Learning to Live with the Narco: stories of fear told in a new journalistic project in Mexico

“Since the government of Felipe Calderón declared ‘war’ against organized crime, the Mexican media have covered disappearances and deaths, but we forgot to narrate the day after.” So explains the introduction of the new Mexican digital portal Learning to Live with the Narco, or drug trafficker.

This is precisely the reason that Animal Político, with the support of Open Society Foundations, officially launched this project on Nov. 23. Through the project, stories are told of the communities that suffer, on a daily basis, the consequences of organized crime and the fear it leaves behind.

“We’ve talked very little about what happens the next day, of how the events generated fear in the community and they don’t have any other choice but to continue living with them, being familiar with them and finding solutions and mechanisms to survive. To protect themselves, to survive the fear and to try to make an everyday life,” said Dulce Ramos, editor of Animal Político and the new project, in a conversation with the Knight Center

“But [we also want to talk about] how there has been a norminalization of violence. That, for us, it seems extremely common that buses in some parts of central Mexico must change their routes to avoid passing through areas at risk notes that violence is normal in Mexico and we find that terriblle,” Ramos added.

This concern had been on the minds of editors and journalists of Animal Político for nearly two years. However, limitations in human and financial resources had not permitted this idea to become a reality.

When they learned that Open Society Foundations was looking for a “journalistic partner” that would allow them to visualize the main problems that should be addressed by all States of the United Nations to meet the goals of sustainable development by 2030, the project achieved the necessary funding.

“It's not just about hunger or health, but also that [the governments] are not committed to ensuring the rule of law, they are not committed to international goals to reduce levels of violence, and that is the discussion that organizations like Open [Society] want to take to the United Nations,” Ramos said. “They should take further steps to combat violence, organized crime and involve citizens in decision-making, and Open Society believed that portraying the fear was in line with what they wanted to visualize, that this is generated by the failure of all these tasks of the state.”

With this in mind, reporters at Animal Político, freelancers and local reporters mobilized to different parts of the country to cover 13 stories that are published each day.

The first is centered in southern Veracruz, an area where the Zetas cartel is very active, where merchants refuse to provide stores with supplies out of fear, so “buying milk becomes a feat,” Ramos said.

Tamaulipas was the protagonist of the second story. A reporter from the region, who declined to be named, narrated how organized crime has coerved journalism.

During the days that the project is released, readers can find stories about Guerrero, Ciudad Juárez or Chihuahua, in different narrative formats: text, mini documentaries, videos, infographics, etc.

Although the project was born with a certain number of articles to be published, it may be extended.

Following Animal Político’s tradition of creating community with their readers and giving them the possibility to choose the theemes that they want to see, starting on Dec. 7, it will publish stories that some of them have submitted. In just the first day the project launched, they received five stories, and Ramos has no doubt that the list will grow.

“If something makes me proud of Animal, it’s that it has created a community with its readers,” Ramos said. “So we could extend the project, but the question is whether there will be a break for the holidays. It would be a pity that the work of a reader is lost because people are not paying attention. We treat their stories the same way as those of a journalist from Animal.”

Watch the video that launched the portal:

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.