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Journalists Among Targets in Mexico Drug War

July 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The drug war in Mexico continues to escalate and its targets are ever-expanding. Judy Woodruff talks to Angela Kocherga, the Mexico Bureau Chief of Belo Television for more on Mexico's drug troubles.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we get more now on the escalating violence in Mexico from Angela Kocherga. She’s the Mexico bureau chief for Belo Television and newspapers. She spent this day reporting in Juarez. And she joins us now from El Paso.

Angela Kocherga, as you heard, that report was from Juarez. You have just been there. What are people saying?

What did you find today?

ANGELA KOCHERGA, Belo Television Group: Well, we report frequently in Juarez. And, today, we were out with paramedics. And they are very much on edge, as are most citizens on Juarez.

You may recall, about two weeks ago, a car bomb went off in Mexico’s fourth largest city and in this border city. That was the first actual a car bomb had gone off anywhere in Mexico. And the people who claimed responsibility said they would set off more bombs and gave a 15-day deadline before they would do so, and we’re almost at that deadline.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a sense that the police, the authorities are making any headway with all this?

ANGELA KOCHERGA: Really, people are very, very frustrated. We have had lots of soldiers, troops here on the border in Juarez, and now federal police have taken over policing the streets.

And there really has been no letup in the violence. And it’s reached such an extreme level now, that these cartels are targeting police directly. And people feel less safe having the police in their neighborhoods, because they are worried about another attack.

So, no, people do not feel that this is working and that they are any safer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then we read four journalists have been kidnapped. And that was apparently in connection with reporting on this prison situation, where you had inmates let out to go commit a crime.

ANGELA KOCHERGA: Yes, journalists in Mexico very much under siege. It’s one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist these days.

And those four journalists, including photographers, were covering a prison riot, a prison at the center of a corruption scandal. And the director had been fired. And Mexican’s attorney general said — she had also been arrested, because she and the prison guards allegedly were letting these inmates out to be hitmen for a drug cartel in the region. And they were committing mass murders using weapons and vehicles provided by the prison, and then going back into their cells.

And, according to the attorney general, they were linked to a mass murder in Torreon not too long ago, 17 people gunned down at a birthday party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is there a sense that the level of violence is increasing, or is it just more of the same?

ANGELA KOCHERGA: There’s a sense of an escalation.

When we talk about these journalists, they were picked up, kidnapped, and they’re being held hostage, from what we understand. And not only are these cartels trying to silence the media in these regions. They pretty much self-censor in order to stay safe. They are now, it seems, in this instance trying to get one of the media companies, if not more, to air one of their taped messages.

And, apparently, one of the employers of these reporters did so in order to win his release — so, not only trying to silence the media and the message, but also to control that message, and, of course, for maximum terror, and not just against their rivals or police, but entire communities, entire regions here along the border.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there any part of the country that is immune from this, where you don’t see this sort of violence and activity — violent activity?

ANGELA KOCHERGA: Of course it’s much worse along the border. And there are pockets of lawlessness, you could really say, in several regions of Mexico, the state of Michoacan, for instance.

But, really, every single state in Mexico has seen some level of violence. It varies widely, but even Mexico City has had some decapitations, some horrible murders nearby and beheadings. And that type of mutilation with some of these narco messages has become very, very commonplace in Mexico.

Of course, the tourist areas have been largely left alone and are not seeing this. But the states where they are located have seen some of this violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But this does come after this campaign by President Calderon to go after these drug cartels. Are people sensing that the government is helpful in some way, or is not able to do anything about what’s going on?

ANGELA KOCHERGA: Well, early on in this campaign, many Mexicans fully supported President Calderon’s effort to go after drug cartels, because they had reached such a level power in a lot of these regions.

But there really is some battle fatigue. People don’t see that the strategy has worked, at least the law enforcement strategy, as far as putting soldiers here or putting federal police on the streets. I mean, the killing has continued unabated. But, also, as President Calderon has pointed out, what is the alternative if you back out — back down?

I mean, these cartels have gained such power and are so brutal, at this point, there really doesn’t seem to be much option. But there is a questioning of the strategy being utilized.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very, very tough, tough situation to report on.

Angela Kocherga, thank you very much for talking with us.