EL PASO, Texas —
2:09 P.M.: Conference has started. Andres Gyllenhall, Vice President of News and Washington for McClatchy Newspapers and Alfredo Carbajal, Managing editor of Al Dia, Dallas Morning News welcoming attendees.
2:11 P.M.: There are about 40 people in attendance.
2:12 P.M.: Angela Kocherga, Border Bureau Chief will now present a video from the El Paso/Juarez region.
2:13 P.M.: The video is a feature on journalists who report from the violence-stricken city. “Mexico is now one of the most dangerous cities to report from in the world.” -Kocherga reporting.
2:18 P.M.: Dr. Diana Natalicio, UTEP President now speaking.
2:19 P.M.: Natalicio outlining history and student demographic of UTEP.
2:23 P.M.: Natalicio: “Life has changed here. I haven’t been to Juarez in over two years, but I have that choice….Many of the journalists in this area don’t have that choice.”
2:24 P.M.: Milton Coleman, ASNE President and Washington Post Senior Editor now speaking.
“Angela’s video showed this is some serious business and risky business.”
2:25 P.M.: Coleman asking for a moment of silence for the colleges killed in Mexico.
2:27 P.M.: Coleman: “We are here to tell the Mexican government that Journalists are humans too…We will win this war. We will not be silenced. We cannot be.”
2:29 P.M.: Gonzalo Morroquin, IAPA President now speaking.
2:30 P.M.: First session beginning: Ciudad Juarez: Editors on the Frontline. Participants of the panel will include Alfredo Quijano Hernandez, El Norte de Cuidad Juarez Editor in Chief
Armando Vélez, El Diario de El Paso Editor in Chief
Chris Lopez, El Paso TImes Editor in Chief
Moderator: Wendy Benjamison, Leader of the International Drug War Beat Team for the Associated Press
2:35 P.M.: Vélez: “El Diario de Juarez has been affected with this war. We lost two reporters. I have to say that we are trying to be careful in our coverage. We decided that all the stories written on crime will be signed as staff.”
“They keep going to places and doing research. Sometimes we deal with situations that are very hard. We realized two days ago that there are some threats against our staff… I still admire the courage of our people because after being threatened and having two colleagues that gave us more courage to keep going. If we are not going to get the story, who else is going to tell those stories?”
“I can be counted as one of those who came to El Paso for safety. We continue to do our job because we are under these circumstances, but we continue with this despite all the threats.”
“We are trying to tell that this situation is not only in Mexico. There is a lot of drug smuggling in the U.S. There have been people killed in the U.S., obviously not as many.”
2:43 P.M.: Hernandez:”Politicians talk about an imaginary world. The criminals are the ones that rule in Juarez.”
“At the beginning of this war, in 2007/2008, most journalists became silent. Today, most are talking.”
2:27 P.M.: Lopez: “I have great respect for the work El Diario and El Norte do in this area.”
“When I had come to El Paso in 2008, the company of the El Paso Times had issued a memo saying we could not send our journalists to Juarez. The first thing I did when I showed up was to say that we would send our journalists into Mexico.”
“I have been in Juarez several times and continue to go into Juarez…I need to see it myself if I send in my reporters.”
“We are commited to this story and will continue to be committed to this story.”
“I wonder if it makes sense that there should be some kind of directory or some way to know who is working in Mexico so we can register our journalists so that we know where they are.” ( Talking about journalists not just from El Paso Times but other papers like the Washington Post.)
“We rarely go into at night anymore. We won’t let them go in alone and we will send them in pairs. They know that if they don’t check in, that’s the quickest way to get booted off the story.”
2:55 P.M.: Benjamison: What practical steps do you take to keep your reporters safe?
Vélez: We do not allow people to wear ties or have fancy cars when going into Juarez.
Hernandez: We do not want to be the means for the criminals. They like to use the media as a means to get our their information out to the public.
Lopez: “Our reporters have learned not to stay in one place for an extended period of time. We talk to El Norte and they help us if we can’t get there right away. For the border publications, I think we can learn to help each other, to keep an eye out for each other. We are cooperating and working together in teams because you are better working in packs than by yourself.”
“We try to teach our reports and give them advice but we don’t really work as units. In Iraq and Afghanistan you were in packs. There are no such things as Green Zones in Juarez.”
