MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We are continuing with our international briefing. In a few minutes, we'll find out why generations of Rwandans conducted government affairs, schooling and business in French. But the government has now decided Rwandans must switch to English. We will talk about this a little later.
But first, to Mexico, where for a decade Armando Rodriguez wrote about violent crime in the city of Juarez. Last Thursday, he became a victim of one of those crimes. The journalist for the main newspaper in Juarez, El Diario, was shot to death as he sat warming up his car outside of his house. His death marks the 24th murder of a journalist in Mexico since the year 2000. That number places Mexico as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for a journalist to work.
Joining us now to talk about this is Arturo Chacon. He's a reporter for the newspaper El Norte de Ciudad Juarez, and Monica Campbell; she's a consultant in Mexico for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Ms. CAMPBELL (Consultant, Committee to Protect Journalists): Thank you.
Mr. CHACON (Reporter, El Norte de Ciudad Juarez): Thank you.
MARTIN: Monica, first of all, I understand that you actually met with Armando Rodriguez a couple of days before or a week before his murder. Why did you meet with him and what was on his mind?
Ms. CAMPBELL: I was in Juarez reporting on the violence there for a magazine, and I consider Armando - I considered him one of my main contacts in Juarez. We met like we usually did, and we had a drink at one of his favorite cantinas and we talked about the situation there. I noticed - and it wasn't the first time he seemed tired. He seemed, frankly, overworked. Any journalist in that city of Juarez and anybody covering crime in that part of Mexico has got to be exhausted. The level of violence there has spiked this year due to war between cartels to control that city and the drug smuggling quarters that run through and near it.
MARTIN: That's what I was going to ask you. Why has Mexico become such a dangerous place for journalists? Is this considered political violence? Is this considered street violence? What is it that makes Mexico such a dangerous place for journalists?
Ms. CAMPBELL: If we just look at the border, it's particularly intense there because that's where drugs are being pushed up through the United States. They're being trafficked through South America, through Central America, through Mexico. And what you've had in the recent years is that the Mexican cartels have gained control of this trafficking organization and business, and you have a fierce fight throughout the country between the cartels for control of that illicit business.
MARTIN: So was Armando reporting on something in particular that would have made him a target or is it that anybody who covers crime of whatever nature is a target?
Ms. CAMPBELL: If you're covering crime, you're definitely a target, and that's what Armando did. So on a daily basis he would see his fair share of dead bodies on the ground in Juarez. He would go back to the newsroom. He'd write up that day's violence. He kept a tally of the death toll in Juarez - one of the more reliable tallies, actually. And like other reporters in dangerous parts of Mexico, he could never go in depth and investigate those stories because it's just too dangerous. You can't go and try and find the back story to the murder or see who was behind it or how the investigation is going.
First, there are hardly any investigations. I mean, the cops themselves, the detectives themselves, at any level - municipal, state and federal - hardly investigate these crimes themselves because of the danger that they face of a backlash from the cartels against them for uncovering any stones that those guys don't want to be uncovered.
MARTIN: Arturo, you have also covered crime in your time. Have you ever been threatened?
Mr. CHACON: No. Not directly to my person, but the situation, the atmosphere, it's unsecure. It's on risk for all of the journalists in Juarez and more of those who are related with violent subjects and topics.
MARTIN: If you don't mind my asking, what steps do journalists take to protect themselves? I understand that there's a special prosecutor who supposedly investigates these crimes against journalists. But if you do receive a threat, is there anything you can do? Is there anybody you can talk to?
Mr. CHACON: No. Not much. I think we are not feeling safe, of course. The authority cannot assure what will happen, and if this powerful group can kill more than 60 police officers, anything can happen. And now we have more than 1,300 murders, and there are only formal investigations that are less than maybe 60. So that's why people does not trust anymore with the authorities, you know.
MARTIN: Do your families of journalists pressure them not to cover these stories? Do they ask them to please get other assignments or to do other jobs?
Mr. CHACON: Yes. I think we share this situation that family are doing a lot of pressure. I, too, I have a wife, and she is all the time asking me that please, bring the police. And as a journalist, my family, my parents are asking me that maybe I can quit and start something new maybe just for a while.
MARTIN: Monica, how do the officials there respond to the deaths of journalists? Is there any credible investigation? Have any of these other murders been solved?
Ms. CAMPBELL: There's very little progress in investigating the death of a journalist, just like investigating the death of a regular person in Mexico. I mean, the level of impunity in Mexico is nearly a hundred percent. There is very little confidence that the authorities can investigate these crimes because you have such entrenched corruption at every level that it inhibits a true investigation. And that's what you're seeing in these cases with the journalists. They don't have anywhere to go. That's why you're seeing some going to the United States and pleading for political asylum for the first time. They really don't have anywhere to go.
MARTIN: I actually understand that Armando was actually sent to El Paso for a period of time. Do I have that right? And why is that?
Ms. CAMPBELL: He went to El Paso for a brief period. We're not sure if he went because of the threat that he received or if he went for actually a medical problem. I talked to Armando about this, and he was a type of person who - he wasn't going to run from his profession. He wanted to do his job. It's a very difficult job. You've got somebody who's walking a fine line every day in a city where organized criminals are largely in control and in collusion with the authorities, and you're a journalist there just trying to report what's in front of you at the most minimal level. And that's what Armando was doing.
MARTIN: You know what? I still don't think I understand the logic of this. It's not like people don't know that this is going on. I just don't understand what is the point if they think that they kill enough journalists - what? People will forget that the drug cartels are in control? You see what I'm saying? I just don't - I don't see the point.
Ms. CAMPBELL: I think it's a demonstration of power on the part of the criminals, whoever they are. You know, when I talked to journalists in Juarez the day after he was killed, my question was, well, what's your thinking right now? And across the board, they said, I'm scared. I don't want to do this anymore. What do we do? They've created - the criminals - a culture of fear. They're trying to freeze the press. They're trying to show that they are in charge, and that's how they're trying to do it, by silencing the journalists.
MARTIN: Arturo, are there, perhaps, press associations or organizations that represent journalists and have they asked for the government to do anything else to protect their work? And I also wanted to ask you, finally, are you concerned about the future of journalism in Mexico as a result of this?
Mr. CHACON: Yes. I think the association, the journalist association, the official part, they just have to ask the authority to complete a formal investigation, a reliable investigation that they are able just to do that.
MARTIN: And Monica, finally, has the Committee to Protect Journalists made any requests of the Mexican government? Are there steps that you wish the government of Mexico to take, or, in fact, perhaps the U.S. government to take to allow journalists to go forward with their work?
Ms. CAMPBELL: Well, one of the requests that the Committee to Protect Journalists has had for the Mexican government at the federal level is to make crimes against freedom of expression a federal offense. And we're not just talking about crimes against journalists and the press. We're talking about people who are trying to express their opinion, and Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, has pledged to support the federalization of such crimes. So there's a larger issue here. It's not just journalists. It's actually the right of the folks of people in Mexico to be able to speak freely.
MARTIN: Monica Campbell is a consultant in Mexico for the Committee to Protect Journalists. She recently returned from reporting in Juarez, and she was kind enough to join us from our New York studios. Arturo Chacon is a reporter for the newspaper El Norte des Ciudad Juares, and he was kind enough to join us from his offices there. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Ms. CAMPBELL: Thanks, Michel.
Mr. CHACON: You're welcome. You're welcome.
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