Friday, June 22, 2012
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone, reporting this week from Mexico!
ANTONIO MARTINEZ VELAZQUEZ: It’s a really rare election because we are talking seriously about media…. We are talking about these issues in the street.
BENITO NACIF: And what effect is this having? You are making these TV channels even more powerful than in the past. It’s completely the opposite of what they wanted.
MIKE O’CONNOR: The real story in Juarez is who runs Juarez, and most news organizations in Juarez will not get close to that story. That’s a killer story.
INTERPRETER FOR MEXICAN REPORTER: I don’t know who can be listening to me, who can be watching me. It feels like every journalist is walking around with a target in his back.
INTERPRETER FOR ELIA BALTAZAR: Try to think in another country where you would have the same amount of journalists – murdered!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Campaigns, cartels, media monopolies, and murder, after this.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone. Bob Garfield is away but WNYC’s Marianne McCune joins me this hour, as we report this week from Mexico. What’s happening here now will have a resounding impact on both sides of our poorest problematic border.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner. One in ten Americans is Mexican-American, and we’re also tethered together by an inconclusive, bloody, seemingly endless drug war, and the cynicism it breeds.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Today, Mexico City’s highways are crammed with campaign banners, its airways with political chat and its narrow streets with protesters, angry and eager. It’s been dubbed “the Mexican Spring.” That analogy may be a little overwrought but July 1st’s presidential election marks a significant shift.
MARIANNE McCUNE: It’s Mexico’s third presidential election, since the ruling PRI Party was toppled after seven decades in power. Twelve years later, as Mexico battles a rising crime and a bad economy, the PRI is poised to win again.
Students, tens of thousands of them, are filling the streets in protest, not just against the PRI’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, they’re even angrier at Mexico’s TV monopoly, its skewed election coverage that seems to make his win inevitable. Some protesters wear mock TVs on their heads, a satirical comment on the power of the Mexican TV monolith, Televisa.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Many of these marchers were mobilized by a notorious political blunder by the PRI back in May, when Peña Nieto showed up at a prominent university full of what he assumed would be complacent middle class kids, and then was shockingly shouted down.
ALEJANDRO PISANTE: This is supposed to be a very controlled environment. You know, rich people send their children there because there are no rabble-rousers there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Alejandro Pisante, head of the Computer Sciences Department at National Autonomous University, said the fire under the current national protest was lit by a PRI spokesman, who blithely dismissed the angry students as outside agitators and paid opposition stooges.
ALEJANDRO PISANTE: At the moment these guys say that people who will be supportive of Peña Nieto resent that the Peña Nieto campaign resorts to these kind of arguments which are, you know, what the country has fought against by removing the PRI from power for a few years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Televisa and TV Azteca, the TV monopoly, or duopoly, as expected, minimized and belittled the protest but the incident was streamed live online. Later, 131 of those demonstrators posted videos of themselves on YouTube, holding up their student IDs. Thus was born the movement called Yo Soy 132, I Am Number 132. It all went viral.
[PEOPLE SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
ALEJANDRO PISANTE: Certainly in the PRI times, it would have been a non-event which was only known in the underground, and always questioned. Was it real? Was it manipulative? Is the information real? Ten years ago, this would have gone down as an urban legend, and today it was a campaign turning point and a fact.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Hey Brooke, I’m walking along here with all these young people, and I met up with my friend Diego Bucio from when I lived here nine years ago.
DIEGO BUCIO: I’m here to prove that this movement is true. Most of the people in, in Mexico is informed through the television and radio, Televisa and TV Azteca. So they said that this movement wasn’t real.
They said that all these protests and all these demonstrations were paid, so that awakened this spirit of “Hey, that’s a lie and that is not democracy.”
ANTONIO MARTINEZ VELAZQUEZ: I mean, we are talking about media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Antonio Martinez Velazquez works for Article 19, an international free speech organization.
ANTONIO MARTINEZ VELAZQUEZ: It’s really a rare election because we are talking seriously about media, about how they cover the election, about the factchecking, about the journalism, about the deals between media and politics, about transparency, about accountability. I mean, we are talking about these issues in the street.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And not just in the street.
BENITO NACIF: I’m Benito Nacif, I am a member of the General Council of Mexico’s Fair Elections Commission.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In a government office, he seems just as appalled as the protesters by the collusion between politics and media. He is charged with implementing a recent law that bans candidates from directly buying ads during the 90-day campaign. The Commission pays for them, allots them to each party, according to a formula, and strictly controls the airtime. Sounds kind of, refreshing?
BENITO NACIF: Yeah, well one of the things that worries me is that the ban created an incentive for a black market of editorial time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Buying commentators?
BENITO NACIF: Absolutely, buying interviews, buying mentions of candidates, buying favorable reports and favorable news, as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you think there’s a possibility that it might have actually made things worse?
