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June 21, 2021

Journalism in Tamaulipas

Tamaulipas is a state that simultaneously exemplifies and exaggerates many aspects of the drug war. The site of one of the earliest media blackouts due to threats from organized crime, it is also a place that is difficult to understand, where nuance and context are absent from the narrative. To better grasp the dynamics that drive insecurity in Tamaulipas, the Mexico Violence Resource Project spoke with Carlos Manuel Juárez, co-founder of Elefante Blanco, a new independent media project taking a different approach to covering the state.Three key points from the interview:

  • The legacy of attacks on journalism: Tamaulipas may no longer be a zone of silence, but the challenge of reporting on the state remains. Newsrooms continue to face intimidation, and Juárez observes that oftentimes threats are linked not to organized crime alone, but to larger constellations of interests. “When someone comes to tell you that the criminal group has a message, they use the veil of the group’s name, but behind the veil are businesspeople, politicians, and others who want to maintain their power through fear. When you are making things public that are affecting their interests, they know that in Tamaulipas the most effective channel for silencing you is the threat of violence.”

    These restrictions on journalistic expression have had serious consequences, making it harder to construct a new narrative for the state, and near impossible to develop a meaningful diagnosis of the situation. As Juárez laments, “violence here has never been treated seriously, in its social and political contexts. Since freedom of expression was not protected in Tamaulipas, there is no reporting like what came out of other places where there was extreme violence… Tamaulipas has not had reporters who have been able to link violence to other phenomena.”


  • The intersection of crime, business, and politics: Tamaulipas has clear examples of how armed groups intervene in elections to control political outcomes, and Juárez says it is almost certain that “every candidate who has a chance of winning has no choice but to negotiate.” But if organized crime has substantial influence, so to do business interests, and as a result, security strategies in the state are often heavily shaped by elites. This second negotiation is equally damaging, resulting in “an arrangement between ministers, businesspeople [to provide security in certain areas and stability for businesses], and created a gulf that separated them from activists and journalists.”


  • The degree to which abuses seem to be endemic to security strategies in the state:  In January, members of an elite state police unit massacred 19 migrants in Camargo, an atrocity that revealed both the corruption of security forces and the challenges of bringing peace to the state. In April, 30 marines were arrested for their alleged participation in enforced disappearances committed in Nuevo Laredo during a 2018 deployment. But the arrests have not changed the situation, as Juárez observes, “the abuses continue. Last week it was the Army, the week before, the National Guard… a different security strategy is desperately needed.”

Read the full interview here.

In case you missed it: The U.S. and Mexico have agreed to create a Partnership to Resolve Disappearances Cases in Mexico. While this is commendable effort, co-founder Cecilia Farfán wrote an open letter to USAID calling on them to not frame Mexico’s forensic crisis as only a matter of training lab technicians and enhancing forensic analysis capabilities. Instead, she suggests a serious engagement with journalists who have covered in-depth the crisis, the families who search for their loved ones, and previous government and non-government organizations who have worked towards bringing home those who have yet to be found.

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