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LAS AMERICAS Love in the Time of Narcodemocracy BY BARBARA BELEJACK In the final hours of “Nada Personal” the popular telenovela produced by a team of heavies from the world of Mexican journalism, the mysterious, all powerful character we know only as ‘Mr X” appears before a packed press conference to announce that he is shocked simply shocked by the latest revela tions of corruption and murder. So shocked he has ordered a thorough investigation into allegations was behind a recent rampage of political violence 0 nce the media has departed, of course, it’s back to business as usual. The next time we see Mr. Xa character designed to evoke . images of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his Svengali-like sidekick, Jose Maria Cordobahe is lecturing an anonymous successor to the infamous “El Aguila Real,” the tough-talking top cop who masterminded the murder of the crusading attorney general and his daughter and later married the murdered man’s wife \(who eventually shot and killed El Aguila in selfMr. X with the imperturbability of a man who obviously subscribes to the realpolitik view that there are no friendships in this world, only interests. “But the show must go on.” In the past several years the “Mexico-astelenovela” story has turned into such a journalistic clich it threatens to replace that time-honored classic, the all-knowing taxi driver, as a lifeboat for foreign correspondents trying to get a grip. Mexico is changing, but no one is quite sure of the direction. “Transition to democracy?” “Colombianization?” “End of presidencialismo?” “Lack of leadership?” In the end they are all hollow clichs. What we have here is not a story about Mexico as telenovela, but a story about the times we live in, when the media is the message as well as the messenger and image is everything on both sides of the border. Consider that peculiar rite of spring, just enacted, in which the government that spaWned a decade of all sorts of bizarre arms and drug schemes in Central America annually condescends to certify the willingness of other nations to cooperate in that other journalistic clich, “The War on Posada Drugs.” Suddenly, U.S.’ Drug Enforcement Administration agents start chatting up the U.S. press, and the Mexican government engages in a complicated dance that ends with a high-profile political appointee pulling a rabbit out of a hat. One sure sign that Mexico is an underdeveloped country is the fact that you can still buy an afternoon paper herebroadsheets with cheap, runny black type that tend to favor scandals, disasters, photographs of naked women on page three and screaming front-page headlines featuring words that end in “a-z-o.” When a train falls off a cliff, it’s a “TRENAZO!” When a bus collides with a train \(which they do with a frequency that suggests the personal injury field here is not as well developed as it is AZO!” Recently, Mexico has been .rocked by what might be described as a “PERIOD. ICAZO!”: newspaper bombs flying in from all directions. The newsweekly Proceso started it all, right after the final episode of “Nada Personal,” with a cover announcing that the Salinas, Ruiz Massieu and Colosio familiesbased on leaks from federal court testimony in Houstonhad narco connections. Then The New York Times followed with allegations about The drug-trafficking connections of the governors from the states of Sonora and. Morelos \(The former is a man with interesting ties to the families of Salinas and Arizona Governor Fife Symington. The latter is an ex-general once in charge of a national anti-drug trafficking program; he suggested that. the Times inIn between, of course, was what might be called the “capo di tutti i capi” of periodicazosthe result not of a news leak or investigation, but of the bomb lobbed by the Secretary of Defense at one of those reallife packed press conferences. , Alas, it seemed that General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollothe tough-talking military man for whom the law had been hastily changed so that a non-lawyer could become chief of Mexico’s Office .of National Drug Control Policy, the no-nonsense military man dispatched just weeks ago to Washington in the company of Jorge Madrazo, current holder of the title of “Mexico’s crusading attorney general,” the dour-faced, bald-headed military man praised by U.S. drug czar General Barry McCaffrey as someone with “a reputation of ‘being an honest. man. whO is a no-nonsense field commander of the Mexico army” had been guilty of fraternizing with the drug lords. Almost at once, the anchor of Mexico City’s most popular radio showa formidable interviewer whose passion for the death penalty occasionally drives him 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER . MARCH 14, 1997