Drug insurgents even killing the media clowns in Mexico

Washington Post:

Gamaliel López Candanosa seemed an unlikely candidate to join the ranks of disappeared or murdered reporters in Mexico, now the second deadliest country in the world for journalists after Iraq.

Known for his rascal's smile and laughing eyes, López distinguished himself not as a hard-nosed investigative reporter, but as the clown prince of television news in this prosperous industrial city about 130 miles southwest of McAllen, Tex. He slipped into tights, a mask and a cape for his on-air reports, morphing into "Super Pothole Man," a comic book-style hero who joked about poorly maintained streets.

But on the afternoon of May 10 -- after taping a piece that featured him singing with a one-eyed mariachi and reporting live on the birth of conjoined twins -- López and his cameraman, Gerardo Paredes Pérez, vanished. Colleagues at the TV Azteca affiliate where they have worked for 12 years fear the veteran journalists are dead. They suspect drug cartels, which have been blamed for 3,000 murders in Mexico in the past year and a half, and which have turned this once mostly peaceful city into a shooting gallery.

More than 30 journalists have been killed in the past six years in Mexico, including a television reporter in Acapulco and a print journalist in the northern state of Sonora in the month before López and Paredes disappeared. Countless others have been kidnapped in a campaign of intimidation largely attributed to the drug cartels.

As more reporters die, journalism itself is suffering. A newspaper in Sonora said last week that it was temporarily shutting down because of attacks and threats by criminal gangs. Top editors at the two largest newspapers here in Monterrey, Milenio and El Norte, said in interviews that they no longer ask crime reporters to dig deeply on their stories.

"I don't know how to do investigations without getting people killed," Roberta Gomez, Milenio's executive editor, said during an interview at a Monterrey seafood restaurant where gunmen opened fire during the lunch rush not long ago.

At risk is the vibrancy of the free press in Mexico's still developing democracy. President Felipe Calderón has called the intimidation of journalists "an unacceptable situation," promised to protect journalists and discussed possible legislation to achieve that goal. But reporters keep dying and news media offices keep getting attacked.

There is much more. Monterey has gone from being safe to dangerous in a hurry this year. The Drug lords are sending their kids to school in fancy cars with body guards these days too. It sort of gives a way the game but nothing happens because of the successful intimidation and the corruption of the local police.

Mexico is engaged in an important war for its soul and we should be doing what we can to help Calderon win this war before it spreads across the border any more than it already has.


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