tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS April 10, 2011 8:30am-9:00am PDT
>> hinojosa: drug-related killings continue at an alarming rate throughout mexico, and the violence is now spilling across the border into the united states. mexico bureau chief for the dallas morning news alfredo corchado. i'm maria hinojosa. this is one on one. alfredo corchado, you are the mexico bureau chief for the dallas morning news. as such, you spend a lot of your time covering drug dealers, the traficantes, the narcos, the
kidnappings. this was not the mexico that you would have been reporting on 20 years ago. it's a whole new mexico. >> well, i actually ca to mexico, and my real passion back then was covering immigration, covering the us-mexico relations. and when i left mexico in 2000, i left mexico for washington, because i thought the story had died in mexico, you know? >> hinojosa: the immigration story. >> the immigration story, but also, you know, mexico now had democracy in the year 2000. and so i figured that maybe the story was going to be washington and mexico city. so i moved to washington. three years later, september 11 comes around, there's no mexico story. i mean, there's no real us policy to mexico. and i returned to mexico, and my first assignment was to cover the women of juarez-- you know, who was killing the women of juarez? >> hinojosa: and right now we're talking about, in terms of the
women who have been murdered in the city of juarez, which is on the mexico side of the border... >> right, right across el paso, texas. >> hinojosa: right across. and we're talking about 400-plus women now? >> i mean, some estimates have it as over 300, some say 400. most of them... i mean, the vast majority of the cases have never been solved, just li, yo know, most crimes in mexico. and it was then that i realized, "wow," you know, "this is a different mexico." >> hinojosa: so that was a time span of what, like, maybe five years? >> no, a span in time of three years. i mean, from 2000 to 2003. and what happened, i think, is the pri... i mean, you had a government for 71 years, a one-party rule, where the system, the security, if you will, was more preoccupied with protecting the system, otecting t priand not really looking after the welfare of the citizens. >> hinojosa: and the pri, just
so people know, it's the revolutionary institutionalized party, which was the dominant party for... >> 71 years. >> hinojosa: 71 years. >> i mean, authoritarian, semi-authoritarian rule. and so that's what happened. i mean, the institutions did not work anymore, did not function anymore. and when i went back to mexico, i had colleagues who would joke and say, "you're coming back for la nota roja," you know, the cirme story, et cetera. but no, to me it was really the sty of a polical transition. it was mexico in evolution. and it's been, in many ways, kind of the massacre of mexico, you know? a bloody, necessary, but obviously very, very painful transition. >> hinojosa: wow, i've never heard it described like that, the massacre of mexico. so when people... when you hear this thrown out, that mexico could be a failed state, that the mexican government could, you know, somehow implode, when you hear things, are you saying, "never happen," or are you
thinking, "we have to really talk about that seriously"? >> i mean, i don't think it's there. i mean, i do think it can happen. but if there's anything that... i don't even want to use the word "positive." i mean, if there's anything that's semi-good about this it's that at least both governments are now dealing with reality, and not the finger pointing that we've seen. >> hinojosa: well, there was a big moment when... with hillary clinton going down as secretary of state where she basically says, "we have a responsibility in this." >> right, right. >> hinojosa: in mexico, how was that taken, after years of essentially the bush administration saying... barely dealing with it, saying, "it's your problem," when hillary clinton, secretary of state hillary clinton, goes down there and says, "we have to look at our drug usage..." and i don't remember if she brought up the issue of guns. >> yes. yes, she did. >> hinojosa: what... how did that go over in mexico, when you have the united states saying, "we bear some responsibility
