The federal police on Saturday detained a Mexican man at Mexico City's international airport trying to leave the country with $57,000 hidden in various parts of his suitcase, El Universal reported today.
This is nothing unusual, except for the fact that the man is not just any man, but a former El Universal reporter, Alejandro Suverza Tellez. He was well-known for his stories about narcos; the last story he wrote for El Universal was a piece on Feb. 4, 2011, about the Mexico City metrobus.
Was he guilty of something other than trying to take an illegal amount of money out of the country?
I honestly have no idea, nor do I have a hunch of any sort. I met Suverza once, in a hipster Mexico City bar. He was surrounded by young women, and seemed like the kind of guy who enjoyed the attention his stories brought him (who wouldn't? it's not as if the money for a Mexican journalist is great). He'd been to Michoacan and interviewed a leading member of La Familia, for instance; everyone was enthralled by that story. He was a tough looking guy, looked like he came from the streets, looked like he could hold his own in narco-territory. He gave me tips about how to report in Tepito, too.
You could tell he was a journalist pretty much right away. He wasn't a gangster; he didn't look rich to me. He certainly didn't appear arrogant. At times during our conversation, he came across as quite compassionate.
Was he in with the narcos? Is that where the money came from? Or was he simply a reporter eager to get the hell out of Mexico, where his only hope was to cover the drug trade for the rest of his life? (Suverza's not the sort of guy who gets promoted into the upper echelons of the Mexican media, ever.) Had he saved his money legitimately, only to try and take it out of country illegally?
When reporters who cover narcos get killed in Mexico, almost inevitably their name gets sullied with rumours that they were linked to the very same people they covered. Likewise reporters who cover any other sordid element of society. (In fact, this isn't just true of Mexico, it's true of many parts of the world.)
I don't know if Suverza crossed the line, and I sincerely hope he didn't, for his sake, that of my profession and also my initial judgment of him as a person.
I also hope there is a serious investigation into where he got the money. I sincerely hope they find that he stashed it away under the mattress, hoping to leave Mexico one day, and that the only crime he is guilty of is failing to declare his cash upon exiting the country.
Lastly, I hope El Universal fully acknowledges its relationship with Suverza and works to get the truth out. If it doesn't, well, then it's no better than those in the government who issue promises to protect reporters who cover organized crime and then fail to deliver on anything.