It's important to recognize that ALARMA! publishes narco-messages left by cartels. It is not about being accomplices or collaborators of organized crime, we simply believe that we need to provide the information as it happens, truthfully and without downplaying it, just presenting the information as it is, no matter how harsh it is. We should not feel like accomplices if we provide truthful information. We think that our main job as a newspaper is to tell the truth.
Whether or not to publish the narco-messagess has had the media caught between a rock and a hard place. We do not want to be the spokesperson for organized crime, but equally do not want to hide the truth just because we don't want to publish it.
Since 2006 the so-called "war against narco-trafficking" has changed the lifestyle of many Mexicans, and in different ways. However there is another "war" that has changed the way these issues are approached by the media. We are talking about the "war of narco-messages".
People are living in constant fear of the frequent shootouts that are going on everyday all over the country. The different cartels have practically taken control of the country and the authorities are unable to enforce control. Since then, more than 60,000 people have died. In addition to the innocent victims—the so-called "collateral damage"—a large number of these casualties were police officers from the three different levels of government, as well as those people who are immersed in organized crime and who have been executed in the more varied and cruel ways one could imagine.
Beginning in 2006, the "Familia Michoacana" cartel, or La Familia, started leaving messages next to the corpses of opposing sides. In Mexico these messages became known as "narco-messages." Subsequently, all the drug cartels adopted this as a way of threatening their rivals. This form of dialogue between Mexican mafias became something common from that point on. The messages were actually threats against rivals, police and public officers, though they have also been used as a way to justify their actions to the people. They call themselves enforcers or avengers, and they kill only criminals.
Meddling in the media and positioning to control information reached such levels that, in November 2006, La Familia paid two Michoacán newspapers to publish two spreads declaring: "The Family doesn't kill for money. It doesn't kill women. It doesn't kill innocent people but only those who deserve to die. May you all know that this is divine justice".
Unfortunately the media has been "trapped" in the middle of this exchange of narco-messages. The president of Mexico himself declared a few years ago in Mérida, Yucatán, that "the press publishes criminals' banners that contain messages from whoever to whoever for free, while any businessman or the government need to pay several millions of pesos for a front page". Felipe Calderón also stated that "some Mexicans sometimes speak badly of their country like it were a national sport".
Inspiring fear, divulging crime, and attracting attention
The outgoing government didn't like the fact that some national newspapers were keeping a daily track of the executions in the country from a war openly declared to narco-traffickers. There have been a lot of questioning about whether the media has become the hostage or the messenger of the criminals by publishing the narco-messages. Critics of the publishers say that these messages are free propaganda, that they strike fear among the population, and that it is unethical to be the criminals' messengers.
Publishing these threatening messages is an important achievement for narco-traffickers, especially because they meet their main objective: frightening their rivals, divulging their crimes, attracting the attention of the media.
In March 2011, almost 700 national newspapers and television stations signed a pact called Agreement for the Coverage of Information on Violence of Organized Crime, with the objective of not making a point of justifying crime. Some rules of conduct established the no-publication of shocking images or of the exact reproduction of messages from the criminals, but unfortunately not all the signatories to the agreement have complied with it.
Violence in Mexico obliges us to report what is happening. We cannot keep silent in the face of more than 60,000 deaths, pretending nothing is going on.
Translated by Rosa Gregori. Images courtesy of Alarma!