here"? >> it was like, you know, (speaking spanish), you know, finally. >> hinojosa: really? >> finally. because, i mn, what w're seeing in mexico today is nothing different than what we've seen or experienced in bolivia, peru, colombia. i mean, it's a very old story. but i think finally the americans are realizing that, "wait a minute, we are part of the problem." and it took mexico... i mean, it took the issue to come to america's, you know, doorsteps for the us goverment to finally realize this is about coresponsibility. i mean, it takes two of you. >> hinojosa: do you... when you hear people talking about this kind of... i don't know if i've heard the word flood, but, you know, the violence creeping over the border, coming into the united states, and i've heard some people say, "you know what? too alarmist. may have happened here or there." as someone who works on this issue all the time, is it true? are we seeing a crossover of
this violence from mexico into the united states? >> it's a spillover, but i think that maybe some of the reports have been a little bit overexaggerated, you know, "a massive spilloveof violence." i ink the spillover up tnow has been much more of people leaving one side, you know? i think as a journalist, one of the things that i'm concerned about is how we take cities like ciudad juarez or tijuana, we say, "the juaraz cartel," or "the tijuana cartel," or "the gulf cartel," when in reality, because it's such a transnational situation, it should be called the el paso-juarez cartel, or the dallas-gulf cartel. >> hinojosa: really? this is the first time that i'm hearing that. >> or the la-tijuana cartel. because there is a spillover, not necessarily always about violence, but corrtion, you know, people fleeing one side, going to the other side. there is an impact on both sides. >> hinojosa: and you have uncovered a lot of these stories. i mean, you uncovered a big story that showed that basically
american officials were involved with some shady business around not only immigration, but also trafficking. >> right. i mean, and that's become more and more common, you know, on the us side. i mean, again, it takes two to tango. you can't... you know, drugs don't just magically leave mexico, and then hola, they're in the us. i mean, you're going to have to pay some people off. >> hinojosa: so you... honestly, alfredo, i have such respect for you, because as a fellow journalist... and i do a lot of stuff, but wanting to go into deep investigative reporting about drug cartels might not be the thing that i'd like to be spending my time on. and yet that's what you have to do. >> and it's... i mean, when i became a journalist, i... one of the promises i made to my parents was that i would never cover drug trafficking. >> hinojosa: are you kidding me? you told that to your parents? >> wl, my parents d a sml restaurant right in... south of el paso, two, three blocks from the border.
and at one point there was a person who had offered my father money to store merchandise, you know, overnight. and the money was, like, something like $3,000 a month, you know, which was incredible. when... we had just arrived in el paso. we didn't really know the dynamics. and when we finally found out that this guy was talking about drugs-- cocaine, marijuana-- he said, "tre is a price. if the authorities find out," you know, "we won't take it out on you, we'll take it out on your sons or your daughters." >> hinojosa: oh, my gosh. >> and so from that point on, when i told my dad, i said, "i want to become a journalist," he says, "just never cover drug trafficking." and for the longest time, i did follow that advice, not just because of my father, but because i really wasn't that interested in the issue. but again, it's become the kind of issue that no one, i mean, no one, whether you're a journalist
or a cop or a worker in mexico, you can't ignore the issue anymore, because it is threatening, i think, the very stability of the country. >> hinojosa: well, in fact, as a journalist, journalists in mexico have been told by their editors, "we are not going to cover the drug trafficking story. we're not going to cover it." so what does that mean for you, alfredo? >> it... i mean, i have a lot of friends, you know, some of whom are journalists. and it means, i guess a sense of moral responsibility. because oftentimes i will t calls from journalists who i do know well, who i trust, who will say, "look, we can't print this, but here's what's going on." and so there is a sense of, you know, you have to find a way to do it. >> hinojosa: but you're like the last bastion. >> right, the last bastion of hope, especially for the border, for the border region. there's so much censorship along the us-mexico border that... and it's not just a censorship
