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Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 20: Mexican Newspaper (El Norte, Juárez) Closes Doors in Response to Cartel Targeting/Violence Against Journalists

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Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 20: Mexican Newspaper (El Norte, Juárez) Closes Doors in Response to Cartel Targeting/Violence Against Journalists

John P. Sullivan  and Robert J. Bunker 

On 2 April 2017, El Norte de Ciudad Juárez (El Norte) a Mexican newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua shuttered its operations in response to attacks on journalists by drug cartels.   El Norte’s publisher Oscar Cantú explained in a letter entitled “¡Adiós!” (Goodbye!) that the closure was a protest against the murders of journalists—including one of El Norte’s own, Miroslava Breach, who was assassinated by an unknown assailant on 23 March 2017—and the impunity that follows the attacks.  Breach, who was shot outside of her home, was covering the police beat and her recent reports had focused on corruption and the alleged collusion among criminal cartels (narcos), state police forces, and local politicians.

Source: El Norte, 2 April 2017

Key Information: Oscar Cantú, “‘¡Adiós!’: así anuncia su cierre el diario mexicano Norte tras el asesinato de una periodista.” Univision Noticias. 2 April 2017, http://www.univision.com/noticias/asesinatos/adios-asi-cierra-el-diario-mexicano-norte-digital-tras-el-asesinato-de-una-periodista:

El diario mexicano Norte de Ciudad Juárez, donde colaboraba la periodista asesinada Miroslava Breach, se despidió este domingo. Su dueño, Óscar Cantú Murguía, explicó en un editorial titulado "Adiós!" que la decisión es consecuencia de las agresiones mortales que sufren los reporteros y la impunidad que cierra las puertas a un periodismo "crítico".

"La trágica y sentida muerte de Miroslava Breach Velducea –colaboradora nuestra– el pasado 23 de marzo, me ha hecho reflexionar sobre las adversas condiciones en que se desarrolla el ejercicio del periodismo actualmente. El alto riesgo es el ingrediente principal", escribió Cantú Murguía en la nota editorial.

"Las agresiones mortales, así como la impunidad contra los periodistas, han quedado en evidencia, impidiéndonos continuar libremente con nuestro trabajo", señaló. "Este día, estimado lector, me dirijo a usted para informarle que he tomado la decisión de cerrar este matutino debido a que, entre otras cosas, no existen las garantías ni la seguridad para ejercer el periodismo crítico, de contrapeso", agregó.

Key Information: Christopher Mele and Sandra E. Garcia, “Mexican Newspaper Shuts Down, Saying It Is Too Dangerous to Continue.” New York Times. 3 April 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/world/americas/el-norte-closes-mexican-newspaper.html?_r=0:

With the headline “¡Adios!” in large type emblazoned across its front page, a newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, announced on Sunday that it was shutting down after nearly 30 years after three journalists from other news organizations were killed last month.

The newspaper, Norte, said in a letter printed on its front page that the killings and the increasing violence and threats against reporters meant that journalism had become a high-risk profession.

“Today, dear reader, I am speaking to you to inform you that I have decided to close this daily because the guarantee for the safety for us to continue journalism does not exist,” the newspaper executive Oscar A. Cantú Murguía, wrote, adding: “Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay. If this is what life is like, I am not ready for one more of my collaborators to pay for it and I am not either.”

Key Information: Rubén Villalpando, “Cierra el diario Norte de Juárez.” La Jornada. 3 April 2017, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/04/03/politica/003n1pol:

El periódico Norte de Ciudad Juárez dio a conocer su cierre definitivo debido a que ‘‘no existen las garantías ni la seguridad para ejercer el periodismo crítico, de contrapeso’’, manifestó Óscar Cantú Murguía, fundador y propietario del rotativo, en una carta publicada este domingo en lo que fue la última edición impresa del matutino, cuyo encabezado principal fue: ‘‘¡Adiós!’’

Argumentó: ‘‘La trágica y sentida muerte de Miroslava Breach—colaboradora de Norte de Ciudad Juárez y corresponsal de La Jornada en Chihuahua—el 23 de marzo, me ha hecho reflexionar sobre las adversas condiciones en que se desarrolla el ejercicio del periodismo. El alto riesgo es el ingrediente principal’’.

Key Information:  Laura Villagran, “Reporter’s slaying silences Juárez newspaper.” Albuquerque Journal. 17 April 2017, https://www.abqjournal.com/985857/reporters-slaying-silences-paper.html:

“How do they dare assassinate journalists? Because nothing happens,”Cantú Murguía says. “The issue is impunity. We don’t have the physical security or judicial security. The law doesn’t come down on those who commit these acts.”

“When you attack a journalist,” he says, “you are attacking society itself and its institutions—and democracy, a system that we should protect.”

