Just across the border from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez is notorious for the violence that has accompanied a long war between cartels. Marianne McCune goes to Juarez to see how the once-epicenter of Mexico’s drug violence has changed the city and the reporters who risk their lives to cover it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Marianne is cruising down the byways of Juarez.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Two years ago, Ciudad Juarez was known as the murder capital of the world. Drive down the street with a reporter here and every few blocks he’ll point to where someone was killed or beheaded or dismembered or hung from a bridge. But all along, reporters have found ways to cover at least part of the story, and that’s partly because the drug cartels that were warring here are not as violent as the Zetas, the group now terrorizing Veracruz and Tamaulipas, and because this is a town that thrives on news.
[SOUND OF PRINTING PRESS]
Thousands of newspapers are printed here every day, from the popular El PM, featuring gory photos of murder victims, plus a page or two of traditional porn, to newspapers with serious investigative units. There’s broadcast and Internet stations, and most fascinating –
[MUSIC/UP AND UNDER]
- sites like El Blog del Narco, which consists partly of accounts of violence posted in red by rival gang members themselves. Whoever made this video snagged photos of the dead from Juarez news sites and used them to celebrate their accomplishments, which may or may not be true.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
INTERPRETER FOR JORGE LUIS: In Juarez, you cannot report the whole truth because no one has it, and because it’s too dangerous.
MARIANNE McCUNE: That’s Jorge Luis, publisher of the blog La Polaka. Back in 2008, he was among several journalists to receive a slew of serious threats, and when one of them was murdered, Luis fled. Now he publishes from El Paso, Texas, and despite his claim you can’t report the truth in Juarez, he was outraged when the city’s biggest newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, aimed this headline at the drug cartels: “What is it that you want from us?”
INTERPRETER FOR JORGE LUIS: It is like a police officer saying to a criminal, “Hey, what do you want me to do? Shall I go over there or over here?” It was an embarrassment, and it was applauded around the world.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The world applauded because the paper was printing the truth. It could not cover the news in a city where cartels had more power than the government.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: For me it was more of a way to say, listen, people, you don’t count anymore.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: Because you are unable to stop this. So we are talking now to the people that is really controlling the life in Juarez.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Rodriguez says after her colleague at the paper was killed:
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: We were more angry than scared. Killing of Armando produced the opposite reaction of silence.
MARIANNE McCUNE: As a reporter with roots in the States, she says she felt more motivated than ever.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: I didn’t want any foreign reporter to tell me the story of my city.
MARIANNE McCUNE:El Diario did make compromises. The paper sometimes withheld names or waited to publish risky stories. But Rodriguez has since used transparency laws and shoe leather to cover things like how many murder victims were armed when they were killed.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: It was like 2 percent, like nobody.
[RODRIGUEZ TALKING/STREET SOUNDS]
MARIANNE McCUNE: Today she heads downtown to ask some questions at a bakery. Its name had come up in a database she’s created to track about a hundred young women who’ve disappeared since 2008. This is a new chapter in an old story in Juarez.
So far Rodriguez only has data from ten cases, but her interviews with families are already turning up patterns police seem to have missed.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: They tells you like, oh, she was going downtown, she was going downtown, she was going downtown, in this bakery, in this shoe store, etc.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Her reporting put her on the same lonely bus the missing girls took downtown. Now she’ll check out the bakery where some applied for jobs. A sign on the door solicits active and presentable 18- to 22-year olds.
Rodriguez says sometimes she’ll picture her body lying dead in the places she visits.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: As reporters - we are all in Juarez - we have talked like, “How would you like your funeral?”
MARIANNE McCUNE: A few blocks away, a 25-year-old reporter named Luis Chaparro watches a girl do somersaults in a bare bones boxing gym. She’s training for the masked choreographed fights Mexicans call Lucha Libre.
LUIS CHAPARRO: What I’m trying to do is know why she decided to do Lucha Libre in a place where there’s a lot of prostitution. Most of the womans here are working in bars, are bartenders or, or as prostitutes.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The tattoo on Chaparro’s arm is from a book called Eighty Worlds in a Day. He says they remind him to look for the unexpected.
LUIS CHAPARRO: In this ugly corner of Ciudad Juarez, where there are people really devastated by life, you can see a lot of joy in their eyes, and that’s what my tattoo reminds me of.
MARIANNE McCUNE: But Chaparro covers much more than lifestyle. Last year, he says he too was threatened, after publishing names of corrupt police. He found himself on the floor, hands and feet tied, with a gun pressed to his head.
LUIS CHAPARRO: That’s when the situation here at this border is ugly, you know, when you blame the authorities.
MARIANNE McCUNE: So do you do avoid doing that?
LUIS CHAPARRO: Yes, I, I avoid to directly accuse the authorities.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Last week, he reported a local gang is teaming up with the Zetas, the sadists terrorizing other states. Chaparro’s source was a gang leader.
LUIS CHAPARRO: I think there’s ways to get close to dangerous people, if you always talk with the truth. But I prefer to be in the streets and to go out with a drug dealer who I can trust or –
MARIANNE McCUNE: The phrase, “A drug dealer I can trust” is interesting –
- given the context.
LUIS CHAPARRO: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Yes, it’s, it’s – it’s kind of weird.
MARIANNE McCUNE: In the old days, reporters say drug cartels sometimes handed them cash saying, “Please refrain from talking about us,” government officials too. Now at least in Juarez they say bribes have been replaced by threats. But money still plays an editorial role. Most media outlets depend on income from government-placed ads.
Are there limits to what you’re allowed to say in your paper?
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: Well, unfortunately, I think that the money that the government spends in media provokes censorship.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Sandra Rodriguez is both driven to succeed and pessimistic about her chances, given Mexico’s flawed media policy and what seems to her just a temporary lull in the violence in Juarez.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: All the elements that fuel the violence — the poverty, the impunity, the corruption — I mean, the elements are still there. We haven’t solved any of the problems that were fueling our violence.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.