When the Zetas are Your Editors (Marta Duran de Huerta, EL TOQUE)

This article first appeared in El Toque on 10 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexcian Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Zetas’ Editorial Line
By Marta Duran de Huerta

– “Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and whose byline is on the story,” an exiled Mexican journalist reports.

“We are journalists displaced by violence. First they put a car bomb at the entrance to my husband’s newspaper. Later, I had to leave the state,” says Raquel Suma*, a Mexican journalist forced to flee abroad.

“I used to be the editor of a Tamaulipas newspaper, an area fought over by two of the largest organized crime cartels. To save our lives, my whole family had to leave,” she adds.

A survivor of several attacks, Suma explains “the Zetas are in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo) is on the northern border. We used to think that we could be safe while the Zetas weren’t in the state capital. That nothing would happen. But when car bombs started arriving at the entrance to newspaper offices and at the big broadcasters like Televisa we exclaimed, “Holy shit!” That’s when we knew the Zetas had arrived.”

Organized Crime has a News Agenda

Raquel Suma is young and stands out for her investigative journalism in Mexico: “from 2010 — and as much as I was able — I spoke out on the media and in meetings about how the Zetas use the media. Here’s how things work: the Zetas call you by phone; they have all your numbers: cell, office, and house phones. They usually contact a reporter who speaks for the crime beat. They send a press release that can refer to any subject.”

She goes quiet, then continues her story: “They can also order you not to publish anything. Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and the byline the story carries. They check to make sure if you followed orders and published what they ask,” the journalist explains.

From her exile, this Mexican reporter specifies that if the Zetas find out that you didn’t publish what they wanted you to, “they round up the journalists and hit them with large, rough, meter-long pieces of clapboard with nails in them, just like a faquir’s “bed”. They beat you until you pass out. Zetas never ask. You have to publish what they want or “they order you.”

Seated, she begins to drum her fingers on the table. “It’s difficult for me to overcome the jitters,” she explains, adding: “At first they asked for news about police matters. Now they want news about their events: from baptisms, to first communions for their children. They want these things in the newspaper as if they were big news. If it’s useful to them, they even want coverage of citizens’ protests.

If the Zetas want a spotlight on the sporting achievements of some team or athlete who is part of their group, it has to be done. “Of course they don’t pay for this coverage. If there’s a confrontation between them and they don’t want anybody to know, nobody is going to publish a word. But if they kill one of their enemies, well, you have to publish that,” says the reporter.

Voice breaking, she continues with her story: “While I worked at the paper, I tried to avoid the Zetas’ instructions. So, if they wanted a piece of news to stand out on the front page of the crime section, I used to shrink it, and hide in the newspaper’s last page. I used to say, “They can’t kill us! Maybe that’s what enraged the Zetas,” she says.

She doesn’t go into details. Raqul Suma limits herself to explaining how she became filled with fright and had to flee Mexico, taking her children but leaving everything else behind. She is thousands of miles from home and has no way of going back. The young journalist continues: “As editor-in-chief, I had to call the newspaper’s owner to tell him what had happened. I used euphemisms but I told him: The kingpins want this thing… and he always used to say to me: You know the routine. Do what you have to do. So I picked up the phone and called all the editors from the other outlets to ask if they had received the same instructions, and if they would run what they’d been told to print. If everyone accepted, then we would publish it, too. Our families’ lives depended on that.”

Politicians Pay the Zetas

Raquel picks up her story where she left off. Even though the interview’s being conducted in a safe place, the reporter doesn’t stop looking around.

“The worst thing about the last two years is that politicians pay for protection from the Zetas. That means that journalists can´t reveal any scandals about local officials in cahoots with organized crime.”

 “We can’t even report on protests about the rise in energy prices, or a neighbourhood protest where residents demand resumption of their water supply. Nothing. Zetas have managed to make money in unimaginable ways,” says Suma.

What’s even worse is that Zeta’s have the backing of officials from the three levels of government: local, state, and federal. “They even have the loyalty of the governor, the public prosecutors, the mayors, all sorts of officials,” the journalist maintains.

“Reporters in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, won’t publish a thing – either for or against organized crime – save for obligatory news items. Conversely, on the border, all the news goes against the Mexican Army. There’s a marked anti-Army line and the Gulf Cartel is behind it. The Cartel even uses the media to attack the Army. But the Zetas do not. The Zetas are timely and snappier. They have it very clear who they are going to attack and who they will defend.”

“When you see some news from the south or centre of Tamaulipas that complains about Army abuse and the violation of civilians’ human rights, you can rest assured it has nothing to do with investigative journalism. That story won’t even be put together by the newspaper, but comes straight from the Gulf Cartel. Since 2009, one or other of the organized crime cartels has determined news coverage,” Raquel Suma concludes.

*Raquel Suma is an invented name. The journalist is under threat from the Zetas and lives in exile.

Journalist Marta Duran de Huerta is a Mexican sociologist who has published seven books. This article first appeared under the title, “La mesa editorial de los Zetas,” available at: http://eltoque.com/texto/la-mesa-editorial-de-los-zetas?fb_action_ids=291984727617323&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B814827085200141%5D&action_type_map=%5B%22og.likes%22%5D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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