Reckoning in Tijuana

Mexico is not at war, but its people can hardly tell the difference. Cartel violence is an equivalent, racking up one of the world’s highest homicide rates and killing more journalists than any other place on earth, nine last year and more the fifty since 2018. So far this year, three have been killed for their courage to report the doings of the drug cartels which virtually control Mexico and brook no opposition. The penalty is invariably death.

The question is how the journalists manage to carry on, but they know their work is vital since no other country. including the U.S., takes much interest in what they face. Mexico’s overwhelming violence is studiously ignored while media and government attention is focused on the possibility of violence half a globe away in Ukraine. It’s a close ally, we’re told. But what is neighboring Mexico?

Three years ago, Mexican President Lopez Obrador held a press conference in Tijuana, especially susceptible to violence. Reporter Lourdes Maldonado Lopez told him, “I fear for my life “, referring to a dispute she had with a former employer, the boss of a media outlet and a top regional politician – read drug cartel. The president said he would investigate. That didn’t prevent her from being shot to death in her car in Tijuana in January.

Lourdes Maldonado Lopez. Photo by: BBC News

On learning of this, the president said – not very accurately – he hadn’t been aware of any likely violence. But then his policy has been one of forbearance toward the cartels. He says he looks forward to an era of good feelings: “we must purify public life so that materialism doesn’t dominate us, so that ambition, ego and hate are set aside.” But are the cartels listening?

To pacify whatever critics may exist across the border, Mexico has established a protection program for endangered journalists, including a panic button for emergencies. None of this helped Lopez in her hour of need, but then was it meant to? The cartels decide who lives or dies in Mexico.

Earlier in January, photo newsman Margarito Martinez, who covered crime in Tijuana, was shot and killed after numerous threats on his life, and reporter Jose Luis Gamboa, who connected local authorities with organized crime, was stabbed and left dying on a street in Veracruz state. The killers are hardly ever caught, much less put on trial. After all, they’re working for the state – the drug cartels.

We can imagine the uproar if this many journalists were killed in the U.S. Yet Mexico is right next door. Perhaps the same attitude prevails as it does on the border. Drugs are allowed to pour across, in particular fentanyl which can kill by overdose or by any dose since it’s regularly laced to other drugs that can be swallowed unaware.

Someone is benefiting from this extraordinary pillage. Along with drugs, many billions in drug money spread around the U.S. If those who profit care little for the American lives lost to drugs – 100 thousand a year – why should they care about Mexicans? American eyes, currently fixated on distant Ukraine, should turn south, and focus on the genuine U.S. enemy, the drug cartels.

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