Anarchy Beneath the Border

by Conor Friedersdorf

The Los Angeles Times has a troubling report from Mexico:

A new word has been written into the lexicon of Mexico's drug war: narco-censorship.

It's when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been intimidated, kidnapped and killed.

That big shootout the other day near a Reynosa shopping mall? Convoys of gunmen whizzed through the streets and fired on each other for hours, paralyzing the city. But you won't read about it here in this border city.

Here's why:

An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels in December 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.

But a ferocious increase in violence, including the July 26 kidnapping of four reporters, has pushed the profession into a crisis never before seen, drawn renewed international attention and spurred fresh activism on the part of Mexican newsmen and women.

The United Nations sent its first such mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression. On Aug. 7, in an unprecedented display of unity from a normally fractious, competitive bunch, hundreds of Mexican reporters demonstrated throughout the country to demand an end to the killings of their colleagues, and more secure working conditions. Few killings are ever investigated, and the climate of impunity leads to more bloodshed, says an upcoming report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

I'm always surprised that the prospect of a failed state on America's southern border doesn't get more attention. The rise of narco-gangs powerful enough to paralyze the country is terrifying, and there is no reason that their intimidation tactics, including kidnapping, torture, and gruesome murders can't spread to our side of the border.

There is a case to be made for putting a lot more of our foreign policy resources into this hemisphere, and dedicating a lot less treasure and attention to matters overseas. I'd also like to see changes in drug policy so that our failed yet ongoing efforts at prohibition stop empowering paramilitary drug armies from growing ever more powerful.