3:05: Panel now taking questions.
Can stories be told from Mexico that does not involve the violence and not put reporters at risk?
Lopez: I don’t think there is any story told from Mexico that is not related to the violence in some way.
Audience member asking if there is ever any cooperation with the authorities to protect the journalists covering the city.
Velez: It doesn’t exist. There have been many clashes between Mexican soldiers that have attacked our reporters.
Lopez: There is very little trust between our journalists in El Paso and any authorities in Mexico because of the documented corruption. The cartel war is the single most complicated story I have ever run across. The distrust that exists, not just journalist to authority, but resident in Mexico to authority.
3:14 P.M.:Audience member answering question about non-drug related stories: On non-drug story we have to consider where the reporter is going.
3:15 P.M.:Diana Fuentes, in the audience, explaining that reporters go to the border on more official business but still cover things like the Zoo, children’s homes. We continue to cover and report on those things with no real problems.
3:16 P.M.: AP editor in audience: Do you cover other things is very relevant to the theme of this meeting because if all we hear about is the drug wars then in many ways Narcos have won. There is a society there and we have to make sure that we cover that. I know that is easy for me to say from the safety in New York, but I would like to know if you think that is possible from here.
Vélez: This situation resembles the Mexican Revolution of 1910. There was a lot of Mexican immigration. They immigrated into Sunset Heights in El Paso. I think that’s a very different type of immigration, though. Many of the people coming to El Paso are well educated. We try to tell different things about what is going on in an area that used to be two countries one city, but that is now divided.
Hernandez: There are many people that still stay in Juarez. They are people that have worked there all their lives. The conditions changed completely. People in Juarez keeps thinking this is temporary. There are more than a million people in Juarez who keep fighting.
Lopez: He makes a good point about the people who stay in Juarez… You think about those people all the time…There are people fighting who do not want to leave. When I came here people kept saying this is going to end in a few months and three years later I talk to people and they said they misread it, and we don’t know what to do.
Audience member: The problem in Mexico is also a problem of freedom of press and the American press is not covering that. The thing that is ignored is freedom of the press. We are failing there in a bit.
The Mexican press is corrupted as well. What can we do to create an ethical revolution in the press, and what do we have to do as Mexican Journalists?
Hernandez: The confidence is won. Mexican and American journalists have to work at it. Events like these are very useful for that. They make contacts and then can work together.
Lopez: There is no doubt that there is some distrusts of journalists working in Mexico. The best thing we can do as a profession is to continue to encourage and offer anyone who is a Mexican journalists training opportunities, mentoring them. I think there is opportunities there. We see that here on the border.
Kocherga asking about sources. How do you deal with children and anonymous sources.
Velez: We identify our people clearly and we have all their information. A lot of them hide because they have threats. With kids, we do not show their faces in the pictures.
Does the AP do anything to do to protect their journalists emotionally?
Bejamison: We all talk about going over there and so far it has been having a close relationship with the editor and talking it out. If [our reporters] wanted more counseling it would be available to them.
Monia Ortiz: [I have asked myself in my work]how I talk about America’s role in the drug war. My next challenge is to do the same on the American side of the border. I am hoping that is a discussion we can have.
3:54: Session ended. The group will now take a break.
4:12: Second session beginning. Speaker is Michael O’Connor, Mexico Representative for Committee to Protect Journalists. The presentation is called “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press Report.
“Since President Felipe Calderon took office, 27 journalists have been murdered in Mexico and at least six others have disappeared. ”
“Journalism in Mexico may be the first target of organized crime. True journalism in Mexico is truly the enemy in organized crime.”
“Until late September, I thought the President of Mexico was highly misinformed. In late September, CPJ had a meeting with the President. Until then he and his spokesman had been saying this is a Narco war…a war against drug traffickers.”
“In late September, I heard someone in power say for the first time say that it was not a narco war. [The President said] it was a war on oraganized crime. A Narco war was years ago. Organizaed crime…was the enemy, as opposed to drug trafficking.”
“We still have public officials going back to the old nonsense. The spokesman for National Security said things are pretty good in Tamaulipas….You can make an argument Tamaulipas no longer belongs to Mexico. The people who control Tamaulipas is the cartel.”