BENITO NACIF: In some respects, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nacif says the new law has unleashed a tide of unintended consequences. Now, the FEC monitors the ads for slander and libel. Imagine that. That takes time, reducing a campaign’s ability to respond and maneuver. For instance, back in 2006 when the frontrunner declined to take part in the first debate, that night his opponent aired an ad showing an empty chair. Now the system is too slow to accommodate such sudden bursts of inspiration. But TV news shows can.
BENITO NACIF: What effect is this having? Making the commentators on TV and the editorial time more important. You cannot circumvent them. You are making these TV channels even more powerful than in the past. It’s completely the opposite of what they wanted.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There’s a group in the Mexican Congress composed of legislators who aren’t merely in the pocket of broadcasters, they are broadcasters, and they are poised to win more seats. Broadcast legislators recently sought to kill network neutrality and allow Internet service providers to block or filter, as long as they were open about it. Alejandro Pisante of Mexico’s National Autonomous University fought it.
ALEJANDRO PISANTE: A company should not abuse their ability to manage the network in order to favor someone commercially or politically. We describe it here in Mexico as the ”five alls.” You should have access to “all ports, all protocols, all content, all origins and all destinations.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so, what happened to the network neutrality vanquishing bill that these Congress people presented?
ALEJANDRO PISANTE: It was defeated in four days by a Twitter-based movement and the session in the Senate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But next time they could win.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Broadcast industry candidates are being fronted, not just by the PRI but by the PAN, the party that now holds the presidency but is running third, and even the PRD, the party of student favorite, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Many of today’s demonstrators have moved from the streets to Mexico City’s main square, to watch one of only two televised presidential debates on a big screen. They sound like soccer fans.
They boo Peña Nieto.
Initially, it seemed that Mexico’s two main broadcasters were not going to air this debate. The clamor organized online forced a reversal, Another win. But here, as everywhere, the Internet offers no guarantees. Only about 30 to 40 percent of Mexicans are online, and a much smaller portion engages in social media. Most rely on Televisa and TV Azteca which, as we heard, do a bang-up business quietly selling positive coverage to candidates with deep pockets.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what’s at stake here? Corrupted media thrives on and perpetuates a corrupt political establishment, breeding a kind of frustrated resignation. But during that lively march through Mexico City, we saw frustration transmuted into street theater and humor.
GREG BERGER: The fact that you can make jokes about extremely tragic subjects is something that people are experts at here in Mexico.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Greg Berger covers the twin travails of Mexican democracy and the drug war for the website, Narco News.
GREG BERGER: People here know me as Gringoyo. I moved to Mexico in 1998, and for the better part of that time I’ve been making political satire alongside Mexican social movements, pieces based around archetypes of characters from the United States, like the revolutionary tourist, the greedy businessman, the misinformed reporter. There’s a DVD called Narco-Mania and Other Satires that use those characters.
Everything I learned about political humor I learned from my friends here in Mexico. And one day we were sitting around having some beers and saying, you know, all these crazy, absurd myths about the war on drugs - you know, this cartel was broken up, that cartel was broken up. The next thing we know they’re gonna say that they brought down Yoko Ono to get married to Chapo Guzman to break up the Sinaloa cartel.
Then there was a pause for about 30 seconds, and we said “Eh, that’s our next video.” So we made a video with a Beatles theme, and it opens it up with a shot-by-shot recreation of A Hard Day’s Night –
- with widows of drug war violence chasing four agents from the U.S. Embassy around Mexico City.
[GROUP SINGING/W MEXICAN ACCENT]:
It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog.
[SINGING UP AND UNDER]
And then it’s just one Beatles joke after another. And the thing is, is that the Beatles are actually more popular here with young people than in the United States.
I actually ran into a teenager at an event in Cuernavaca, and we started talking about the video, and he said, “Oh, you made that?” And I said “Yeah.” “Oh, I’m a big Beatles fan, and I didn’t know about this movement against the war on drugs until my friend showed me this video on the Internet, 'cause I watch everything that has to do with the Beatles.” That’s exactly why we make these videos. When you make jokes about the most tragic of subjects, you can actually engage in some very profound communication.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mexicans smile, not happily, when asked about the justice system. More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved. For murdered journalists, it’s closer to 100 percent. In states controlled by the cartels, reporters are increasingly picked off and returned in plastic bags. Murder is a state crime but in some places there is no state. Reporters dare not report.
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Last November, On the Media reported on a constitutional reform in Mexico that would make the murder of journalists a federal crime. Somehow, we thought it would have become a law by now. It hasn’t. MARIANNE McCUNE: Coming up, covering or not covering the cartels. I’m off to Juarez now. Is there anything I shouldn’t ask the mayor there?
MIKE O’CONNOR: When you see the mayor, make it the last day, and make sure your cab to the airport is outside and still running.
MARIANNE McCUNE: It’s scheduled for the first day.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Leave on the first day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.
