Are Mexican Drug Gangs Targeting U.S. Journos?

By: Mark Fitzgerald American authorities have alerted at least two Texas newspapers to rumors that violent drug trafficking gangs along the Mexican border are targeting a U.S. journalist for death.

The San Antonio Express-News temporarily pulled Border Bureau Chief Mariano Castillo from Mexico after a source alerted him to the threat Thursday. The Express-News said the source told Castillo, who is based in Laredo, Texas, and regularly covers the bloody workings of the feuding drug cartels, that a gang was "seeking to put out a hit on an American reporter who operates in Laredo and writes about the cartels."

Monday, Express-News Editor Robert Rivard told E&P that paper would be reassessing the situation later in the day. "Our inclination would be to put him back in" to the bureau, he said. Castillo is coming to the end of his border assignment in a couple weeks, and the paper is interviewing candidates to replace him, Rivard added.

"Whether (the threat) is credible or not is unknown," Rivard said. "Our thought was, let's just play it conservatively."

In 1998, the Express-News? Mexico City bureau chief, Philip True, was murdered while hiking alone through the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico. Two Huichol Indians were convicted for the killing.

Monday, Bob Mong, editor of The Dallas Morning News, said the paper was taking its usual precautions with its Mexico bureau chief Alfredo Corchado.

"We've been taking precautions for a long time," Mong said. "The kind of work he does along the border is very dangerous, so we've got a lot of things in place to balance safety with the need to get the story."

Corchado last week was named a winner of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for courageous and enterprising reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean, Mong noted, adding: "So precaution and quality journalism can go hand-in-hand."

Mong said the paper was alerted by the U.S. Embassy that authorities had detected signals that drug thugs were targeting a U.S. journalist. "I don't think they always know how credible it is, but we don't take any chances in a case like that," he said.

One report said the threat came from Los Zetas, a group of former members of the Mexican Army's special forces who have become the assassins for the Gulf drug cartel.

The murders and kidnapping of Mexican journalists along the border has forced many newspapers to stop covering the drug cartels.
In May, Cambio Sonora, a daily newspaper in the northwestern city of Hermosillo, shut down after two grenade attacks and threats by drug traffickers.


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