because of the drug cartels, but also because, obviously, the industry's going through some hard times, they're cutting back on burus, so there is a void of information. you know, oftentimes you go to a place like ciudad juarez, and people kind of gravitate to the mercados, you know, and listen to people playing corridos, and maybe they'll get a little tip of what's going on in the neighborhood-- you know, who killed who last night and why. >> hinojosa: that's how... so wait a second. so you're telling me that right now there may occur killings, and people can't read about it in the newspaper, so they go to the market to maybe get a sense of what the gossip is about what the murder was about? >> what the gossip is, either from norteno groups or from the local merchant or someone else, you know? >> hinojosa: just so we are clear, norteno groups play music, a style called norteno, where it's basically a ballad, and they're telling stories. >> or narcocorrido, that comes from the local... you know,
local flavor, the local news. it's like the local choir, you know? and yes, i mean, that is what's happening. there's so much control over news that... and some cartels arvery sophiicat about that. i mean, they will buy you... you know, they will buy a spokesperson, they will hire a spokesperson, who will actually call newspapers every day. i mean, his or her job is to call the local editors, the local news directors, and say, "this story cannot run tomorrow." or "if it runs tomorrow it must be inside." >> hinojosa: okay, wait, wait, wait. so you're saying that you have... the cartel is at such a level of sophistication now that it's run essentially like a corporatn, where they've got public spospeople whusedo be journalists who have now been bought off? >> absolutely. >> hinojosa: i mean, that just sounds crazy. you've got... you've got journalists who are acting as spokespeople for cartels?
>> oh, it's... you know, it's the old saying, (speaking spanish), you take the money or you take the lead. and a lot of of people, i mean, don't have that choice. i mean, it's not a real easy choice, you know? >> hinojosa: and what other ways do you see kind of... i mean, again, because you're so deep side this kind of reporting, and we don't really hear it so much on this side of the border, when we're talking about cartels, you know, people have this image of kind of, you know, i guess the pablo escobar cartel, kind of ragtag, you know, making a lot of money, but not so sophisticated. when you're talking about a drug cartel in mexico, what exactly are we talking about? you know, can you compare it to a corporation? >> you can compare it to a corporation, because they think very... you know, you have the people who are in charge of pushing drugs across the us, you have people who are in charge of killing, (speaking spanish), you know, the killers. and then you have the public
relations side-- you know, the people who will... information is very, very critical. and so you need someone who's going to make sure that the message gets out, and that the right message gets out. >> hinojosa: what could possibly be the right message for a cartel on a given day? >> the right message is, "we are the most violent cartel, and we are the bosses, and we control the city, we control the mayor, and our rules are the rules," you ow? >> hinojosa: so they'll actually put some of their spokespeople to say, "make it clear that we control the mayor"? >> or not necessarily control the mayor, but for example, you know, there's a story tomorrow that... "we want a story about how there's so much military abuse, and it has to be on the front page." because they're savvy enough to know that in washington people look at that very closely, you know, military abuse. and i'm not saying that all these cases are false. i mean, there are some legitimate complaints. >> hinojosa: right, but are you
saying that there are editors who will then say, "okay, we're going to put this on the front page"? >> oftentimes they have no choice. >> hinojosa: they have no choice? >> they have no choice. >> hinojosa: if they don't put this story on the front page? >> there are ramifications. they may kidnap you, they may kidnap your daughter, they may bomb your building, they may kill your reporter, they may kill your editor. >> hinojosa: how can you possibly have a functioning commmunity of journalists in that kind of a situation? >> i mean, it's very difficult. it is very... i mean, that's why today i think mexico is the most dangerous place in the americas to do journasm. especially along the us-mexico border. >> hinojosa: that's where you are, alfredo. >> right. >> hinojosa: that's what you do. so... >> and that's why i left for a year. >> hinojosa: and that's why you left and came to boston for a year. how much do you worry about... i mean, you know, as journalists, we're kind of, like... we're doing our job, we're doing our thing. it's not like you're always looking over your shoulder. but are you looking over your shoulder? >> well, not here.
