Mexican media intimidated by Nuevo Laredo quagmire

San Antonio Express-Light/Houston Chronicle:

For some time now, this city's gunfire has found its echo in silence.

Even the border city's freewheeling and competitive news media — until this year the noisy barometers of an ongoing struggle between two drug cartels — have abandoned their traditional role.

It was a gradual shutdown, but by summer it was complete. In the latest example, a 30-minute shootout Sept. 22 in a ritzy part of the city went unreported by local media.

"Call it self-censorship," said Raymundo Ramos, a former police reporter who now runs a local news Web site. "This is a silenced press, enforced because there is no guarantee for our safety."

One veteran reporter described the state of Nuevo Laredo police reporting like this: "I see, I hear, I shut up."

When the turf war for control of smuggling routes into Texas ratcheted up two years ago, victims' families were the first to keep quiet. They learned that if their loved ones disappeared — or worse — there was no point in reporting it because the police were no help, and talking about the cases left them vulnerable to threats.

Estimates of the number of people kidnapped in Nuevo Laredo in the past few years run to more than 400, and the majority go unreported, Mexican and U.S. officials said.

As assassins began picking off law enforcement and civic officials, such as Police Chief Alejandro Dominguez in June 2005, government voices were reduced to a whisper.

Business owners were next. Tired of extortion and realizing the violence was scaring off customers, some simply moved their operations to the Texas side of the border to Laredo.

All this time, the city's newspapers did a brisk business with brash headlines and bloody photos of victims. Radio stations interrupted programming for breaking news of gunbattles and killings. But Nuevo Laredo news organizations have succumbed. They no longer cover their most important story.

...
The Gulf Cartel, which apparently got the upper hand in the turf battle wants to keep the media quite so that the government will not send more Federalis to interfere with their domination of the area. The rule of law has been replaced in Nuevo Laredo. It is now the rule of the drug thugs.

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