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[END SEGMENT A]
[STATION BREAK ONE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
MARIANNE McCUNE: And I’m Marianne McCune. This week we’re reporting from Mexico. Next stop, theaters of war, the drug war. Once, Ciudad Juarez in the northern desert was the epicenter, and reporters seeking to examine and expose the cartels sometimes died in the attempt. Now, as the violence in Juarez recedes, those cartels have spawned more cartels, battling the federal authorities and each other in Tamaulipas, Monterrey, Veracruz. We’ll be heading to Juarez and Veracruz.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But first we tapped Mike O’Connor, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ man in Mexico City, for some context on President Felipe Calderon’s drug war, launched in 2006, that compounded the murder and mayhem with a death toll topping 50,000.
MIKE O’CONNOR: What happened is that Mexicans were now getting hooked on drugs. Organized crime cartels were turning inward and controlling almost all illicit activities in growing areas of the country, and challenging the federal government over who controlled growing parts of Mexico. He looked around and said, wow, do I — what can I do? The cops are corrupt, inept or s — or scared to death. I’ll call the army, and the army will do something. But the army is the army. The army knocks down buildings and wipes out masses of opposing forces. The army doesn’t arrest criminals, and they don’t know how to do criminal work.
You know, you could take the smartest colonel in the Mexican Army and put him in charge of one-third of the City of, of Juarez and say, okay, it’s up to you. You’ve got 500 men and you got it. And someone steals a bicycle. Now, what’s the smartest colonel in the Mexican Army gonna do about that stolen bicycle? Nothing!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ignore it.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Yeah, ignore it, right. Now, someone rapes somebody. Now someone kills 15 people there. What is he going to do? Nothing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why nothing?
MIKE O’CONNOR: Because he doesn’t know what to do. He’s a colonel in the army.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why has the pressure diminished a little bit in Juarez? Why is the, the crime rate down?
MIKE O’CONNOR: A, a very reasonable plausible reason is that one side of the groups in conflict has won, and the war is pretty much over, and so the killing is down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the state of journalism in Juarez?
MIKE O’CONNOR: The real story in Juarez is who runs Juarez. Most news organizations in Juarez will not get close to that story. That’s a killer story. Is it a compromise? Or, or, you know, is what — what do you do if, if you're sitting at a stoplight and a guy puts a gun barrel to your head and says “Get out of your car, I’m taking it?” Have, have you made a compromise with that guy? Yeah, you have. But – are you, are you less of a person for having done that?
MARIANNE McCUNE: And how often do you think that the murders of journalists are a result of those journalists making a deal with one side or another?
MIKE O’CONNOR: I don’t know how many. And you know why? Because no one ever investigates the crimes, and what we’re left with is a bunch of gossip and a bunch of guessing, you know?
MARIANNE McCUNE: Okay, thank you so much, I’m off to Juarez now. Is there anything I shouldn’t ask the mayor there?
MIKE O’CONNOR: When you see the mayor, make it the last day, and make sure your cab to the airport is outside and still running.
MARIANNE McCUNE: [LAUGHS] It’s scheduled for the first day, because that’s when they were willing to schedule it.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Leave on the first day.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Thank you so much.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Okay, you’re welcome. Hope to see you again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mike O’Connor of the Committee to Protect Journalists. We spoke to him in Mexico City, but now Marianne’s cruising down the byways of Juarez.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Two years ago, Ciudad Juarez was known as the murder capital of the world. Drive down the street with a reporter here and every few blocks he’ll point to where someone was killed or beheaded or dismembered or hung from a bridge. But all along, reporters have found ways to cover at least part of the story, and that’s partly because the drug cartels that were warring here are not as violent as the Zetas, the group now terrorizing Veracruz and Tamaulipas, and because this is a town that thrives on news.
[SOUND OF PRINTING PRESS]
Thousands of newspapers are printed here every day, from the popular El PM, featuring gory photos of murder victims, plus a page or two of traditional porn, to newspapers with serious investigative units. There’s broadcast and Internet stations, and most fascinating –
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- sites like El Blog del Narco, which consists partly of accounts of violence posted in red by rival gang members themselves. Whoever made this video snagged photos of the dead from Juarez news sites and used them to celebrate their accomplishments, which may or may not be true.
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INTERPRETER FOR JORGE LUIS: In Juarez, you cannot report the whole truth because no one has it, and because it’s too dangerous.
MARIANNE McCUNE: That’s Jorge Luis, publisher of the blog La Polaka. Back in 2008, he was among several journalists to receive a slew of serious threats, and when one of them was murdered, Luis fled. Now he publishes from El Paso, Texas, and despite his claim you can’t report the truth in Juarez, he was outraged when the city’s biggest newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, aimed this headline at the drug cartels: “What is it that you want from us?”