not in cambridge. but it is something that i worry about a lot, and i don'think there's a day that goes by nowadays that i don't think about that, and about how much deeper do i want to get, you know, back into... because look-- in the end, being six feet underground, it's not going to help anyone. so you have to find a way to do the story and be able to live another day to tell the next story. >> hinojosa: so how do you do it? i mean, again, when i'm thinking, like, "okay, i'm a journalist, i've done investigative work, i do it all the time." i wouldn't know where to begin in terms of doing an investigative piece on narcotraffics, or the cartels. i mean, who do you call? how do you do that kind of reporting? >> a lot of sourcing. i mean, it's a lot of sourcing. >> hinojosa: but a lot of sourcing means you spend a lot of time developing relationships. >> developing relationships with the right people.
and that's really the key, is who's the right people? >> hinojosa: who can you trust? >> how many people, you know, will be happy to take you and have you killed, or have you disappear? but, you kno i want to stress that what we go through as foreign correspondents, american foreign correspondents, is nothing compared to what our mexican colleagues go through. i mean, they're stuck there. they have to live that, you know, day by day. we have the luxury of coming in, parachuting in, and leaving. i'm not saying it's not difficult, but, i mean, it is, i think, a big, big difference in terms of security, personal security. >> hinojosa: so why do you keep doing it, alfredo? i mean, you're athe level in your career where you could say to your editors, "you know what? base me in who knows where, but not mexico city." >> i've asked that question myself, you know, i think for the past 300-something, 60 days.
i don't really have a clear answer. i mean, i do have... feel a huge responsibility. and i think as a foreign correspondent there's no way that you can overlook this story. can you do things differently? i mean, because, i mean, i go back a lot now, and i think, "okay, did i really have to go that extra milfor that sry? will i do it again?" and i don't think i will. and i also think that it's time for us as journalists to also look at the us side-- you know, what's happening here. and that's... i think that's really the most overlooked story, the story that we haven't really covered. >> hinojosa: which is american drug consumption, the american gun business, essentially. what other part of the story? >> corruption on the us side. >> hinojosa: because it's very easy to look at corruption in mexico, but it's hard to actually see corruption ppeng he. >> it's very easy to blame, and not really look at yourself. and again, you know, that, i
think, is the good part of the story, is that finally both societies are looking deeply, you know, into themselves. i mean, mexicans can't point the finger anymore at the united states and say, "the consumption is in the us." i mean, it's now in monterey, it's in mexico city, it's in ciudad juarez, you know? guadalajara, and on and on and on. it's... the fight in mexico today is no longer just about controlling diribution routes to thes, but alsabout controlling communities. you know, who sells who to your local community. >> hinojosa: all right, so given all of this, and given the fact that there's a relationship between these two counties that is now acknowledged, there has been a bit of an opening on a topic that was... is hugely controversial, which is the legalization of drugs. and in mexico, there has been increasing dialogue about this. what do you think about that, when you hear th? do you think if we legalized it the cartels would just
disappear, or if we legalize it that's just going to empower them even more? i mean, they'll have money, they'll be something legal. >> i mean, i think it'll help, but i don't think legalization in the end is really the answer. i mean, it'll help both sides. i think the root cause, especially for mexico, is lack of institutions. i mean, lack of rule of law, impunity, a very weak judicial system. and until mexico addresses that... and that may take years. i mean, we're not talking about, you know, calderon's last three years, president calderon of mexico. we're talking about decades. it's going to take a long time, because if it's not drugs today, it might be something else tomorrow. >> hinojosa: do you feel like in mexico there is a will for that? i mean, certainly among the population there's a will to want to resolve this. but is there a will to say,
"this really means we've got to change our institutions, our judicial system, we've got to work on this"? is there that kind of a will? >> i've been, you know, looking very closely at calderon's approval ratings. and they still hover in the 65-60%, which tells me maybe that people do want him to do what he's doing. but that's, i think, the real key question, is how long will this will last? that, i think, will really tell us a lot about mexican will-- how much can they tolerate? you know, three years into calderon's term, more than 11,0 people have been killed. and i'not just narcotrafficking. i mean, there's a lot of innocent civilians who are being... >> hinojosa: which is actually the question i was going to ask you. i mean, there were some journalists who i spoke to who said, "you know, there is a lot of violence, but when you're talking about drug violence, it's very specific. it's not just random people getting caught in the crossfire,
it's very specific violence that is directed by the cartels-- 'you kill my enemy, my enemy, you know, then comes back.'" is it like that, or is it that anyone, essentially, can... >> i think for the most rt it is like that. but inevitably you're going to have innocent people caught in the crossfire. and not just mexicans-- i mean, americans too, especially along the us-mexico border. you've had people from el paso, young... you know, young kids recently, who were killed. i mean, and the other thing that's also worrisome is that i think it's misleading to call this a drug war, because we haven't really seen drug cartels targeting specifically the military. there have beesome instaes, but it's not ally an all-out assault between, you know, the government troops and cartels, which might suggest that the cartels still want to have a pact with the government. you know, they don't really want to go all out.
