MEXICO CITY — It was at turns defiant and deferential, part plea and part plaint, a message as much to the drug gangs with a firm grip on Ciudad Juarez, the bloodiest city in Mexico’s drug battles, as to the authorities and their perceived helplessness.
“We want you to explain to us what you want from us,” the front-page editorial in El Diario in Ciudad Juarez asked the leaders of organized crime. “What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling.”
In Mexico’s drug wars, it is hard to pinpoint new lows as the atrocities and frustrations mount. But Ciudad Juarez belongs in its own category, with thousands killed each year, the exodus of tens of thousands of residents, the spectacle of the biggest national holiday last week observed in a square virtually devoid of anybody but the police and soldiers, and the ever-present fear of random death.
The question now is whether anyone there will dare to continue documenting the turmoil in Ciudad Juarez, a smuggling crossroads across from El Paso, Texas, that is battled over by at least two major criminal organizations.
El Diario’s open letter to the city’s drug lords and the authorities it believes have failed to protect the public ran Sunday, the day after the funeral of Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, a photography intern at the paper who was shot dead while leaving a shopping mall after lunch. A car drove up, and there was a barrage of bullets. Santiago, shot in the head, died instantly while another intern, who was wounded, stumbled and dragged himself to safety in the mall and is recuperating.
All along the border, news organizations have silenced themselves out of fear and intimidation from drug trafficking organizations, but El Diario had a reputation for carrying on — and paying a price. One of its reporters was gunned down two years ago.
Had Santiago snapped some offending picture? Was it the car he was driving, which belonged to a friend who happens to be a prominent state human rights official? Was it related to a run-in with other young people he reportedly had weeks ago?
The Mexican government, while condemning acts of aggression against journalists and dismissing the idea of striking truces or negotiating with criminal organizations, highlighted the theory of the run-in Monday, saying state prosecutors were looking at some personal grievance as the “probable motive.”