sábado, 13 de março de 2010
By Marc Lacey
REYNOSA, Mexico — The big philosophical question in this gritty border town does not concern trees falling in the forest but bodies falling on the concrete: Does a shootout actually happen if the newspapers print nothing about it, the radio and television stations broadcast nothing, and the authorities never confirm that it occurred?
As two powerful groups of drug traffickers engaged in fierce urban combat in Reynosa in recent weeks, the reality that many residents were living and the one that the increasingly timid news media and the image-conscious politicians portrayed were difficult to reconcile.
“You begin to wonder what the truth is,” said one of Reynosa’s frustrated and fearful residents, Eunice Peña, a professor of communications. “Is it what you saw, or what the media and the officials say? You even wonder if you were imagining it”.
Angry residents who witnessed the carnage began to fill the void, posting raw videos and photos taken with cellphones.
“The pictures do not lie,” said a journalist in McAllen, Tex., who monitors what is happening south of the border online but has stopped venturing there himself. “You can hear the gunshots. You can see the bodies. You know it’s bad”.
The Mexican government’s drug offensive, employing tens of thousands of soldiers, marines and federal police officers, has unleashed ever increasing levels of violence over the last three years as traffickers have fought to protect their lucrative smuggling routes. Journalists have long been among the victims, but the attacks on members of the media now under way in Reynosa and elsewhere along a long stretch of border from Nuevo Laredo to Matamoros are at their worst.
Traffickers have gone after the media with a vengeance in these strategic border towns where drugs are smuggled across by the ton. They have shot up newsrooms, kidnapped and killed staff members and called up the media regularly with threats that were not the least bit veiled. Back off, the thugs said. Do not dare print our names. We will kill you the next time you publish a photograph like that.
“They mean what they say,” said one of the many terrified journalists who used to cover the police beat in Reynosa. “I’m censoring myself. There’s no other way to put it. But so is everybody else”.
When they are not issuing threats, journalists say, the drug runners are buying off reporters with everything from cash to romps with prostitutes. The traffickers are not always so press shy. When they post banners on bridges expounding on their twisted view of the world or commit some particularly gory crime, they often seek out media coverage.
But not now. And the current news blackout along the border has only amplified fears, as false rumors of impending shootouts circulate unchecked, prompting many parents to pull their children from school and businesses to close.
It means that a mother can huddle on the floor of a closet with her daughter for what seems like eternity as fierce gunfire is exchanged outside their home, as occurred here recently, and then find not a word of it in the next day’s paper.
And it means that helicopters can swoop overhead, military vehicles can roar through the streets and the entire neighborhood can sound like a war movie, and television can lead off the next day’s broadcast talking about something else. Even some authorities, including Mayor Óscar Lubbert of Reynosa, acknowledge that without news reports, it is harder for them to get a full picture of how much blood is spilled overnight, partly because the traffickers sometimes haul their dead comrades away before the sun comes up.
The violence was so fearsome last month that the American Embassy in Mexico City temporarily closed the consular agency in Reynosa, which offers assistance to Americans, many of whom manage the hundreds of manufacturing plants based here. Closed on Feb. 24, the office reopened on March 8 after a lull in the bloodshed, which has continued sporadically in recent days with clashes between traffickers and the police.
What remains unclear is whether the combatants have called it quits or are merely reloading for more battles to come.
Rarely, if ever, do the local news media mention the names of the groups engaged in combat or their top leadership. The Texas press broke the story that the Drug Enforcement Administration traced the upsurge in violence in Reynosa to Jan. 18, when a member of the Gulf Cartel killed a top lieutenant of the rival Zeta gang named Victor Mendoza. The Zetas, founded by former members of the Mexican special forces and known for both their organization and their brutality, demanded the shooter. The Gulf Cartel, which once used the Zetas as enforcers but now vows to eliminate them, refused.
In the weeks that followed, fierce shootouts broke out along long stretches of the border, and the local reporters went silent.
“Before, if there was a shootout, the scene would be full of journalists,” said one of the many reporters who has given up covering the drug war here out of fear and who insisted on anonymity for the same reason. “Now, sometimes there will not be a single journalist. Everyone stays away”.
The fear extends to the Texas side of the border, where most news organizations now bar their journalists from crossing into Reynosa. When journalists do try to get a glimpse of Reynosa’s underbelly, bad things can happen. A reporter and camera man working for Mexico City-based Milenio TV were picked up by traffickers early this month and viciously beaten overnight, prompting them to catch the next flight out.
Days later, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News quickly left Reynosa after he and a television crew were approached by a man on the streets who warned them they lacked permission to report there and ordered them to leave.
They were the lucky ones. A local radio reporter died recently from a beating, according to local journalists, who say five other colleagues have disappeared in the last month. The authorities have confirmed only one of the disappearances, that of Miguel Ángel Domínguez Zamora of Reynosa’s newspaper El Mañana, who disappeared March 1.
“We’re all watching our backs,” said a Reynosa journalist, whose voice trembled as he spoke.
One troubling aspect of the kidnappings and killings of journalists in Mexico is that nobody knows for sure which cases involve crusading reporters doing their jobs in revealing the truth and which involve careless or crooked reporters who had become too close to one cartel or another.
“It’s understandable and worrying that you have a number of media organizations that are likely under the sway, either by corruption or intimidation, of the cartels,” said an American official keeping tabs on the violence who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Ciro Gómez Leyva, the news director at Milenio who had sent the crew to Reynosa, wrote an angry column recently taking President Felipe Calderón to task for his declaration that no part of the country was outside the control of the government. “Journalism is dead in Reynosa,” Mr. Gómez declared flatly.