INTERPRETER FOR JORGE LUIS: It is like a police officer saying to a criminal, “Hey, what do you want me to do? Shall I go over there or over here?” It was an embarrassment, and it was applauded around the world.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The world applauded because the paper was printing the truth. It could not cover the news in a city where cartels had more power than the government.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: For me it was more of a way to say, listen, people, you don’t count anymore.
MARIANNE McCUNE: El Diario reporter Sandra Rodriguez.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: Because you are unable to stop this. So we are talking now to the people that is really controlling the life in Juarez.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Rodriguez says after her colleague at the paper was killed:
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: We were more angry than scared. Killing of Armando produced the opposite reaction of silence.
MARIANNE McCUNE: As a reporter with roots in the States, she says she felt more motivated than ever.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: I didn’t want any foreign reporter to tell me the story of my city.
MARIANNE McCUNE: El Diario did make compromises. The paper sometimes withheld names or waited to publish risky stories. But Rodriguez has since used transparency laws and shoe leather to cover things like how many murder victims were armed when they were killed.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: It was like 2 percent, like nobody.
[RODRIGUEZ TALKING/STREET SOUNDS]
MARIANNE McCUNE: Today she heads downtown to ask some questions at a bakery. Its name had come up in a database she’s created to track about a hundred young women who’ve disappeared since 2008. This is a new chapter in an old story in Juarez.
So far Rodriguez only has data from ten cases, but her interviews with families are already turning up patterns police seem to have missed.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: They tells you like, oh, she was going downtown, she was going downtown, she was going downtown, in this bakery, in this shoe store, etc.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Her reporting put her on the same lonely bus the missing girls took downtown. Now she’ll check out the bakery where some applied for jobs. A sign on the door solicits active and presentable 18- to 22-year olds.
Rodriguez says sometimes she’ll picture her body lying dead in the places she visits.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: As reporters - we are all in Juarez - we have talked like, “How would you like your funeral?”
MARIANNE McCUNE: A few blocks away, a 25-year-old reporter named Luis Chaparro watches a girl do somersaults in a bare bones boxing gym. She’s training for the masked choreographed fights Mexicans call Lucha Libre.
LUIS CHAPARRO: What I’m trying to do is know why she decided to do Lucha Libre in a place where there’s a lot of prostitution. Most of the womans here are working in bars, are bartenders or, or as prostitutes.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The tattoo on Chaparro’s arm is from a book called Eighty Worlds in a Day. He says they remind him to look for the unexpected.
LUIS CHAPARRO: In this ugly corner of Ciudad Juarez, where there are people really devastated by life, you can see a lot of joy in their eyes, and that’s what my tattoo reminds me of.
MARIANNE McCUNE: But Chaparro covers much more than lifestyle. Last year, he says he too was threatened, after publishing names of corrupt police. He found himself on the floor, hands and feet tied, with a gun pressed to his head.
LUIS CHAPARRO: That’s when the situation here at this border is ugly, you know, when you blame the authorities.
MARIANNE McCUNE: So do you do avoid doing that?
LUIS CHAPARRO: Yes, I, I avoid to directly accuse the authorities.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Last week, he reported a local gang is teaming up with the Zetas, the sadists terrorizing other states. Chaparro’s source was a gang leader.
LUIS CHAPARRO: I think there’s ways to get close to dangerous people, if you always talk with the truth. But I prefer to be in the streets and to go out with a drug dealer who I can trust or –
MARIANNE McCUNE: The phrase, “A drug dealer I can trust” is interesting –
- given the context.
LUIS CHAPARRO: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Yes, it’s, it’s – it’s kind of weird.
MARIANNE McCUNE: In the old days, reporters say drug cartels sometimes handed them cash saying, “Please refrain from talking about us,” government officials too. Now at least in Juarez they say bribes have been replaced by threats. But money still plays an editorial role. Most media outlets depend on income from government-placed ads.
QUESTION: Are there limits to what you’re allowed to say in your paper?
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: Well, unfortunately, I think that the money that the government spends in media provokes censorship.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Sandra Rodriguez is both driven to succeed and pessimistic about her chances, given Mexico’s flawed media policy and what seems to her just a temporary lull in the violence in Juarez.
SANDRA RODRIGUEZ: All the elements that fuel the violence — the poverty, the impunity, the corruption — I mean, the elements are still there. We haven’t solved any of the problems that were fueling our violence.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you heard a few minutes ago, a few days earlier back in Mexico City, we got a quick briefing from the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Mike O'Connor. After Marianne left to catch her flight to Juarez, I asked him about Veracruz.
MIKE O’CONNOR: If you're a journalist in, in Veracruz and you’re approached by a criminal and told, “You have to work for me,” the last thing you, you think of doing is going to the police department because you know the police department works for the criminals, and you’re not going to go to the district attorney because the district attorney works for the criminals.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You covered the Balkans.
MIKE O’CONNOR: For years. I liked that story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s not safe.
