The Vigilante

Exposing Tijuana drug cartels and paying the price

| September 8, 2005

Mexican reporters who rake the muck to expose corrupt local officials and business leaders linked to drug cartels sometimes get caught in dangerous quagmires. In the past decade alone, nine reporters have been killed in northern Mexico, and, according to the country's Committee to Protect Journalists, those responsible for the deaths have enjoyed a 'nearly perfect record of impunity.' In the Columbia Journalism Review, Eric Umansky reports that Tijuana newspaper publisher, editor, and reporter, J. Jes?s Blancornelas, has been fighting back tooth and nail.

The trademark of Blancornelas' weekly paper, Zeta, is its unrelenting coverage of the rampant crime and corruption in drug-addled Tijuana. When the Arellano Brothers, a ruthless crime syndicate, set up shop in the 1980s, Zeta reporters didn't keep their distance, rather they investigated in-depth. One blistering expos? divulged particulars of their illegal operations, such as the names and addresses of public officials who were taking bribes. In backlashes, potshots were fired at the office and there was also a break-in.

Since then, the situation has only escalated. A Zeta columnist was killed in 1988, possibly in retribution for lampooning a local businessman. In 1997, Blancornelas wrote a story connecting an Arellano thug to the murder of two Mexican soldiers. Days later, his car was riddled with bullets, his driver was killed, and he was shot four times. Adding to the carnage, a Zeta editor was assassinated last year. These days, Blancornelas leaves his home only when necessary, always traveling the city with a unit of well-armed Mexican soldiers.

Why would anyone continue to work under such conditions? 'If my colleagues hadn't been killed, I would have retired a long time ago,' Blancornelas says. 'But I can't now. I need to fight and to clarify what's happened. That's my purpose.'
-- Archie Ingersoll



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