Saturday, April 23, 2011

Corruption and hypocrisy

Ok, so in Mexico these days, we have an increasing number of politicians, pundits and journalists calling for an end to the drug war, an end to the use of military force in particular. The current strategy isn't working, they say, the violence is simply increasing. The people want the military off the streets and back in the barracks, they say.

Valid points. The violence is increasing. Tamaulipas, in particular, is getting much worse. (The Washington Post has a grim read on the so-called Highway of Death, the main road through the state.) The calls to end the use of military force (which the authorities argue is the reason for the increased violence, remember – the military crackdown and arrests have turned the cartels on each other etc etc) have more than a ring of sanity to them.

Many of these same critics of the drug war also accuse the Calderon administration of collusion with the Sinaloa cartel, and making a pact with Chapo Guzman. There is evidence, some of them say, that former Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino sent an envoy, a general, to meet with Chapo himself and orchestrate said pact. The Mexican government cannot negotiate with drug traffickers, the critics scream, or it will be just as corrupt and evil as the narcos themselves.

But aren't the drug war critics themselves in essence calling for a pact? Sure, most of them are arguing that social programs, education, addiction/rehab programs and the like are the priorities. Which is all true and good. But to pull the military out of the drug war would be to allow the drug trade (in Mexico) to continue unabated. It would mean to either turn a blind eye to the drug trade (and all the monstrosities that come with it – beheadings, killing of innocent people etc) or to be complicit in the trade, as many officials from the PRI were in the old days (and to be fair, many members of all of Mexico's parties probably still are today).

There is no way the drug trade would cease if the military was taken off the streets. The police cannot handle this sort of organized crime. And the people of Mexico certainly can't be burdened with the task of taking on the narcos themselves through denuncias anonimas.

So, sounds like the critics are asking for a pact, even if it's not negotiated outright, it'd be implicit.

There's a weird hypocrisy enveloping much of Mexico these days regarding the drug war, in my opinion. For instance, I constantly hear journalists crying out about how you can't trust the authorities, then they use testimony taken by said authorities to prove that the authorities are corrupt. So can you trust the authorities or not? You can't, for instance, call Garcia Luna corrupt in public or in a book using testimony that was taken by the PGR and then thrown out by them because it didn't warrant serious investigation and then call the PGR equally useless and corrupt. Well, you can, but you come across a bit like a naive fool and your argument wouldn't stand a chance in court.

Of course, any thinking person would realize that it's not black and white, that some testimony is more valid than others, that just because you "have the documents" doesn't mean those documents are worthwhile or would hold up in a court, or that they give you the right to scream in public that someone is corrupt. (Well, actually I'm not 100 percent sure about Mexican freedom of speech laws, maybe one does have the right to shout accusations like that in public).

I think all journalists should be somewhat suspicious and skeptical, and I know that Mexican courts still leave much to be desired, but I think journalists should be wary of simply taking the easy route and blindly accusing the authorities of all being corrupt. That sells books, it sells magazines and newspapers, but it doesn't get you one inch closer to the truth or democracy. And it honestly doesn't help Mexico one little bit. There are people in the government, people like former Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, for instance, who actually are trying to improve their country's judicial system, its investigations, its systems of law enforcement. Journalists should be doing the same, not simply trying to cash in by throwing accusations out to see what sticks. (On another note, they should also press officials etc whenever possible to answer for serious allegations – ie, staged arrests or military abuses.) Using the word corruption so loosely is not only dangerous, the word loses its value when it actually matters.

When writing The Last Narco, I came across a source (Samuel Gonzalez Ruiz, the former SIEDO prosecutor) who claimed the DEA and US Embassy had helped Chapo escape in 2001. I was skeptical of his claims, but given his previous position as an authority, I reported it. I also checked with DEA for their response. I was shocked by part of their reaction, which was "Thanks for calling to ask." Well, of course I asked. I was trained as a journalist to ask for comment before accusing someone of something as atrocious as that. (I should also add that I was raised as a kid to think before I speak.) I don't care whether it is true or not, or whether I have evidence or not, the accused has a right to answer the accusations in person or on the phone before publication.

Former President Vicente Fox, on the other hand, has resorted to posting messages on Twitter in answer to journalist Anabel Hernandez's claims that he received $20 million in return for Chapo's escape. "Anabel Hernandez is always... trying to sell books at the expense of others. If you have proof, show it. Or be quiet..." reads one.

I don't really care whether you're a fan of Fox or not, or whether you disagree with his governing of Mexico, his handling of the Oaxaca mess, or whatever. If you accuse him of taking $20 million for Chapo's escape, and you claim to have proof, show it! Show it on TV when you are doing all those interviews! Why has no one asked Anabel Hernandez to show this proof? Why didn't Carmen Aristegui, one of the country's best journalists, ask her to show the proof? We all want to see it! (And don't get me wrong, I also admire her work as an intrepid journalist, and her courage in writing the book. But I just want to see proof of such massive corruption.)

After my book came out, a bunch of Mexican papers and magazines (Proceso included) called me asking about certain allegations in the book. One misquoted me, saying that I accuse the DEA and US Embassy of doing a deal with Chapo (rather than my source claiming it). They also pushed me to say that Garcia Luna is corrupt, when I have no evidence of that, nor do I make the claim. I simply noted some available testimony (incidentally, some of the same testimony Anabel Hernandez used in her book) and noted the appropriate denials. If I had solid proof, I would have written a front page story for the New York Times and I would be a Pulitzer prize winner by now. A couple of journalists have also tried to push me to say I've been threatened by the authorities. I haven't been, that's that. No one has threatened me in the slightest.

Folks, pushing people to say such things just to rile up public opinion against the authorities because you have an agenda is just bad journalism. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's corrupt journalism.

Let's stick to the hechos, not just the dichos, to paraphrase Mr Marizco at

1 comment:

  1. How refreshing it is to hear this honest perspective. Thank you for "keeping it real" just as you did in your fantastic book. Please write another book!