Down Mexico Way

Washington Post and Mother Jones with good stories on corruption in the Mexican army

In recent months, as The Washington Post has been forced to part with veteran editorial staffers, the paper has also had to rethink its mission: in particular, whether it can continue to compete with the The New York Times and other outlets that strive to cover the nation and the globe.

Evidence that it can comes today in a long, horrifying story, written by Steve Fainaru and William Booth, about human rights violations committed by the Mexican army under the auspices of its campaign against violent drug cartels. From the article:

In Puerto Las Ollas, a mountain village of 50 people in the southern state of Guerrero, residents recounted how soldiers seeking information last month stuck needles under the fingernails of a disabled 37-year-old farmer, jabbed a knife into the back of his 13-year-old nephew, fired on a pastor, and stole food, milk, clothing and medication.

In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, two dozen policemen who were arrested on drug charges in March alleged that, to extract confessions, soldiers beat them, held plastic bags over their heads until some lost consciousness, strapped their feet to a ceiling while dunking their heads in water and applied electric shocks, according to court documents, letters and interviews with their relatives and defense lawyers.

The story also explores what the alleged pattern of abuse, torture, and kidnapping means for the U.S., which in 2007 pledged more than a billion dollars in counter-narcotics aid to Mexico, with a portion of those funds contingent on human rights improvements. (The irony of the American government withholding funds from a neighbor on the grounds that its security forces are torturing prisoners is also noted.) Really, you should read the whole thing.

When you’re done, you might want to check out this story by Charles Bowden, published in the current issue of Mother Jones as part of a cover package on the War on Drugs. Bowden’s subject, Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, is a Mexican reporter who, after penning a few fairly innocuous pieces about actions by soldiers, fled for the U.S., fearing for his safety. While Bowden’s present-tense narrative structure might not be the best choice for a piece that runs more than 7,000 words, he’s got his hands on a remarkable story that explores the effect of violence on Mexican media and builds a credible argument that, when it comes to the rule of law in large parts of Mexico, there’s no there there. It’s also worth looking through the online version’s comments section, where the piece’s fact-checker, Sam Baldwin,
weighs in
to address one reader’s skepticism.

Kudos to both the Post and Mother Jones—and more like this, please.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.