“There had not been problems in Tamaulipas since 2006, but it seemed to me that it was time to talk to people in those areas. I called journalists and editors [in five different cities]. Each city reported the same story: we are completely under the control of the cartel. We must write what the cartel tell us to write. We no longer practice journalism.”
“For the most part, it was not known in Mexico. In March in Reynosa, 3 journalists disappeared…the cartel has managed to control the press and the state softly. The question for me, is how many other states are controlled by the cartel.”
“The national newspaper reported 4 months ago that government figures report 95 % of murderes associated with organized crime are not even investigated.”
“The police officers are not solving the cases of murdered police officers. Why is that? Either they are working with the cartel or they are scared to death.”
“El Norte reports that 10,000 businesses have closed in Juarez in the last two years because of organized crime.”
“I could find no trace of the state investigation [into the murder of Bladimir Antuna, a Durango Journalist].”
“I went [to the authorities in charge of crime against journalists] and asked them, certainly you talked to the widow. We talked to her when he disappeared. The second time we talked to her was the next day when she came to identify his body. I said, did you question her? Did you interrogate her? They said no. I asked who else did you go talk to, they said nobody. That was the end of the case.”
“He didn’t even have the decency to be ashamed. He should have crawled under his desk. He just said, ‘we didn’t investigate the case, and that’s it. Thank you very much.'”
“The state of Durango, and other states, are not going to investigate the cases of murdered journalists. It’s going to be up to the federal government, which hasn’t done a good job either. Let’s put it this way, they have done a poor job, but has promised to do better.”
The next part of the report that O’Connor will cover is that of the city of Reynosa. It is referred to as the case you don’t touch or you will get killed.
“Citizens of Reynosa have lost control of their city.”
“The cartel wants to control the territory so it can be safe. It wants a government free zone, so it will feel safe, and to do that, it needs to control the press.”
“For decades the Narco business was to produce and ship north of the states. Not anymore, now they want territory.”
“The press in Reynosa, and the press in City X, has no way of fighting back. The press will lose because the cartel is getting bigger.”
4:55- Session has ended. O’ Connor taking some questions.
O’ Connor– “I think this war that we’ve seen in the past few years, would have jumped off whether or not [the government] went after organized crime. Most of the deaths we see if the result of inter-cartel fighting. They are going off their own imperative. They are fighting each other they would have done that no matter who would have been elected president.”
5:00 – Next session is a video conference presentation with Catalina Botero Marino, Special Reporter for Freedom of Expression and Ricardo Trotti, Director of Press Freedom. The session will be in Spanish.
The following quotes will be paraphrased, as they will be translated.
Trotti to Marino: As a journalist in Mexico is there something more going on other than organized crime.
Marino: To say organized crime is the only factor, is completely wrong.
Trotti: Do you think the problem of violence on the North American border can spread to other Latin American states.
Marino: Absolutely. It is not confined to this border. It take routes and moves around.
Marino: There are governments who owe their constituents basic human rights.
Marino: There are countries where we have many more challenges with when it comes to freedom of expression.
John from the Associated Press, can you comment on the role of the United States in terms of the freedom of the press in Latin America?
Marino: Two parts. First of all, the US has a double responsibility in protecting journalists, which is a huge responsibility. In terms of freedom of expression, in general the US has a huge respect for the first amendment.
What are specific things you would like to see us as media groups in the U.S. pushing?
Marino: First, do not abandon the issue. The advances that have come about in Mexico have a lot to do with the constant pressure from all the media groups. Second, keep covering the area. When we can prove that [there isn’t a freedom of the press] when a massacre, a grave crime, is not reporting in Mexico but it is reported on in North America.
We like to balance things as journalists, and we have attacked Mexico, in a way tonight. What are some of those things that Mexico has done right?
Marino: Mexico has extraordinary advances. The supreme court of Mexico has great transparency. I do believe there are great advances, but security-wise they have a great task ahead.
5:50: Gonzalo Morroquin, IAPA president, announcing that 2011 should be named the Year for Freedom of Expression.
Sessions have ended for the day. Keep following Borderzine for more live blogging when sessions continue tomorrow, Monday Dec. 6 at 8:00 A.M.