Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Don’t speak at all, and beware the stick

October 20, 2023

Week after week, Andrés Manuel Lỏpez Obrador, the president of Mexico, suborns violence against journalists. Now he’s throwing 30,000 of them out of work.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

More than 105 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. The government has secured seven convictions in those cases. Twelve non-journalist human rights defenders were murdered there in 2022 alone. And more than 105,000 people are listed as “missing.”

Science magazine reported in September that drug cartels “collectively ‘employ’ some 175,000 people in Mexico, making them the fifth-largest employer in the country.”

And what is AMLO’s response to this? He slanders and threatens reporters and editors on a daily basis in his weekday press conferences, and doubles down on them in his weekly “Who’s Who in the Lies of the Week.”

On March 23 this year he called journalism a “criminal underworld.” On Aug. 17 he began his daily press conference by calling reporters “corrupt,” “sold and rented,” infamous and “perverse.” On the campaign trail in 2017 he called reporters “disgusting” and “filthy.”

On Tuesday this week he sent a bill to Mexico’s lower house of Congress that would kill the nationwide news agency Notimex, which would close its 568 news offices and throw some 30,000 employees out of work. Notimex workers have been on strike since 2020, claiming harassment and unjust firings by AMLO’s handpicked head of the agency, Sanjuana Martỉnez, whom he appointed soon after taking office. Negotiations have gone nowhere; the only remaining issue appears to be severance pay.

Lỏpez Obrador claims that his daily press conferences are all the news the country needs.

“Today more than ever, the work of informing can be exercised without the necessity of intermediaries like agencies, even without professional media outlets,” AMLO’s bill states.

Carlos Bravo Regidor, a journalism professor at Mexico City-based think tank CIDE told Courthouse News: “He seems to believe that he is the only voice we need.”

Mexico has been strangling its journalists for decades. Let me give you some background.

I was a Mexico correspondent for the Arizona Republic in the late 1980s. I lived in Hermosillo, Sonora. Every six weeks or so, the Federal Judicial Police pulled me over to try to steal my pickup truck. Mexico in those days imposed a 100% tax on imported pickups, so a stolen one with legitimate papers in the glovebox was a lucrative sale for a cop.

Every time this happened, I apologized profusely for whatever I had not just done, and said in Spanish: “I do not want to violate your country’s laws, because I am a visitor here. I’m a reporter for The Arizona Republic.” And gave him my card.

And every time, the gang leader — excuse me, the lieutenant — waved off his crew: a bunch of gangsters dressed in black with .45s tucked into their pants.

In those days, I sent my stories to Phoenix through a Radio Shack computer, a TRS-80, known affectionately to reporters as a Trash 80. To alert the news desk, I called them before I began transmitting. And every time I told the news desk, or anyone, that the Mexican police and government were dealing drugs, the phone went dead. Every reporter I knew there said the same thing.

One day in downtown Hermosillo, as I carried a bundle of Mexican newspapers and magazines toward my trusty pickup, a friendly young guy in a suit hailed me and said in perfect English: “Hi, Robert. How did your interview with (a guy) go yesterday?”

I said, “What?”

He said, still friendly: “Give my regards to (another guy) when you see him at 11 tomorrow.”

I said: “Who are you?”

He said, still smiling: “I’m the guy who’s assigned to watch you.”

This was before the iron hand of the PRI was — not broken — but cracked a bit.

Then he said: “Just so you know.”

A friendly warning. More than 30 years ago.

On another day, a quasi-reliable daily newspaper reported on a drug bust in Sonora. The Mexican army had descended in helicopters into two ranchos and arrested the families who lived there. So I fired up the pickup. Those families lived on either side of Rafael Carlos Quintero’s ranch. The federales didn’t touch his ranch, of course. They hauled in and did godnose what to the narco’s innocent neighbors.

Only one person would talk to me on those ranchos, an aged abuelo. He told me how it was, while his children and grandchildren gathered around and said, “No, Papá! No, Papá!”

And he said, in effect: “Shut up, niños. It’ll come out sooner or later.”

That was a generation ago. The cartels are exponentially more powerful today.

President Lỏpez Obrador knows as well as I do that his police forces and army are on the take from the cartels, as are other high-ranking officials, including governors. He knows who runs the cartels, and where they live, and how they do it. Why don’t the army or the State and Federal Judicial Police stop it?

Because you can’t fire your boss. You don’t want to piss off the guy who signs your paycheck.

AMLO could round up the cartel chiefs and their top lieutenants in a week, or kill them, if he wanted to. But why should he? Look at it from his point of view: They’re the ones who are paying the salaries of tens of thousands of AMLO’S employees and servants. And paying far better wages than AMLO can afford, or is willing to. And now AMLO is throwing another 30,000 people out of work.

It’s a hell of a way to run a country.

Categories / Op-Ed

Subscribe to our columns

Want new op-eds sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe below!