Unfortunately, I think everybody agrees that things will get worse before they get better. Whenever I talk to Colombians, they depress the hell out of me. They say that things are not as bad in Mexico as they should be, and they will get worse. And until civil society wakes up and decides what kind of Mexico they want to see, you will just see it gradually get worse. I think Juarez is about to set a new record, probably by the end of the week. Last year [the number of homicides] was 2,600, and right now [October 25] we’re up to about 2,590, or something like that, and we’re two months away from the end of the year.
Mexico is our neighbor, but it’s so underreported in the United States. Why is that, and what can the American press do to rectify it?
I think we’re slowly grappling with the significance of what this all means. For the longest time, Mexico was a place you vacationed in; you went to Cancun, you liked the food, you liked the Tequila, you liked the mariachi music. It was just a country, kind of like Canada, it was just there. Now, even when I talk to my colleagues and other foreign correspondents, there’s a new sense of urgency. We’re making the turn, we’re making the change, we’re all adjusting to the fact that this is a country at war.
As foreign correspondents we used to travel all over the country; now we don’t. We’re basically locked up in Mexico City. We get on a plane, we fly in somewhere, we get in, and then we get out.
Mexico doesn’t have a nuclear bomb, and I think that’s one of the big factors. But in terms of security, the issues are slowly creeping into the U.S. side. Editors are beginning to realize that the Mexican border is moving inland to places like Dallas, or even to New York City. Yes, we’ll rightly engage with Pakistan and Afghanistan. But I think there’s a realization that if this thing gets out of hand, it’s going to affect us much more than these other countries ever have or will. If you look at El Paso, just one city, the most conservative figure that we hear is that 30,000 Juarezans have picked up and moved to El Paso. I mean, it’s having a daily impact. And you see that in other cities across the border.
Were you surprised to see the editorial from El Diario de Juárez?
People looked at that and thought, “Wow, my God, they’ve thrown in the white towel, they’re basically saying it’s over.” But as a border resident, I think we’ve long realized that the cartels are de facto governments. They’re side by side. I think El Diario was just stating something that’s already been there for a while.
I wanted to believe that the editorial was also aimed at civil society, asking civil society, “What do you want? What kind of country do you want?” And the idealistic part of me is hopeful that society will demand a much better trained press, a better paid press, and that they will ask much more from these very wealthy media moguls. A lot of times our [Mexican] colleagues are very poorly trained and very poorly paid. It’s almost like having a cop on the street—they are very vulnerable to cartels.
That editorial did get a lot of attention here in the U.S.
That was the genius part of it, yes.
But I haven’t really seen what kind of response they got down in Mexico. What was the reaction down there?
Well, the federal government denounced it immediately and said, “We are the government, we are the deciders, blah blah blah.” And [the editorial] also came as the Committee to Protect Journalists led a delegation into Mexico, and they were able to get the federal government to agree to make it a federal crime to kill a journalist. Which is good, I mean, Mexico has great laws on the books, but they rarely enforce them. I think it helped in adding to the pressure on the Mexican government.