation by Roberto Hernández Ramírez and Banamex on the theme of narco-trafficking has arrived in the United States Courts: the banker has sued journalists Mario Renato Menéndez Rodríguez, editor of the daily Por Esto of the Yucatán Peninsula, and Al Giordano, editor of the Internet publication, in the New York Supreme Court.

The issue is over reports published in Por Esto in 1996 about the utilization of beaches on an island owned by the banker Hernández - one of the beneficiaries of the bank privatization of Carlos Salinas and supporter of Vicente Fox - on a the coast of Quintana Roo as a receiving port for cocaine. The daily newspaper published not only the information but also illustrated it with photographs of drug containers from the beaches of this island.

Although on two occasions Mexican courts dismissed each of the two prosecutions by the owner of Banamex against Menéndez Rodríguez because the journalistic report "was based on the facts," now the powerful banker with influence in the government of the PAN party's Fox (who used the infrastructure of Banamex in his campaign and went to the banker's house when he won the elections), has entered the courts of New York with the argument that Giordano, who has published the accusations of Por Esto on the Internet, is a US citizen.

It's no small matter, because the journalist Giordano, a former Boston Phoenix reporter, wants to put Roberto Hernández in the seat of the accused.

On his Internet pages, Giordano revealed months ago that the reports of Sam Dillon of the New York Times about the visit by Clinton to Mérida withheld information about the accusations against Hernández, above all in the context of the presence of Clinton in an important place for narco-trafficking. Accused by Giordano, Dillon declared that he didn't consider this information to be important.

But the task of Giordano and the web site has been important. Details have been revealed there about the falsification of information about drug trafficking and accusations have been made about US hypocrisy in the war on drugs. Giordano recently discovered and accused the that the Associated Press correspondent in Bolivia played a double role that brought him to conflict of interest: he reported as a journalist about Bolivian affairs but at the same time represented a private company and lobbied in its favor. Giordano's accusation caused the resignation of the AP correspondent. Giordano, also, revealed the case of New York Times Mexico correspondent Sam Dillon and his manner of hiding information.

The matter of the lawsuit by Banamex against the journalists Menéndez and Giordano has begun to draw interest in the United States. Journalist Cynthia Cotts broke the story in late December in her "Press Clips" column of the prestigious progressive newspaper The Village Voice of New York with the title, "Drug War Goes to Trial." For the columnist, the matter will reveal a lot: It will open a debate on how the media manages information about narco-trafficking.

The battle between lawyers will also be at the highest level. Menéndez contracted defense attorney Martin Garbus, celebrated in New York because he defended civil liberties against the authoritarianism of the government in the case of Lenny Bruce, a comedian in clubs that used strong words to criticize politicians. The comedian was accused of obscenity, but Garbus proved that the accusation was simply a campaign of police harassment against the comic for his political criticisms.

Banamex, on its end, contracted the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a powerful firm that does lobbying in Washington DC and now litigates in New York. The complaint filed on petition by Banamex is over statements in the US by Menéndez and Giordano last March when they gave various conferences and interviews. At the core, Banamex complains that the declarations by Menéndez and Giordano damaged various business deals of the bank in the United States for their insistence on linking the bank and its owner Hernández Ramírez with narco-trafficking.

In the context of the prosecutions in México, Menéndez has suffered attacks - Mexican style - above all owed to the power relations that the banker Hernández Ramírez had with president Carlos Salinas: last year the offices of Por Esto in Cancún were attacked by gunmen and Menéndez received information that the Salinista government (of president Ernesto Zedillo) was at the point of arresting him over the demand by Banamex and that there had been police outside of his office to bring him by airplane to Mexico City.

The theme is going to heat up when the trial in New York calls the journalist Menéndez and Giordano, and the banker Hernández Ramírez, to testify. The reports in Por Esto were based on declarations by identified witnesses, and by photographs of drug containers on the beaches of the island property of the Banamex owner. The theme, beyond its political character, will impact the issue of liberty of expression in Mexico - but defined by a United States court. And it will affect the spaces of freedom of the press by journalist sites on the Internet.

The tensions have begun to be felt before the allegations have entered the courtroom. The columnist Cynthia Cotts revealed in The Village Voice that Giordano has sought the counsel of attorney Thomas Lesser, who put the CIA on trial in 1986. Lesser confirmed that the case by Banamex tries to slap and silence journalistic criticism. North American lawyers are puzzled as to why Banamex brought the case of Por Esto and to a New York court, in the capital of critical journalism, where the story's capacity to resonate is greater.

The Banamex lawyers center their allegations on statements by Menéndez and Giordano in New York in early last year and the reports by Giordano on the Internet that reached the United States. However, the accused journalists are going to utilize the information that has been featured in Por Esto of Yucatán with the presentation of photographs and eyewitness evidence. At the same time, the journalists will have in their favor the two lawsuits dismissed in Mexican courts because the judges considered that the journalistic reports were based on real facts.

The judicial proceedings of the Banamex-Por Esto case will also directly involve the North American press. Last February, the columnist Cynthia Cotts published accusations that related the banker Hernández Ramírez with Sam Dillon, New York Times correspondent in Mexico until last September. "In Mexico, untouchables are people who are protected by the power they wield," said Cotts, adding. "Two of these people are Sam Dillon and Roberto Hernández."

At issue was the report about the Hernández property that served as the base to traffic drugs in Mexico. The NYT did not publish the information in spite of having spoken with Por Esto. Dillon is currenty writing a book with permission from The New York Times.

In her February column, Cotts told the history of how Dillon and the Times eluded reporting the accusations against Hernández. "Dillon spoke with the sister of Hernández but did not have time to speak with the fishermen who denounced the drug trafficking on the beaches of the banker," Giordano informed. Dillon, who received a Pulitzer Prize for accusations about narco-trafficking, disregarded the proofs in Por Esto: "It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he said. However, judges in Mexico determined that the accusations by Por Esto were "based on the facts."

Thus, narco-trafficking, the Mexican bank, and the press will go to court this year in the United States.


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