The violence and what it has done to the news media has become, by necessity, a part of journalism instruction along the border. At one Reynosa university, communications professors talk about the importance of staying neutral and how it can be deadly to take sides. They also steer their students, until the climate along the border changes, into jobs covering politics, culture or sports. Anything but crime.
The New York Times
By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
CARREFOUR, Haiti — Servicemembers who contracted malaria in Haiti could be punished for failing to follow the prevention protocol, according to the Joint Task Force overseeing earthquake relief operations here.
Last week, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit confirmed that two Marines deployed to Haiti had contracted malaria. Ten soldiers have also come down with the disease during the relief operation, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Amber Cargile, deputy public affairs officer for Joint Task Force Haiti.
On Thursday, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment commander Lt. Col. Robert Fulford, 39, briefed Marines about the malaria cases and reminded his men to keep taking their anti-malaria pills.
The Marines working in Carrefour, a medium-sized city just up the coast from Port-au-Prince, are under constant attack by mosquitoes, which transmit malaria through their bites. To protect themselves, the Marines are told to use repellent, sleep under mosquito nets and take doxycycline anti-malaria pills daily. That should be an effective preventive approach, but “nothing is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Larry Slutsker, chief of the malaria branch at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Just as with the measles vaccine or any kind of protection, nothing is perfect,” Slutsker said.
Medics assigned to the 82nd Airborne Brigade said last month that missing more than one dose of the daily medication could leave a person vulnerable to malaria.
Marines in Carrefour said they’ve been told they could face nonjudicial punishment, for disobeying an order to take their daily anti-malaria pills, if they contract the disease.
Cargile said the decision to punish a servicemember in such circumstances would be up to individual unit commanders based on the circumstances of each case.
22nd MEU public affairs officer Capt. Binford Strickland said Haiti is known for hosting vector-borne illnesses such as malaria.
“The 22nd MEU has always and will continue to take malaria prevention seriously, and our application of preventive medicine will remain very proactive,” he said.
Medical personnel diagnosed both malaria cases last week, Strickland said, adding that the infected Marines received immediate treatment with anti-malaria medicine.
“We are confident these isolated cases will have a positive outcome as the form of malaria in this part of the world can be eliminated from the bloodstream when diagnosed early,” he said, adding that both infected Marines are expected to recover.
Every Marine and sailor has been educated on the requirements for taking the preventative medication and risks associated with failing to follow regimented care. Unit leaders are responsible for setting procedures for taking anti-malaria pills, Strickland said.
“The MEU medical personnel issue prophylaxis to the Marines and sailors, and unit leaders ensure they take the pill at a consistent point every day,” he said.
Procedures vary from using mass formations to ensuring that each Marine signs for his pill, and takes it in the company of others, he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report
Stars and Stripes
The 453 students in C Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, exited the 34-foot training tower twice as many times as the normal requirement March 3.
The change is one of several resulting from the new T-11 parachute system integration at the U.S. Army Airborne School. The new parachute replaces the T-10 system that has been in use since the 1950s and will be phased out over the next 15 years, said 1st Sgt. Christopher Goodrow, C Co., 1st Bn., 507th PIR.
Goodrow said students are getting trained on both systems. They will jump six times with the T-10 and T-11 parachutes and receive eight passing evaluations instead of four.
The T-11 design should decrease injuries and has an increased weight tolerance for heavier combat loads and a decreased descent pace for softer landings, Goodrow said.
The square shape of the T-11 is easily identified compared to the T-10's circular shape, and it features a slider component that separates lines and reduces the possibility of inversion.
"It eliminates many of the malfunction possibilities we had with the T-10," Goodrow said. "This has been needed for a long time. For the Airborne community, I think this is a leap into the 21st century".
Few units have been conducting jumps with the T-11, but many Airborne units will see the new parachutes fielded by the end of the year, making this the right time to phase it into the school, said Capt. Dean Gibson, C Company commander.
"It's important to train students on the T-11 parachute system before they arrive at their units," he said. "So once they get there, their focus is on becoming combat-ready".
During week one, also known as ground week, Soldiers learn to put on a parachute, exit a mock door and perform parachute landing fall and recovery methods.
Adaptations have been required for instructors, known as Black Hats.
"We've been training for about six months," said Staff Sgt. James Patterson, a Black Hat for two years. "We had to relearn our classes and relearn our demonstrations before we could pitch the class to our students".
Maj. Douglas Hoover, the Maneuver Center of Excellence Family Life c haplain, who is currently in the school, said he admired the dedication of the staff.
"I feel more for the cadre because they have to get the same amount of material in on both systems," he said, adding he was excited about being in the first class of trainees.
Sgt. Michael Holbein, who is in the Air Defense Artillery branch, said he was a little nervous about exiting a plane, but its something he's wanted to do for a long time. "(The training) is repetitious, but it's beneficial," Holbein said. "It becomes muscle memory so that when I do jump, I'll know how to do the right thing".
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Thurman, who has been a Black Hat for 18 months and has completed 15 cycles, said the 34-foot tower used during ground week exposes students to the shock of free falling and the catch of the parachute and gives them a point of reference.
"This is a good time and a good place to conquer your height fears," Thurman said. "If you can jump from 34 feet, you can definitely jump from 1,250 feet".
During week two or tower week, the students will descend from the 250-foot tower.