Press terrorized in Nuevo Laredo; fear grows in Texas

A Nuevo Laredo police officer was killed and the ex-officer she was driving with injured in an attack by unknown gunmen Aug. 10—just two days after the US consulate in Nuevo Laredo re-opened—having closed its doors for a week in protest of ongoing violence in the Mexican border town. Adriana de Leon was the 15th law-enforcement officer to be killed among 110 slayings in Nuevo Laredo so far this year. A city council member was also among the recent vicitims. The town remains occupied by 1,200 federal agents, and a midnight curfew is in effect. The new violence also comes as the city government is offering to bring in tourists from San Antonio for free to convince them the city is safe. (Houston Chronicle, Aug. 11)

Local journalists have been especially targetted, leading the press to adopt a policy of self-censorship. “It’s the new trend of drug gangs: Journalists are warned, paid off or killed,” said Daniel Rosas, the managing editor of the daily El Mañana, Laredo’s oldest newspaper. “Drug battles have become bloodier, and gangs have no code of ethics. They don’t respect human life; why should they respect reporters?”

El Mañana, founded in 1932 with a motto “to promote freedom of expression,” has been censoring itself since its editor, Roberto Javier Mora García, was stabbed to death on March 19, 2004. Earlier this year, former El Mañana reporter Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla, died after being shot outside a radio station, where she had named officials allegedly involved in the drug trade.

El Mañana now reports only official news, its editors said. Other major papers in the border towns have followed suit after their reporters were killed, kidnapped or threatened. This means they aren’t investigating the 173 people who have disappeared since last fall throughout the state of Tamaulipas, now called by journalism organizations as the most dangerous place for reporters to work in Mexico. Twenty-three others who are missing are US citizens from Texas.

In the past 18 months, six journalists have been killed along the border: four in 2004 and two in 2005. Two other journalists have been killed elsewhere in Mexico.

The violence erupted in 2003, when Gulf cartel kingpin Osiel Cárdenas was jailed, sparking a battle for control of Nuevo Laredo, a crucial crossing point to Interstate 35, which runs north straight to Canada. Mexican and US officials say gangs loyal to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán–a fugitive drug trafficker based in Sinaloa–are seeking to seize control of Nuevo Laredo from the Gulf cartel, which has traditionally controlled the region. (Miami Herald, Aug. 11)

The notorious Central American gang network Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 also appears to be active in the region. Brownsville’s NewsChannel 5 reports Aug. 10 that MS-13 members used a local coyote (immigrant smuggler) to cross into Roma, TX, then killed the man who helped them cross. The report stated “The MS-13 gang members are believed to have ties to al-Qaida.”

The claim that al-Qaeda is recruiting Mara Salvatrucha members to slip into the US for terrorist attacks originated from Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez last year, and has never been substantiated. (NewsMax, Oct. 21, 2004)

See our last post on the crisis on the Mexican border.