MIKE O’CONNOR: But that was combat or that was Sarajevo, where there was, you know, a lot of lead in the air and a there’s lot of people who were getting killed. This is different. You know, if you get killed in Veracruz, you’ll be killed because you're a journalist. They’ll go looking for you because of who you are.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On the day I flew into the state of Veracruz, another reporter was murdered. Victor Manuel Baez Chino worked the crime beat for the daily Milenio in the state capital Xalapa. A message from the Zetas found near his body read, “This is what happens to those who betray us and try to be clever.”
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Veracruz is now the most dangerous place in Mexico to do journalism, nine killed in 12 months, many by the Zetas, deemed the most sadistic of the cartels. Roughly 60 miles from Xalapa sits the Port of Veracruz, with a lovely central square lined with cafés and a band that gamely plays to mostly empty chairs. A few blocks away, the Parroquia, a cavernous coffee house with journalists cluster with their cameras, rising wearily to photograph a steady stream of candidates in these final days of a contentious election season. A woman in a white coat wanders through with a blood pressure cuff. It’s a great location to sell a stress test, reporters her prime targets.
A recent kill list of journalists was rumored to have come, not from the cartels but from the prosecutor’s office. Rumors are rampant. The only certainty is that reporters can expect no protection. This 23-year-old newspaper reporter who writes lifestyle pieces is terrified.
INTERPRETER FOR REPORTER: Mainly because I don’t know who can be listening to me, who can be watching me. It feels like every journalist is walking around with a target in his back. It makes me angry that, for instance, the state refused protection to some of my colleagues because they allegedly were implicated with the cartels or something like that. That is nonsense. They don’t know the circumstances in which these deals or agreements take place. Some colleagues have to do it because if they don’t do them, what will they do? Will they leave town? Where will they go?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Elia Baltazar is co-founder of Journalists on Foot, a woman-centered nonprofit that provides support and training to journalists.
INTERPRETER FOR ELIA BALTAZAR: Try to think in another country where you would have the same amount of journalists murdered in such a short period of time. I mean, our colleagues who were murdered in Veracruz three weeks ago, these three people, they peeled their faces off. What kind of democratic country is that? The country is being silenced. Tamaulipas is in silence. Veracruz is in the process of being silenced. The silence is spreading.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Veracruz is not entirely mum. There’s a new paper in town.
INTERPRETER FOR LUZ MARIA RIVERA: My name is Luz Maria Rivera. I am the correspondent of La Jornada Mexico Daily in Veracruz. I am also the director of a new weekly that has recently been created, The Mercury of Veracruz.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The new newspaper in Veracruz. Are you crazy?
LUZ MARIA RIVERA: Yes, I – I crazy. [LAUGHS] I crazy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The front page of your first issue has two articles devoted to violence against journalists. It doesn’t seem as if you're shying away from covering the violence in Veracruz.
INTERPRETER FOR LUZ MARIA RIVERA: It is a contradiction. Sometimes I say I want to – I don’t know how to call it – I will not keep a distance. Otherwise, I would have already left. When they killed Regina, we all got very scared, especially the women. Women journalists share a similar life. We are alone, with children. Our families live nearby but when you get home, we are alone. It is a very peculiar situation and there is no manual for it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is a beautiful place where, by all accounts, the institutions are entirely inoperative. If you get the story out, it’s likely to make no difference. Do you feel like you're just putting a message in a bottle, throwing it out into the bay?
INTERPRETER FOR LUZ MARIA RIVERA: Of course, clearly. That’s an everyday part of journalism here, with the advantage that we have the sea. Our colleagues in the north don’t have it. They will have to go to the desert. Of course, it is throwing messages in bottles into the sea and thinking that maybe that nobody is picking them up. But one day someone will find them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We step out onto her tiny balcony and face the sea.
LUZ MARIA RIVERA: I feel too much love. [LAUGHS] I, I love Veracruz. I, I love my people, my country, my state, and - this city is beautiful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Luz bravely blows a kiss to the port she seems literally willing to die for.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MARIANNE McCUNE: Coming up, America’s Mexico, or the dark legacy of the Frito Bandito.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.
END SEGMENT B
STATION BREAK TWO
MARIANNE McCUNE: This is On the Media. I’m Marianne McCune.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone, with one last tale of a reporter who stuck it to the mob by slipping some real journalism under the entrée. “Alejandra” (not her real name) was a newspaper reporter and radio news anchor in the Zetas stronghold of Tamaulipas, until the Zetas threatened her son. Forced to quit 18 months ago, she began to publish the news on placemats every day, upholding the highest journalistic standards under the plates of myriad restaurant patrons. She even resisted the PRI’s offer to buy ad space if she refrained from reporting on Lopez Obrador.
INTERPRETER FOR “ALEJANDRA”: I did not agree. It is more important to keep my freedom and protect the right of people to be informed than to lower myself for the money.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But eventually, she ran afoul of the Zetas again.
