After one of its photographers was gunned down by members of a drug cartel, the Ciudad Juarez edition of the newspaper El Diario ran a front page editorial asking "What do you want from us?". El Diario editor Gerardo Rodriguez explains.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Mexico’s ongoing drug war has taken 28,000 lives since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a militarized campaign against the cartels in 2006. Among the casualties are at least 30 journalists killed or disappeared. Last Sunday, after the murderer of staff photographer Luis Carlos Santiago, the newspaper El Diario of Ciudad Juarez printed an editorial on its front page titled What do You Want from Us?, a query both angry and plaintive directed at the cartels. On Wednesday, Calderon announced a plan to help protect journalists, but that’s likely to be of limited solace because there’s no trustworthy authority in Juarez. Gerardo Rodriguez is an editor for El Diario. Welcome to the show.
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So can you tell me exactly what your editorial said?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: It’s asking the leaders of the Plaza, and this is the territories that are run by island cartels, that in this war between them and the government we are in the middle, under fire, and we're not getting a clear message why are they killing our journalists. Armando Rodriguez was a police reporter who got killed less than two years ago in front of his house, killed in front of his daughter. His crime has not been solved, even though we have promises from the presidency. And then Luis, last week.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The photographer.
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Yes. He was shot in the middle of the day in a mall. And then the killer ran and, and chased his companion, which he’s also a graphic reporter for our newspaper. Both were wearing their IDs for the newspaper. The other photographer is, is alive, but he’s in a secret location.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is it true that in Juarez only about 2 percent of these drug-related murders are actually solved?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Yes, it is. Only 3 percent get ever to courts, and less than those are solved.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the paper’s editorial read, quote, “It is impossible for us to do our job under these conditions. Tell us, then, what do you expect from us as a newspaper?” You didn't really expect the cartels to respond with a bill of particulars, did you?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Well, of course, we are not expecting a direct message. This is written in an ironic manner. It used to be that they would call the TV stations and the newsrooms, and they would threaten. But now, without any notice or without us knowing why, they are killing our reporters. And we just don't think a story is worth life.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You say that there was a certain ironic intent in your editorial, but it reads like a real cry of the heart.
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Yes.
[OVERTALK/BOTH AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What was your actual intention?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: To send a message, you know, that we, we recognize that they are the authority in town, because the authorities are nonexistent. The cartels are not just criminal. You know, sometimes they're politicians. We're recognizing this fact, which everybody talks about in Mexico but is not published very often.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So who do you think the principal target for El Diario’s message was? Was it the cartels, the Mexican authorities, the American authorities?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: They just gave asylum for the first time to a Mexican reporter here in the United States, and he’s from Juarez. And so, it seems that the United States authorities are recognizing this now. We've been waiting for that for a long time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've said that you hope that this story will get a lot of play in the American media. What do you think they can do to help?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Well, not just in American media. We've received calls from everywhere, and London, Canada, Latin America, from people who tell us that we are very courageous to publish the feeling of the people of Juarez. We're very angry, very sad. We don't know who to go to. We're just frustrated. Also, let me tell you, yesterday a lot of people just got fed up with the authorities, that they're not doing anything, so they killed two criminals with their own hands, you know, just cut them in a vigilante style. They just took their law into their own hands.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What would be the ideal response to your editorial?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Well, I hope that the people understand that this war is being fought over our city, a place where a lot of things go from south to north and from north to the south, and that’s not going to stop. The use of drugs are increasing in the United States. We're all responsible for what’s going in Juarez. The criminal cartels are worldwide, and there is not a unilateral solution for this. It’s not a Mexican problem. It’s an international problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you see a future for reporters in Mexico reporting on the drug trade, or do you think that there’s simply nowhere to go from here?
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: Our reporters are very courageous. They're using bulletproof vests now, and we just bought life insurance for some of the reporters. And they're very courageous. The people in Mexico are very courageous. Mexican society is getting fed up with this violence, and even though right now I'm hopeless, I think that things are changing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gerardo, thank you very much.
GERARDO RODRIGUEZ: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gerardo Rodriguez is an editor for El Diario in Ciudad Juarez.