Aguilar’s sister, María Del Carmen Aguilar Cansimbe, watched Silva with a grimace that showed she felt similarly. She’s been caring for the couple’s two daughters, ages 7 and 9, since their mother was taken on November 11. She said a psychologist told her to tell the girls that their mother is on a trip and can’t phone them for the moment. But the older girl, Frida, is afraid their mother is lost somewhere and wants to write her a letter.
Silva said what keeps him going is the fact that in the rash
other kidnappings in this town of
Many journalists in
Aguilar worked for the local paper El Diario de Zamora and
for Cambio de Michoacán, in
For the last three years, the whole state has been under an intense assault by two drug trafficking cartels. The cartels have been getting stronger, and through corruption and death threats they have been weakening local governments, local police, the state government, and state police, according to journalists. Journalists told CPJ that federal police and Mexican army units sent in to retake control are now often corrupted, and that often, they too, do what the cartels tell them to do.
The cartels, stronger than ever, have branched out into
widespread extortion and kidnapping, a federal law enforcement official told
CPJ. For instance, at the moment in
Silva, the husband of the missing reporter, said the
influence of the cartels in
Silva is one to know. He met Aguilar 15 years ago when she
was 19, just starting her career on the police beat, and he was then the police
Reporter Teresa Chávez leaned over her desk and pointed with a pen to a story in her paper, Z de Zamora, which she said brought the most recent death threat. It’s a fairly minor story about a recurring water leak in the parking garage of the municipal arts center. “Someone called the reporter and told him, ‘Stop these stories or you’ll disappear,’ ” said Chavez. She said it was a familiar reaction to stories critical of local authorities. “We believe the cartels and the authorities are now so linked together that government officials just ask the criminals to make the threats for them,” Chavez said.
But as organized crime may have weakened institutions like local government and the police, many journalists in Michoacán said that responsible journalism is also under similar threat—to the point of being crippled. And, according to many of her colleagues, Aguilar has disappeared because she would not buckle to the threats or bribes of the cartels as many other journalists have. The theory is that this made her vulnerable.
The editor of a statewide paper who asked for anonymity out of fear of retribution said, “Most police reporters get phone calls all the time from organized crime telling them how to handle a particular story, or to not write a story. What’s interesting is that if the reporter changes his phone number, then the cartel gets the new number by the next day. The only way that happens is if the police provide the new number.”
In other words, according to the editor, the cartels and the police work together and reporters are the targets. It leaves journalists with no place to turn for help.
A reporter who covers the state said that recently a conversation he had on one of his cell phones was tapped and recorded, then fed back into the voicemail box of another of his cell phones. The idea, he said, was to frighten him and let him know that either the government or the cartels are close to him at all times. “Actually,” he said, “it makes no difference. Because the cartels and the government end up being the same thing.”
In a city near
That was not Aguilar, journalists said. After all those years as a reporter she was seen as rock-solid honest. And still poor. She was stretched tight making payments on a laptop computer. And the day she was abducted the electricity was turned off for lack of payment at her family’s small rental apartment on a noisy industrial side street.
A senior journalist in the state, close to Aguilar, said she
told him of a recent meeting with several other reporters in
It was brave, said the editor, but considering the moral corrosion in government institutions and now in journalism, it may have been her fatal mistake. It may well be, he said, that the corrupt journalists, and the cartel, couldn’t allow the honest journalist to live.
Adding a little strength to this theory is what may have
happened since Aguilar’s disappearance. Though it couldn’t be verified, friends
and colleagues said that none of the seven local papers in
The strengthened cartels seem to be expanding their power
quickly in the state. No journalist there told CPJ they saw anything but a
darkening sky, for the state and for journalism. As if to underline that, on Friday,
every member of the government, including the entire police department, of
Legislators called on the Mexican army to send soldiers to
keep order, and then they adjourned, admitting they didn’t know what else to
do. Coming off the podium, the president of the legislature, Eduardo Sánchez
Martínez, told CPJ the only thing he could think of was to ask the alternate
officials of those fleeing to take over the vacant posts. (In
But the press reported that, by Sunday evening, none of the alternates had been found by the legislative committee sent to locate them. The alternates were apparently hiding from the committee, according to news reports, and there was still no local authority in the county. Fear, and the cartel, was in control.
Mike O'Connor is CPJ's representative in