INTERPRETER FOR “ALEJANDRA:: One day I was coming back from being out of town with my daughters and son, and I see that my car that had been parked for days outside of my house was covered in dust. My city is very dusty. In the dust they had written, “If you keep bothering us, if you carry on, we are coming to rape and kill you and your daughters.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She packed up her daughters and fled, leaving her older son to carry on publishing the placemats. One day, she says, she wants to write a book about all the murdered journalists, but when she does she’ll have to leave the country, partly because her research suggests that most of them were compromised by the cartels, and partly because:
INTERPRETER FOR “ALEJANDRA”: I will be explicit about a government that provides no support, a government overwhelmed by the drug trade. And whether we’re citizens, merchants or journalists, we all have the same fate. A non-functional government, so-called rights organizations that only look for international funding and, at the end, journalists who are all alone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She teared up a little during our interview. She says she never does that but it was Friday, and though Tamaulipas is a hive of maniacs and misery Friday was a time reserved for her friends. She misses them terribly, and she doesn’t know when or if she can ever go home.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The rest of this program is devoted to perception, by which I mean perceptions of Mexico by Americans. Yes, this is a very self-centered segment. And let’s face it, Mexican tourism and American tourists are both handicapped by perceptions. So let’s start with the last place you’d probably ever want to visit, where Marianne is.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Ciudad Juarez. It’s where burritos were invented - at least, that’s what they say - and Margaritas too, right here in this downtown bar.
MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA: Please come. Take a burrito. See the restaurants, see the streets.
MARIANNE McCUNE: This is the image Mayor Hector Murguia wants to project of Ciudad Juarez.
MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA: Yesterday, we did have 200,000 people in just one park, the streets completely full of cars, the restaurants completely full.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The corrupt police force? Murguia says he’s replaced one-third of the officers. A former police director convicted of drug smuggling in the U.S., that’s history. He says murders are way down here because of the tactics of his new police chief and his new social programs. And here’s how he responds to the U.S. Justice Department suggesting the violence is down because the Sinaloa drug cartel won the war.
MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA: I really, really doubt it. I really doubt it. But I’m not expert. I am just a presidente municipal but –
MARIANNE McCUNE: Well, on that topic, one of the images that people have is not only that there is this problem of cartels and the violence that they cause, but there is a problem of public officials being linked with cartels.
MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA: Not linked.
MARIANNE McCUNE: How can you prove –
MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA: Not linked. I know I don’t have to prove nothing. If, if, if – if there is a, a public individual who is linked with drugs, sooner or later he’s gonna be dead. And the proof is as — we’re still alive. [LAUGHS]
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MARIANNE McCUNE: Across the border is El Paso, Texas, billing itself as the safest big city in the United States. The mayor here is known for his plain talk, and his guitars.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: [SINGING] Well, El Paso’s your land, El Paso’s my land, from the –
[SINGING UP AND UNDER]
MARIANNE McCUNE: These two cities’ economies are inextricably linked. Mayor John Cook says El Paso benefits hugely from the maquiladoras, the factories across the border.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: A lot of their top management lives in El Paso, so they buy their houses here, they buy their cars there, they send their kids to school here.
MARIANNE McCUNE: And they pay taxes here.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: And they pay taxes here, right - well, hopefully.
MARIANNE McCUNE: The two mayors make presentations together to convince businesses this is a good place. Cook says he’ll offer tips on how to hold onto your ride.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: And if you drive a beat up old clunker, it’s not necessarily the vehicle that they want.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Or a lesson from his military spy training.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: You don’t always take the same route to work or to home.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Very reassuring. The thing is, when the violence got bad in Juarez, Mayor Cook says he couldn’t, in good conscience, encourage everyday people to go.
MAYOR JOHN COOK: Not only did, did we stop encouraging them to go, we started encouraging them not to go. You know, that’s like telling people it’s safe to drive without your seat belt or ride your motorcycle without a helmet.
MARIANNE McCUNE: When the violence was reaching its peak, El Paso’s Tourism Convention Bureau decided to redo its colorfully illustrated tourist map of El Paso and Juarez together.
JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO: They said we’ll sponsor one but we’ll delete Juarez. We don’t want to send tourists to Juarez.
MARIANNE McCUNE: José Alejandro Lozano has been designing these maps out of his home since 1978, highlighting landmarks on both sides of the border for various clients. For the 2010 map he says he reluctantly agreed to remove Juarez.
JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO: For four days straight they put headline news - See how Juarez has Disappeared from the Map.
MARIANNE McCUNE: On the new map he colorfully illustrated the streets of El Paso, and below the border just dry brown desert where Juarez was supposed to be.
JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO: We have the same blood, we have the same relatives. And, and it’s like one of your kids or, or one of your members in your body has a problem. You can’t just cut it off. You have to – you want to fix it, you want to take care of it.
