Cartel City

Imagine a city under the complete control of the Gulf Cartel


Imagine a city under the complete control of the Gulf Cartel. It’s called Reynosa, a city of nearly 600,000 just across the Rio Grande from McAllen. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has a truly startling post on its Web site, where it interviewed 22 journalists in the city anonymously about the insecurity and deterioration of the city under the cartel’s power.

The post is part of a series about the systematic killing and intimidation of journalists in Mexico – 22 have been killed since President Felipe Calderon announced a war against the drug cartels in 2006. The section on Reynosa really hit home for me, since I was just there last month and still can’t quite articulate the fear and paranoia I felt in the city. I have a story coming out about it in our next issue where I try and paint a picture of what it’s like to live under the day-to-day lawlessness in Reynosa. I was truly saddened because I worked as a journalist there a decade ago and back then it was a place where you could work with some freedom and people still felt they could speak out about injustice. But the deterioration of the city into chaos has been gradual and steady in the past decade, according to CPJ.

“It’s hard to be sure when the Gulf cartel gained the power over the city that it has now; it didn’t happen in a single blow, reporters said. Most traced the change to three or four years ago. Before then, the cartel ran a kind of parallel government from which it strongly influenced institutions such as the police and the city government. Reynosa Mayor Oscar Luebbert Gutiérrez did not respond to written questions submitted by CPJ, but journalists say the cartel is fully embedded in the government and gets nearly whatever it wants. “

Journalists are not allowed to print stories without the cartel’s consent first. The cartel even has its own Website where it publishes stories that are okay to cover under its guidelines  (They don’t print the site’s url, though.)  There is a gun battle nearly every day in Reynosa, yet they largely go unreported by the media who have been threatened or killed for reporting on the violence.

“The editor said journalists also know what it means to go against the cartel. “They will abduct you; they will torture you for hours; they will kill you, and then dismember you. And your family will always be waiting for you to come home.” In a chilling illustration of the traffickers’ brutal enforcement methods, three Reynosa journalists disappeared in March and are now feared dead. Colleagues said the three could have done something to anger either the Gulf cartel or the Zetas, or have gotten caught up in the warfare by doing favors for one of the groups.”

In one particularly shocking gun battle on April 1, cartel members carjacked trucks and cars, then blocked off the entrances and exits to the army base in Reynosa so that the military could not intervene as the Gulf Cartel battled the rival Zetas with grenades and assault rifles in the middle of the day. None of this was reported by the local media.

Here, censorship is carried out at the point of a gun, said one reporter.