Journalists’ new books expose the hidden side of drug trafficking violence in Mexico

As violence from the bloody drug war increases and the dead fill morgues and line mass graves in Mexico, two journalists have each launched books that seek to describe the horrors of the conflict and unravel the corruption that is hidden behind it.

Marcela Turati and Anabel Hernández, two journalists with long careers in investigative reporting, recently launched their books: “Fuego Cruzado: Las víctimas atrapadas en la guerra del narco (Crossfire: Victims Trapped in the Drug War)” and “Los Señores del Narco (The Drug Lords),” respectively.

Both books are thoroughly researched and replete with details that could only come from eye witnesses. It is no surprise that the two journalists turned their work in the dangerous task of covering the drug trade into books that are destined to be reference texts in the field.

“Señores” stresses how the relationship between drug traffickers, business people, and politics has created powerful networks of protection and complicity. Hernández also works to dispel popular myths, like the legend that Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán Loera hid in a laundry cart to escape from a maximum security prison in 2001. In reality, “High level public officials smuggled him out dressed as a police officer,” she writes.

The public face of the war on drugs mostly corresponds to stories of gunfights between the army and the warring gangs. This “body count journalism" is splashed on newspaper front pages on a daily basis, responding to the more than 34,000 drug trafficking-related deaths over the last four years. This is five times the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the last ten years.

Turati, founder of the On-the-Ground Journalists Network (Red de Periodistas de a Pie), describes the “social harm caused by these four years of war and narco-violence” in 12 chapters detailing the social dynamic behind the conflict. She tells the stories of those who have been kidnapped, widowed, orphaned, maimed, and/or displaced. The text also describes the ghost towns, principally near the U.S. border, emptied of residents who have fled the violence, and how the mortuary industry is “flourishing."

Turati also discusses reporting and the problem of media workers engaging in “journalistic self-censorship” in response to persistent threats and attacks on journalists and media company offices. “I followed this topic for more than a year because I am convinced that not until we dare to look into the mirror of reality, listen to the voices of the victims, shake off the immobilizing fear and resignation, and mourn our dead, will we be able to build a new country,” says Turati.

In an interview with Journalism in the America, the reporter expounded on the role of government and the media in the conflict and ways to move journalists out of the crossfire.

“The press should do more investigation and look for opportunities for inter-media collaboration to…prevent censorship. Beyond this, they must professionalize their work force in terms of providing security, salaries, and decent working conditions,” Turati said.

She argues that the government sees its role as merely being “a passive spectator that does nothing for prevention and even less to protect threatened media companies and journalists. Nor do they investigate attacks,” which are so bad that several journalists have recently crossed into the United States and Canada to request asylum.

See this Knight Center map for more information about violence against journalists in Mexico and the free e-book “Journalism in Times of Threats, Censorship and Violence” for a detailed analysis of issues facing reporters covering drugs on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.