MARIANNE McCUNE: During the last six years, Demetrios Sotomayor says tourism in Juarez dropped by about 60%. Now it’s coming up again but, as director of tourism for the state, he has a lot to surmount. So when Lozano called him up this year to suggest they make yet another El Paso tourist map, this time including Juarez, Sotomayor said, “Let’s do it.”
DEMETRIOS SOTOMAYOR: We feel that they’re endorsing to come to Juarez, and we’re very happy for that. We’re thankful and happy that they allowed us to be back in the map.
MARIANNE McCUNE: But Sotomayor may be excessively grateful. El Paso’s Tourism Convention Bureau wasn’t interested.
DEMETRIOS SOTOMAYOR: They said no, we don’t want to sponsor it.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Instead, it’s the State of Chihuahua that’s giving seed money. So this time around it’s Juarez promoting its link to El Paso.
[SINGING/UP AND UNDER]
The effort to push a new image of Juarez extends well beyond public officials. There’s a growing movement of colectivos, groups of young people putting their own mark on the city.
[WOMAN/CHILDREN SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
Like the mural these kids are painting on the wall of a well-trafficked underpass.
[WOMAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
Daisy says some people think people from Juarez are bad. This is her way of saying, “No.” Somewhere on the Internet you can find a photo of this bridge with a body hanging off it and a note scrawled by some member of a drug gang. Now, young faces in gray and white paint are populating its walls.
[RADIO SOUNDTRACK/UP AND UNDER]
At a working class home on a Friday night Susana Molina, aka “The Black Sheep,” appears on a friend’s Internet radio show, “Voices of the Underground.” She is also part of the collective movement, but rap is her mode of expression.
[MOLINA SINGING/SPEAKING IN SPANISH]
She says for her it’s important just to register her voice here, as a strong young woman, with a lot to say in a city better known for girls who disappear.
[MOLINA SINGING/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
SPOKESMAN: Mexico has gorgeous beaches, archeological sites, great food and everything a traveler could wish, so promoting it should be easy, right? Recent global media has driven our perception to an all-time low.
SPOKESMAN: To defer travel to four entire states and parts of ten others.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Selling Mexico to skittish Americans will take more than putting parts of it back on a map.
P.R. SPOKESMAN: So we have to really find ourselves. We decided to keep our mouth shut and let the most important people do the talking for us, our visitors.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is a promotional video produced by Publicis Mexico, a P.R. firm touting its Mexico Taxi Project, a series of testimonials by real life American tourists, fresh off their planes from their Mexican vacations, talking to American cab drivers, on American soil.
TAXI DRIVER: Where are you guys coming in from?
TAXI DRIVER: Oh! Did you guys feel like safe and everything down there? Is it -
MAN: That’s one of our biggest -
MAN: Totally safe, yeah.
TAXI DRIVER: Right.
MAN: The great thing about Cabos is everything’s so easy, everyone’s so friendly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Two-thousand eleven apparently was a record year for Mexican tourism, yet attracting Americans still is a challenge, what with U.S. State Department warnings and what-not.
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: The biggest change in the approach was not ask people here in Mexico, because you don’t want to tell the truth to somebody if you're in, in his house.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Alfredo Alquicira is Publicis Mexico’s creative director.
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: If the house smells or isn’t pretty or anything, you're not gonna say it. It’s rude to somebody to say that your house is not pretty, I’m not having a good time - to your face in your house. So we went to U.S. major airports to do interviews there, and the interviews were conducted by an actor who was posing as a cab driver.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mexico’s National Tourism Board offers plausible portraits of pleasing destinations – Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun. As we know, Juarez has some problems attracting tourists, but has its problems cast a shadow on places like Cancun?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has there ever been a product or a place or anything that you have found as challenging as this?
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: Selling American cars on 2008. I don’t want to say the brand, but [LAUGHS] -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was a bitch?
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why was it hard?
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: Because that was a year when the two big American brands went bankrupt, and also that side of the border media was taking a party with them. Every day it was, oh, bad quality, bad cars, bad numbers; they’re gonna disappear.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can I ask how you did it?
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: Now that I think about it, it was kind of a – of a similar approach. The problem with the car and the brand was about perception, not about the car itself. So once we got the people inside the car, they were the ones who started talking good about it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I’m assuming you don’t want to say what car that was.
ALFREDO ALQUICIRA: It was the, the Ford Focus.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why does it seem less politically correct to diss a Ford than a nation, 'cause it seems like it is. Listen to this astonishing episode of the BBC show, Top Gear, about cars, this one about a Mexican sportscar.
[TOP GEAR CLIP]:
RICHARD HAMMOND: Cars reflect national characteristics, don’t they? So German cars are sort of very built and efficient. Italian cars are a bit flamboyant and quick. A Mexican car is just gonna be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, -
-leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: After saucily likening Mexican cuisine to vomit, they end on a flourish.