i think when it comes... you know, when it goes all out, it's going to get a lot bloodier. >> hinojosa: but we're talking about how many federal troops now have been mobilized with calderon? >> in ciudad juarez alone, about 10,000 troops there. nationwide, more... i mean, i've heard more than 40,000, more than 60,000 troops. >> hinojosa: okay, and when you look at these troops, alfredo, do you say, "they're going to do the right thing," or do you look at them and say, "how many of them are going to get bought off?" >> and how long before they get bought off? i mean, if you have... whenever you have the mexican military take over towns, there's always the initial reaction, which is like a parade, you know? the troops are going into the city, and people are waving, people feel safe for a few days. and then either it's the cartels' guerilla war tactics, or the cooption, the corruption that takes place, t sooner o later, mean, a l of people... i mean, business goes back to usual. ciudad juarez, for example.
troops come in in march, the murder rate goes down dramatically from ten to one. here we are, it's back to eight or nine, you know? and this is what, three months? calderon cannot sustain a policy based just on, you know, sending the military. again, he has to go... i mean, it's really going to take the institutions to take root before... i think before you starseeing real dramic change in mexico. and that's going to take a long time. >> hinojosa: what has to happen on this side of the border? what is the dialogue, the conversation, that this country needs to have nationally about this issue that you don't think is happening? >> well, i mean, obviously the weapons. the weapon is a big, big deal. you know, more than 90% of the weapons confiscated in mexico come from the us. there are hundreds if not more than 1,000 gun shops just along the us-mexico border-- texas, arizona. >> hinojosa: so you can basically cross the border from mexico, let's say legally, and
you can go and buy a gun in one of these gun shops without a problem? >> virtually no problem, yeah. and, i mean, that's a huge problem. i think the other debate that americans have to ask themselves is, you know, currently, overwhelmingly, most of the us money goes into attacking this problem as a police problem, as a criminal problem, enforcement problem. you have to really, i think, go back to... or think about the treatment aspect. it's a health issue. and i think ose e two critical questions that have to be asked before you start seeing some significant change on this side. >> hinojosa: okay, finally, alfredo, your message to young journalists, okay? they're looking at you and they're saying, "he's got a great job, stable, but, my gosh, i don't ever want to do this." your message to young latino journalists is what? >> i'll say something that i've told other people, is that...
personal experience. when i first received my threats, you know, death threats from the cartels, my sense was, "it can't be. i'm an american journalist," you know? "they're not going to touch me, because that just brings too much attention." and a us source confirmed that, and said, "look, i have good news and bad news. the bad news is that you just don't look american, so be careful." >> hinojosa: thank you, alfredo. thank you for all of your work, and for sticking to it. we really appreciate it. and thank you for joining us. >> my pleasure. continue the conversation at wgbh.org/oneonone. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org