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An Open Letter from El Diario

Ciudad Juárez's daily newspaper explains Mexico's conflict, beseeches the United States to change its policy, and mourns the deaths of its own.

Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Rarely has a publication been so close to the front lines of Mexico’s ongoing turmoil than El Diario, the 35-year-old daily newspaper published in one of the hubs of the violence, Ciudad Juárez. Three journalists have so far been murdered, their cases unsolved. On Dec. 7, the publication’s editor and publisher, Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda, released this letter. Excerpts are published below, edited for space and clarity.

Thirty-five years ago, El Diario de Ciudad Juárez printed its first issues out of very modest facilities and with an initial distribution of just 200 copies.

Twenty-five years ago, we began to notice the beginnings of what at that time was known as the Juárez cartel, a phenomenon that we considered a huge threat to our borderlands even though the drug-trafficking industry already had a strong presence in our state. El Diario began investigating and publishing on its own, at the local level, assuming all risks associated with reporting on the growing drug-trafficking industry — an industry which was neither removed from, nor isolated from, the greater socioeconomic situation that was evolving along the border with the United States.

When El Diario was born at the start of 1976, the maquiladora industry, export assembly factories designed to give jobs to thousands of unemployed men who ended up in these borderlands, had already been growing for ten years. Originally conceived as a transitory part of the productive sector, which would eventually give way to the development of a national industrial sector, the maquiladora industry never made that qualitative jump. And, unfortunately for Juárez, it never progressed past being an industry of assembly for large U.S. companies. The maquiladora industry became a gold mine for a small number of local businessmen and unethical politicians who took advantage of its existence not only for their own monetary enrichment, but also in order to steer the growth of the city toward large tracts of land that they owned, leading to the disorderly and corrupt expansion of the city.

Certainly, the maquila sector brought an economic boom to the city, but this turned into a treasure for only a few and did not favor human and social development crucial for harmonious growth. Therefore, a number of social conflicts emerged, exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure which, together, boiled over into the generalized problems that we are living with today. Each year, thousands of immigrants arrived to these borderlands, attracted by the promise of employment in the maquila industry, to live instead with all the city’s deficiencies and inequalities, to take over the [economic and social] periphery, to expand the informal sector … to expand the nest that served to incubate a drug-trafficking industry as it continued to grow stronger.

The Juárez cartel got part of its nourishment from the social and economic ailments of the city, but even more so from its infiltration into the police forces and the Army. When Mexican President Álvaro Obregón stated almost a hundred years ago that "There is not a General who can resist a canon shot of fifty thousand pesos," he knew what he was talking about. We are not accusing the military institution as such, but rather pointing out that for years, we in the media have publicized cases of military personnel, including officers, accused of collaborating with organized crime.

What is certain is that in México, and in particular in Ciudad Juárez, we are facing a situation that is so complicated that, over the last four years since President Felipe Calderón declared war on organized crime, both the police force and the military have demonstrated that they are not prepared to confront an enemy whose size and strength they knew little about. 

It is for these reasons, too, that the joint operations carried out against delinquent groups — operations that suffered from a lack of coordination, negligence, and corruption of those who were heading them — also failed. El Diario has grown tired from the numerous times it has questioned such joint operations in its pages.

Unfortunately, the current war in Ciudad Juárez, which is covered extensively in the pages of our newspaper, has taken its quota of blood from us through the deaths of three of our colleagues.

The first was Dr. Víctor Manuel Oropeza, murdered in 1991 because of the content of one of his editorials. He continues to be listed in the directory of our newspaper because the crime which resulted in his death has never been resolved.

The murder of Armando Rodríguez Carreón, a reporter who worked the organized crime beat, followed on November 13, 2008. In the two years since his murder, we have received an infinite number of promises from both the state and the federal governments that the case will be resolved soon, but that has not yet happened. His murderer or murderers continue to enjoy impunity.

And lastly, photographer Luis Carlos Santiago was shot to death just this past September 16. His case is also stalled.

El Diario has invited Mr. Gustavo Salas Chávez, the police director in charge of investigating crimes against journalists, to visit us in Ciudad Juárez and inform us about the progress in the cases of our three colleagues. So far, we have not been able to arrange for his visit.

The suffering of our community, as well as the blood spilled by our reporters, appears to finally have focused the world’s attention on Juárez with a different vision, with an outcry that continues to grow, that demands a stop to this barbarism, and calls for the implementation of actions and strategies [to combat the violence] different from those used before.

Some North American journalists are of the opinion that if the U.S. Army were to intervene in México, the drug cartels could be stopped. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the U.S. military were to directly interfere in our national territory, it would give organized crime organizations the tools they need to convert their members into guerrillas. Criminals would be converted into soldiers, while their leaders could appeal to nationalism and to the historic yoke that the United States has held over México. This type of solution would be the most dangerous possible because our country would be totally devastated. It is not because of a false sense of nationalism that we are opposed to this alternative; rather, we simply do not believe that it would work.

No. The solution must come from México and from its society — though it’s clear that the U.S. government should participate, because the problem has two sides.

The measures adopted by both countries are insufficient. The United States has gotten involved by crafting programs such as the Mérida Initiative, with its rickety scope, and by pressuring the Mexican state to detain the heads of the various organized crime groups — without helping to fix the grave social problems this causes in our country. These measures actually do very little to decrease its internal market: the largest consumer market for drugs in the world. So long as the United States refuses to recognize that the majority of the problems can be found there, as can most of the solutions, it is highly doubtful that the scenario we now face in Mexico will change.

Meanwhile, President Calderón has not focused clearly or closely on this situation. As we have reiterated in our editorial spaces, the Mexican leader not only has not been able to decisively confront organized crime, but he has also given in to orders from the United States to use a punitive strategy, the consequences of which we are all aware.

And so here we find ourselves, in the middle of a conflict we did not ask for but which has swept us all up in its force, including those of us who are charged with informing the public in the midst of the danger.

México and the United States are countries with two very different cultures. Even if the consumption of some drugs were to be legalized in our country, we cannot forget that we have millions of young people who do not study and do not work, 100,000 of them in Ciudad Juárez alone. The fight against drugs must be accompanied by a strong strategy to repair the social fabric and to rescue all of these young people from continuing to be the breeding ground for organized crime.

When journalists from other places visit us, as they often do, we need them to take their time to investigate what is really happening in Juárez. We need them not to remember what they hear only from malicious or uninformed people. Because published words, as we all know, can build up or destroy. And in Juárez, we need all the help we can get to get out of the hole we are in.

Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda

Publisher and editor

El Diario de Juárez

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