RICHARD HAMMOND: I’m sorry but just imagine waking up and remembering you're Mexican.
JEREMY CLARKSON: It’d be brilliant, it’d be brilliant, 'cause you, you could just go straight back to sleep again…. That’s why we’re not gonna get any complaints about this, 'cause the Mexican Embassy, the ambassador’s gonna be sitting there with a remote control like this [MAKES SNORING SOUND]
They won’t complain. It’s fine!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Actually, he did. The BBC apologized. But such caper and carefree bigotry doesn’t come from nowhere.
JIM JOHNSTON: Even the fact that people have the idea to make that kind of a joke comes from information that they’ve received previously.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim Johnston, a Mexican citizen born in the U.S., blogs about Mexico City.
JIM JOHNSTON: 'Cause these guys probably have never been to Mexico, and yet, there are still these image ideas that creep up and show up in jokes, in cartoons and songs, and things like that. There have been a lot of cartoon images of Mexicans as thieves or as stupid laborers.
Aye, yii, yii, yiiii,
Oh, I am the Frito Bandito.
Give me Frito Corn chips
And I'll be your friend.
The Frito Bandito
You must not offend.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s a bit late for that.
JIM JOHNSTON: A couple of years there was an article in The New York Times.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mexico blogger, Jim Johnston.
JIM JOHNSTON: There was a story about Mexico City, about a store that sells bulletproof clothing. And there was one sentence in it that said – I’m paraphrasing – if you walk up to somebody in Mexico City these days, if you go up and ask for directions, they’re as likely to run away from you as they are to give you an answer. And this just didn’t make any sense to me. It gave you this feeling that being on the streets of Mexico City, everyone is petrified. If you walked up to a stranger and asked him a question, they were gonna run away from you.
And I thought, this is just ridiculous, this is not at all true. And it would, it would have gone into their brains in a sort of very subliminal poisonous way and given people, I think, a completely wrong idea of Mexico City. I mean, if, if that even happened once to the author of that article, I would have been surprised.
RICARDO GARCIA: I think the relation among Americans and Mexicans is not deep.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ricardo Garcia is the editor of Gente, a glossy magazine of style, culture and politics.
RICARDO GARCIA: Maybe because Americans just don’t have time or don’t have the interest or don’t try.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how does it make you feel?
RICARDO GARCIA: Bad, because if you have a neighbor that is very, how do you say –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Snobbish?
RICARDO GARCIA: Snobbish? No, snobbish, no. Well, snobbish, yes, yes, snobbish. Snobbish and rich and he doesn’t say hello in the morning. How, how would you feel? You, you are sick. Your house is not very well, you know. It has a lot of problems and you live in the same neighborhood, and the people in front of you don’t even say hello. How would you feel that about? It’s, it’s, it’s painful, yes. And, in the other hand, you have a lot of – anger: Why doesn’t he feel something for this? He lives here, you know?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. So a funny thing happened to me the first day in Mexico City. We were walking down the street in advance of the demonstration. I was carrying my recording kit, and I saw a man with a hurdy-gurdy. So I pulled out the mike. Excuse the terrible mike noise. I wasn’t wearing headphones, and I hadn’t set a level. And he starts playing this.
I moan, oh no, not that. And our fixer, a Mexican scholar, journalist and social media maven who helped plan our interview said, what’s the matter, that’s a beautiful Mexican folk song, Cielito Lindo. But all I heard was the Frito Bandito, and I felt bad. I looked it up. It’s a ranchero song, almost 150 years old, embraced and adapted in every region, and I “Frito’ed” it. So then I started playing versions of it on iTunes, and now I really like it.
[CIELITO LINDO/UP AND UNDER]
We were lucky to have chosen this week to be in Mexico, because so much was visible that is often obscured. It’s a warm and gracious culture but also formal and restrained, at least compared to Brooklyn. This week, however, much that is customarily left unsaid was ringing from the rafters.
Mexico’s media culture is giddy with connection fever, which is sparking across generations and political parties for the first time during a national election. The structure of media is being analyzed and criticized from every corner, and that’s a self-reflective exercise on a national scale.
Meanwhile, the fortresses of silence in closing the states that are wracked and wrecked by the cartels are eroding. It’s happening at a terrible cost, but it’s happening. Voices are being heard, if not yet heeded.
MARIANNE McCUNE: That’s the show this week from Mexico. On the Media was produced by super producer Sarah Abdurrahman, with help from Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt and Chris Neary. Our interns are Amy DiPierro and Eliza Novick-Smith, and the show was edited by - Brooke.
Our technical director is Jennifer Munson, our engineers this week were John DeLore and Andrew Dunne.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
MARIANNE McCUNE: And I’m Marianne McCune.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you, Marianne McCune.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Thank you, Brooke.