On a sunny afternoon in seaside Acapulco, Journalist Nelson Matu was getting out of his car in a shopping center parking lot. Gunmen – we don’t know how many – quickly moved in to pay their respects to journalism in Mexico. They fired, killing him, and fled never to be apprehended. They never are. Killing offending journalists is a licensed activity, as it were, among the drug cartels that rule Mexico. The death of journalists is collateral damage. Matu had been a longtime irritant, covering violence for fifteen years and directing a group of journalists similarly inclined. He had survived two previous assassination attempts. The third succeeded. The cartels are persistent. This is why Acapulco, once the famed playground of the rich and famous, is now shunned. The U.S. State Department warns not to go there.
The body of another journalist, Luis Martin Sanchez, was found in a village north of Acapulco in the violence-ridden state of Guerrero. There were signs of possible torture and two messages on cardboard attached to his chest explaining their action, a typical cartel ploy. Sanchez had been a correspondent for La Jornada, a newspaper in Mexico City that had already lost two other newsmen to cartel violence. Sanchez’ death brings to seven the number of journalists murdered so far this year. It’s estimated that over 150 have been killed since 2000. The figure is imprecise because some just disappear and never turn up. It’s reasonable to fear the worst.
It doesn’t take much to arouse the cartels. Israel Vasquez usually wrote about neighborly goings on. He wasn’t on the violence beat. But one day he got involved in a story about a group of dismembered bodies discovered in a church in the town of Salamanca. As he was preparing a broadcast for Facebook on the subject, two men on a motorcycle pulled up and shot and killed him. No stone can be overturned in the cartel view.
If Mexican journalists are fair game, their American colleagues are not a target. Few go to Mexico, but those who do are treated with care. The cartels know that while Americans are indifferent to the slaughter of Mexicans, they’re outraged if an American is harmed. The media follows suit. That means bad publicity for the drug business. A day of reckoning can be put off. Meanwhile, the cartels are making much progress in the U.S. The latest round of immigrants are mostly robust young men who obviously don’t need asylum in the U.S. Indeed, we may need asylum from them since many will doubtless link up with the vast drug distribution network stretching from coast to coast. When I was recently on the border, they seemed anxious to get on with their journey and not at all apprehensive.
One destination might be the many thousands of drug cartel marijuana farms springing up in the American west. Though clearly illegal and undercutting legal American growers, they seem strangely tolerated. They are virtual armed camps since if anyone gets too close, out comes a threatening armed guard. Invasion, anyone? People in the area are terrified and local law enforcement can’t cope. The cartel farms are better armed. Surely, this is a national problem, but where are the feds? Could the FBI set aside its current preoccupation with classified documents to get involved? Unlike Mexican journalists, U.S reporters don’t have to worry about being killed if they come to take a look. This is America. So what’s keeping them?