Analysis

Attacks on journalists are a common feature in Mexico’s drug war.[1]  They challenge press freedom and foster impunity which, in turn, creates insecurity. In response to the latest series of attacks on journalists in Chihuahua, El Norte Cierra Norte de Ciudad Juárez shut down its print and digital operations after one of its journalists was assassinated in order to protest this violence and impunity.[2][3]

The closure follows the murder of Juárez journalist Miroslavia Breach, a correspondent for El Norte and La Jornada who was reporting on corruption, impunity, and illicit criminal-state networks. A narcomanta left at the scene of her murder said “tattletale.”[4] According to a report at La Jornada, the message read “Por lenga larga. Siguen llegados al gobernador y el gober. El 80” suggesting potential links in the murder to the Cartel de Juárez and the governor and thus further corruption and state-criminal linkages.[5]

Attacks on journalist and media outlets are mechanisms of intimidation used to dampen or influence reportage in favor of the criminal enterprise and/or corrupt state organs.  The attacks are a form of information operations that cause fear, instill terror, and often result in self-censorship by the press. Such attacks exist in a continuum of influence that can be exerted on journalists, radio broadcasters, and TV newscasters. This continuum ranges from placing media professionals on criminal and corrupted state payrolls—in essence, permanently co-opting them—through the use of periodic bribes, verbal and physical intimidation, and violence, to attacks resulting in murder.

By utilizing such Plata o Plomo (Silver or Lead) tactics, often interchangeably, cartel bosses and corrupted governmental officials are allowed to control traditional media narratives.  Thus, only that information those bosses and officials want the public to know is reported on, avoiding those incidents in which they are involved.

Additionally, fictitious events that have never taken place can also be reported on as ‘fake news’ by co-opted media outlets or outlets under the threat of ongoing physical violence.  

An outcome of this process is incremental environmental reportage modification within the towns, cities, and regions under cartel and corrupted governmental official control. This results in the generation of increasing levels of impunity in areas in which cartel bosses and corrupted officials operate. Not only does this allow them to continue to engage in their illicit activities unchallenged but also serves to reinforce their ongoing policy of assassinating journalists and other media professionals who would dare cross them with essentially no fear of prosecution.      

End Notes

[1] According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 40 journalists in Mexico have been killed since 1992.  Murders have been confirmed in 37 of these deaths, with 32 of the deaths considered cases of total impunity.  See CPJ database at https://cpj.org/killed/americas/mexico.

[2] “Cierra Norte de Ciudad Juárez su edición impresa.” El Diario. 2 April 2017, http://diario.mx/Local/2017-04-02_5a2f4cdc/cierra-norte-de-ciudad-juarez-su-edicion-impresa/ and Gabriela Minjáres, “Desaparecerá periódico Norte también su versión digital.” El Diario. 4 April 2017, http://diario.mx/Local/2017-04-03_d8f3dea8/desaparecera-periodico-norte-tambien-su-version-digital/.

[3] Mariana Pepe and Avinash Tharoor, “Five Journalists Killed, Newspaper Closed, amid Mexico Cartel Violence.” Talking Drugs. 3 May 2017, http://www.talkingdrugs.org/mexico-newspaper-closes-amid-spate-of-cartel-related-journalist-murders.

[4] Kate Linhicum, “So many journalists are being killed in Mexico that one newspaper decides to shut down.” Los Angeles Times. 3 April 2017, http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-newspaper-closing-20170403-story.html.

[5] El 80 is believed to be the moniker of Carlos Arturo Quintana, a key member of the La Línea enforcement gang linked with the Juárez cartel.  See “Miroslava Breach muere acribillada.” La Jornada. 24 March 2017, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/03/24/politica/002n1pol and ¿Quién es “El 80”? Tiempo, 6 October 2016, http://tiempo.com.mx/noticia/55720-quien_es_el_80/1.

Additional Reading

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Eds., Narcoterrorism and Impunity in the Americas: A Small Wars Journal Anthology. Bloomington: XLibris, 2016.

John P. Sullivan, “Attacks on Journalists and ‘New Media’ in Mexico’s Drug War: A Power and Counter Power Assessment.” Small Wars Journal, 9 April 2011.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).

John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He retired as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also an adjunct researcher at the Vortex Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia; a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks; a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST); a Global Fellow at Stratfor (2018); and an instructor at the Safe Communities Institute at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He is co-editor of Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006) and Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses (Routledge, 2010) and co-author of Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology (iUniverse, 2011) Studies in Gangs and Cartels (Routledge, 2013). Most recently he co-edited The Rise of The Narcostate (Mafia States) (Xlibris, 2018). He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) in Barcelona. His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” His current research focus is the impact of transnational organized crime on sovereignty in Mexico and other countries.