EL PASO, Texas – If truth and transparency cannot be assured in the Mexican press and legal system, the leader of Mexico's largest newspaper chain said Monday, the country will keep suffering from social problems and a violent drug war.
Alejandro Junco de la Vega, chairman and chief executive of Mexico's Grupo Reforma newspaper chain, said in his keynote address at a summit on violence against journalists that Mexico is suffering from something worse than hunger — what he calls civic, moral and economic malnutrition.
"We are failing to grasp what it means to have our legal system, our political system and our bureaucracy all impeding our citizens," Junco said at the gathering, held at the University of Texas at El Paso and co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and Mexico's IAPA.
Junco said he's optimistic that Mexico can recover but only after the sources of those problems are exposed, and drug cartels and corrupt police and government officials can be held accountable.
The executive, who runs the largest print media company in Mexico and Latin America, moved to Texas with his family in 2008 under growing threat from drug cartel operatives.
Mexico remains among the most dangerous nations in the world for journalists — 24 have been killed in the last four years.
Junco, who calls cartel members "terrorists," told how in some instances his newspapers have removed bylines from articles, moved editors into more secure residences and urged staffers to change their routines in an effort to protect them from drug cartels.
"If you stand in the way of control of the town or region, the terrorists want you gone," Junco said. "They will make that happen, either with silver or with lead."
He described how a recent killing occurred near the building that houses his chain's Monterrey headquarters. A reporter and photographer who hurried to the scene were surprised to find themselves being filmed by a television news cameraman.
"It was mind-boggling to see how a TV cameraman was filming not the crime scene, but who from our organization was there," Junco said. "Is this cameraman someone you want on your press committee? I don't think so. Unfortunately, this is a reality we have to live with."
In another instance, Junco said, a hand grenade was thrown into a newspaper office belonging to Grupo Reforma. Nobody was injured, but the message was impossible to ignore.
There is a growing rage among residents of Mexico, Junco said, that can be channeled in constructive ways if people understand what has happened in their country and why. That's the role of the press, he said, provided its members are not stained by corruption.
"Democracy cannot endure if the roots of its system have rotted," he said.
Junco said the cause of Mexico's social woes is not an American appetite for drugs that is fueling violence, but Mexican structural problems that created the drug wars. But Junco quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying good can defeat evil if the cause is right.
"I truly believe these troubles can pass," Junco said. "I do believe one day we can have the peace and prosperity all of us so firmly hope for. So much is wrong, yet I believe in the human capacity for greatness, even in the face of extreme adversity."